They don’t like swearing in the church! Well, not in a lot of churches in i know.
And i’m not talking about the ‘F’ word either. i am talking about the ‘S’ word. Saying that can get you into a LOT of trouble.
That’s right, while ‘Fund-raising’ is a perfectly acceptable – some might say ‘Holy’ – term, and can happen through a variety of methods such as tithes and offerings or even a fete [which is a little bazaar! As opposed to a bazaar, which might just be fate?!], in a number of churches the term ‘Social Justice’ is full-on taboo.
It’s all about the Gospel
Social Justice? It’s that extra thing you might spend some time doing once you’ve finished ‘The Lord’s Work’ – what is ‘The Lord’s Work’ you may ask? Well, it’s the Gospel, or the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only don’t ever ask what THAT is, because in my experience the answer given by people who hold to ‘The Gospel’ as the reason for all things, almost always use the word ‘gospel’ in the definition of ‘The Gospel’…
Them: Church is all about fulfilling the Gospel.
Me: What’s ‘The Gospel’?
Them: You know, the Gospel?
Me: What do you mean when you say that?
Them: I mean ‘The Gospel’ – the Good News of Jesus.
Me: What is this Good News?
Them: You know, the Gospel.
At some point you really have to stop before you create a rift in the very fabric of time and space. Although some of them keep merrily leaning into that loop without seeing any issues at all because The Gospel.
Jesus and Justice
Also, why Social Justice? Why not simply Justice? It feels like the church may have added that word in to reinforce this idea that it’s something you do on your own time. You know, after all that Gospelling!
But as simply as i can [and know that with a deeper diving into the Bible you will discover a whole lot more] i would love to suggest that Jesus and Justice are inseparable.
From early on in the story Israel were called to be a blessing to the other nations [Genesis 22]. In the desert when God provided food from heaven the command was for everyone to gather what they needed – no more no less- and each person had enough. God devised the most beautiful system of Jubilee [Leviticus 25] which historically it seems as if it may never have actually been put into practice. And then you had the prophets constantly speaking about the issue of Justice.
One passage stands out for me in Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Making it Personal
There are some really beautiful images in there. What stands out for me, is that we read in Luke 4 of Jesus going into the temple and the scroll of Isaiah is handed to Him and he reads part of that passage:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then Jesus basically says, “This is talking about Me” and the church congregation [well, synagogue at the time] take him to a nearby cliff and try to throw Him off. As many have done to Social Justice, or just Justice ever since.
What does this mean for me?
This feels like the easy part. Old Testament prophet shares this picture of a beautiful mission that reaches out and cares for the marginalised and downtrodden. Jesus says, “This is my mission”. Then Jesus tells His disciples to go and make disciples and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you [you know, the gospel!]. Part of the greatest command Jesus gave them a little bit earlier was about loving your neighbour as you love yourself [Matthew 22] and another whole story He shared was about being actively present with those considered to be ‘the least of these’ [Matthew 25 – sheep and goats parable].
The word ‘Gospel’ literally means ‘Good news’. From day one that was meant to be ‘Good news for everyone’ [manna, jubilee, Jesus] and yet by separating Social Justice or just Justice from the identity of the church, too often we have changed it to mean ‘for us’ or ‘for the wealthy’.
You cannot separate following Jesus from Justice.
This shows an absolutely inadequate and dishonest reading of Scripture. Churches that preach that you can are in my opinion in huge danger of another ‘S’ word the church often seems a little too slow to speak about, especially when it comes to mirror moments. And there are awful analogies about millstones being tied around necks and other punishments for people who are preaching a message contrary to the Kingdom Jesus spoke about and lived.
The bottom line is if you are a follower of Jesus then you are about Justice. What that looks like we may differ on, but that it’s a thing should not be in doubt, even a little bit.
To get started on this stuff, perhaps start with the question, “What does love my neighbour as myself mean?” in my community, with my money, with my time, in my country, in the world?
[If you want to know what Jesus might think about #BlackLivesMatter, click here]