The contemplative, the mundane, and the unsexy side of justice

The Philadelphia Convention Center recently hosted over 150 non-profit organizations, who set up shop in an exhibition hall alongside and as a part of The Justice Conference. These organizations represent people who are acting hands-on and doing redemptive work toward justice in some of the world’s messiest places. For the young and eager activist, this was a very exciting and encouraging sight – as it should be. However, one of the main propositions of The Justice Conference was that while it is very significant, this good work is not the only part of justice. Not all justice is done in the trenches. Some of it is done in the classroom, the church, or even the office. And we – the young and eager activists – need to be okay with that.
Speaker after speaker echoed a similar message: that justice begins with theology and scripture. Justice Conference founder Ken Wytsma claimed that before doing justice we must study it, as to determine why it matters and why it is actually compelling for us – so that we may be compelled to it. Brenda Salter McNeil followed this up by saying that when looking at the world and encountering injustice, we need to think about the problem of evil itself. Why is the world this way? Likewise, we need to think about God, because an understanding of God’s ontology will shape our anthropology, and thus lead us to properly empathize with the least of these.
Eugene Cho, pastor and founder of One Day’s Wages, warned that though we might be tempted, we cannot let justice become an idol. The pursuit of God should inform the pursuit of justice, not vice versa, which means that our perception and doing of justice must be rooted in scripture. Of course, the immediate implication of this is that social justice starts with biblical study, perhaps even in a cushy classroom like the ones found in McInnis. Cho also offered the important reminder that “we will not be able to change the whole world,” however, “we can change the lives of some.”
Perhaps one of the most realistic and helpful – though maybe unattractive – claims made was that of Gary Haugen, president and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM). Many of IJM’s employees work in an office in America. Several times a day, they stop working to pray. Even those out in the field spend a lot of their time dealing with bureaucracy and carrying out lengthy investigations. His point: doing justice can be boring. Sometimes, to do social justice you have to go to court. Sometimes you need to go to court 50 times just to make sure that one slave owner never enslaves again.
But isn’t this contemplative, mundane, and unsexy justice worth it? That is precisely what these leaders and activists were trying to convey.

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