We asked members of our staff to share what moves them to do justice work. This month Mark Clark, Associate General Minister of the United Church of Christ, reflects on our commandment to do charity and justice.
Be About Both: Charity and Justice
As I write this I am still in the afterglow of the recent National Youth Event. What an amazing time it was. I mention this because it was as a member the Pilgrim Fellowship youth group at First Congregational Church, Phoenix that I got my start as a justice activist.
As a person raised in the church, I was blessed with great Sunday School teachers who filled my young mind with the amazing Hebrew Scriptures stories of our faith. As I got older, it was the message of the Gospels that moved me, especially the parable of the Good Samaritan and the words of Mathew 25.
While in high school, I began to pay attention to preaching, both at my church and others. As a leader in the regional youth association, I spent more time than most in churches. I heard clergy preach about their work for reproductive rights and to end the war in Vietnam. And it was our assistant pastor who got me involved in Cesar Chavez’s attempt to recall our Governor the summer I graduated from high school.
Many of my early efforts were more charitable in nature; I peeled boiled eggs at a soup kitchen, collected money for the March of Dimes, and volunteered for a hotline and a free clinic. My church teachings, however taught me I needed to be about more than simply good works. Micah is very clear: Do Justice!
Over the years as a social worker, I have been privileged to lead organizations that provided both charitable services (health care, affordable housing, counseling, etc.) and justice advocacy (lobbying, voter registration and education, neighborhood empowerment, etc.). As a church leader I have organized winter sheltering programs and congregational-based organizing campaigns.
I know that it can be much more rewarding to be thanked by a genuinely grateful person who has just had a warm shower and a good meal at my church than to be told by a legislator that there isn’t enough money to provide more affordable housing.
But then I remember, the call of The Word is that we must be about both: charity and justice.
Several years ago, I came across some words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They come from a speech he delivered at Riverside (UCC) Church in New York City, 55 years ago. It is these words of truth and the spirit behind them that continue to move me to Justice work in these times.
On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.*
*Martin Luther King Jr., in his speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence" delivered 4 April 1967 at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church, New York City.