Let's Do Justice to "Doing Justice": Seeking Justice Goes Beyond Advocacy

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals. 

I’m convinced our efforts to seek justice will fall dramatically short unless we allow justice to penetrate our daily decisions, as institutions and individuals. There is a temptation to package “doing justice” to simply one aspect of life—active citizenship, and often times at the expense of other areas of life that demand justice. Don’t get me wrong; bringing justice to the public square is essential to the biblical calling. I don’t believe it is possible to “loose the chains” of injustice without engaging political powers. That is why I have devoted years of my life to Micah Challenge, a global movement mobilizing Christians in advocacy on extreme poverty issues.

However, advocacy alone is not “doing justice”.

I don’t believe anyone is preaching advocacy alone, but after spending some time on the outside of our tiny subculture I can see why outsiders get this sense.

When those of us in the Christian advocacy community tout that advocacy is the only solution attacking root causes of injustice we can come across as arrogant or dismissive of community development and relief. However, it is true that when one only gives financially to help those in poverty, but does nothing to speak out against systems that enable and exacerbate poverty they fail to fully embrace the biblical call to do justice. This understanding is what drew me to work in the Christian social justice arena in the first place. I felt God calling me to respond to hunger, extreme poverty, and persecution in a way that attacked systemic causes of these injustices. It has taken me nearly eight years to realize that if we fight for justice with our voice, yet fail to do so with our coin we too fall short of the biblical call.

The prophet Isaiah embodies captures this holistic response in chapter 58—urging Israel to loose the chains of injustice, specifically mentioning the exploitation of workers, providing shelter, sharing food, and giving clothes to those in need.

Advocacy without charity is not only unbiblical, but lacks credibility. Advocacy without discerning consumption is counterproductive and lacks integrity. Advocacy without prayer can be void of conviction and power. Advocacy without simplicity is open to hypocrisy. To see justice done requires a lifestyle of justice.

I recognize that no one can fully live a just life. The goal is not perfection because we will never be without fault. No matter how much we try our lives will always be somewhat dependent on the historical or present oppression of others. The goal instead is a holistic lifestyle in service of God’s justice. This absolutely means active citizenship to dismantle unjust policies and enact just policies. But it also means giving generously to those in need, consuming wisely so as not to support exploitation, and praying passionately “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We would do well to allow this kind of thinking to penetrate our organizations as well our personal lives. I don’t mean simply printing on t-shirts made in the USA (but that’s a start). How about crafting advocacy campaigns that encourage service? Or advocacy campaigns that challenge our personal spending and consumption habits while calling leaders to account for budget deals that harm people in poverty? A great first step for an organization would be to fast collectively once a month petitioning God to bring change for those suffering from injustice, but also reveal what should change in our own lives.

Advocacy is a critical piece of that puzzle that is often overlooked, but as we embrace this sacred and powerful call let us not forget the fullness of the calling. Justice is a lifestyle—not a solitary act.

-Jason Fileta is the director of the Micah Challenge, a global movement mobilizing Christians in advocacy on extreme poverty issues.