What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me…Inasmuch as you have done this for the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me. Matthew 25:35-40
In “Engaging the Issues,” the focus was on “head” learning about various economic justice issues. This section encourages experiential learning in two ways: by encouraging members of the congregation to share their individual stories with others and listening to others’ stories in small groups, and by exploring the community around the church or other setting in ways that may be new.
The Biblical Call to Justice
In the Hebrew Bible, Micah and all the prophets were clear: God wants society to be just, to be fair. According to Micah, God “requires” us to do justice. Similarly, the New Testament shows that Jesus cared deeply about economic justice. His parables relate extensively to this issue. Most of his ministry was among the poor, marginalized, and outcast.
As people of God who are called to love all our neighbors, we are also called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. What does this look like in the 21st century United States?
When millions around us are poor, we are called to engage in works of mercy, acts of kindness to feed, house, clothe, and care for the immediate needs of people. Congregations and individuals within congregations respond to these needs. We understand our Christian faith calls us to donate money, food, clothes, and our time to those in need. Our churches serve as hosts to non-profit organizations, programs for people struggling with addictions, food pantries, and soup kitchens. We have missions committees in the church, which are tasked with funding and providing volunteers to charitable organizations locally, nationally, and internationally.
The Need for Justice
We are also called to do justice. God’s vision for hungry people is not a soup kitchen, not even a warm, inviting, friendly soup kitchen serving great food. Charity, even in the best circumstances, is demeaning. People who could be taking care of themselves and contributing their talents to society are, instead, forced to rely on others for their most basic necessities. God’s vision is to put the soup kitchens, clothes closets and homeless shelters out of business, to make them unnecessary in a world of justice. God’s realm, which we seek “on earth as it is in heaven,” is a place where all people are valued and respected, and where everyone has an opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential. We are called to be co-creators, with God, of this new world. We are called to create a place where each person has all he or she needs to be the whole person God intends him or her to be. In this new world, every person has a way to contribute to society as well as to receive what he or she needs. Let us be co-creators of a world where justice flows down like water and washes away the need for charity.
In the United States and around the world, inequities embedded in the rules, laws, and customs that govern our lives – called structural injustices – create poverty and oppression for some and opportunities for fulfillment and economic plenty for others. Doing justice means reshaping unjust structures and working to break down barriers to opportunity. As UCC theologian Walter Brueggemann has written, “Justice is to sort out what belongs to whom, and return it to them.” (Walter Brueggemann, “Voices of the Night—Against Justice,” in Walter Brueggemann, et al, To Act Justly, Love Tenderly, Walk Humbly: An Agenda for Ministers, p. 5)
If we are not affected by structural injustices, these barriers may be invisible to us. When everything in my life is going well, it is easy to believe it is because I am doing everything right. I can easily fall into the trap of thinking my good fortune is the result of my hard work, my abilities, my “playing by the rules,” my persistence. But when things go wrong – when I lose my job, when my house is in foreclosure, when I can’t pay off my credit cards – then I face the question, what did I do wrong? Maybe nothing. Maybe you have just been caught up in a system that is unjust.
Our good fortune and our bad fortune are dependent upon much more than our own abilities and hard work. Many additional factors influence these outcomes such as the country in which we were born; who our parents were; our genetic makeup; our educational opportunities; our physical, mental, and emotional health; the state of the economy at the time we left school and got our first job; our appearance; even our birth order. Economic justice is a society in which these factors do not hinder anyone’s opportunities for abundant life.
What You and the Congregation Can Do