Why do we even care?

Thoughts on social justice

A lot of youth care about inequality and unfairness in the world and a few even go so far as to try to do something about it. Some kind of concern for the environment and people who are less privileged than us is pretty much taken for granted by most thinking young people, regardless of their religious belief or worldview. But why is this, is this the way it’s meant to be, and do we as Christians have anything in particular to say?

You’ll know that Christians don’t have a monopoly on caring for other people – we’re often not very good at it at all! However, the Church throughout history does have a record of service to some of the poorest and most vulnerable. From reforming the practices of ancient Rome to the modern hospice movement and many things in between, Christians have been active in service. More importantly, we have good reasons for this way of life. Jesus commands us to love both God and neighbour, God’s heart is clearly directed towards the poor throughout Scripture, and right at the beginning we are created as rational relational creatures in God’s image, which guarantees that we have a special kind of worth – and that other people do too! A Christian concept of justice is a serious contender in the world of ideas* and seems to me like the kind of thing that our society could desperately do with hearing.

This all has consequences. The gospel of God’s costly love for us in Jesus requires that we serve others, including I believe, working to overcome unjust structures in society. People will disagree on what counts as injustice and the standard to aim for, but if we look to Jesus, we can see a standard based in the most fundamental reality of all – the character of God – and we can be confident that it’s worth holding on to and acting on. If the universe were Godless, as some people tell us it is, it isn’t clear that justice would make sense, let alone be motivating. As such we shouldn’t, I think, either be scared to talk about Jesus in the context of social justice, or feel the need to create a purely abstract secular concept to work with. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly points to himself rather than just impersonal ethical principles. Let’s not lose this as a church!

If your friends are interested in social justice, recognising the innate dignity of human beings, maybe chat with them about this. Discuss over coffee, perhaps, why they actually care (beyond it being endorsed by the celebrity of the month) and why you do, and how this fact changes the way we can live our individual lives as well as how we want to organise society. It’s such an important topic and one that Jesus still speaks into today!

*see, e.g. Nicholas Wolterstorff – Justice: Rights and Wrongs. 2010
(click picture for the blurb)

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