Embracing Tension: The Justice Movement

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

It’s the year 2013 and I’m a female, college educated, voting citizen of the Untied States. That’s nothing to take for granted. In 1905 the first woman graduated from Calvin College, where I attend. Women only gained the right to vote in 1920 when enough states ratified the 19th Amendment. So if the year was 1904, it was right by law for me not to vote, and right by all previous and upstanding social norms not to attend college. It would have been “just” so to speak, considered fair and reasonable.

Every generation witnesses groups that with much prayer and thought say, “No, this isn’t fair or right at all, based on how we view humanity, and we are going to change the law.” Justice is originally a term of law, the upholding of what is morally right and fair. Aristotle spoke of justice as “rendering to each his due” which sounds similar to the rightness and fairness talk of law. Given my recently acquired ability to vote and attend college, at least within the grand timetable of humanity, it’s clear the definition of what humanity deserves has been changing since the beginning of time and is still in flux right now.

We can look at a plethora of previous laws and wonder how we ever believed such practices were morally acceptable, let alone legal. No human is perfect, people write laws, and we don’t always see clearly from where we are (I Corinthians 13:12). Therefore we must distinguish that the pursuit of justice is not limited to or equated with current governmental laws, which are fallible and malleable, and also prone to the fallen nature of those humans writing them.

I attended the Justice Conference in Philadelphia in February, I currently intern at the Center for Public Justice, and this article is on Shared Justice. Justice, justice, justice. I simply have to ask: What is justice, really? An entire conference exists about ‘justice’, featuring men and women and organizations that have dedicate their lives to the pursuit of justice, and each has something unique to say on the topic. A few speakers certainly contradicted each other, but most were complimentary, simply highlighting a different cut of the same diamond. It’s clear that justice is multifaceted and complex.

Eugene Cho, Co-Founder of One Day’s Wages, spoke at the Justice Conference and called us towards a deeper commitment to God and not just to justice. Appealing only to justice places the concept above its creator. God is certainly just, and he is a lot of other words, too. In another session at conference, Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff examined justice in tension with love. I believe this is how we must fully examine justice and any other principle upheld by God: in tension with his other qualities.

Justice is not the whole of what God demands. Jeremy Courtney’s blog also explores justice and how the idea holds up against enemy love. Justice is indeed one of God’s characteristics, but God was also merciful to us all while still sinners, which goes far beyond any notion of deservedness. I may venture to say that mercy is unjust, yet God is both merciful and just.

In Micah 6, a popular “justice” verse, God makes his case against Israel who is not obeying the Law. Note the legal terminology, there is surely a legal tilt for even God’s use of justice. He rescued the Israelites from slavery; he has been faithful, so why are the Israelites turning away from him? God does not want their sacrifices as forgiveness. “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you,” says Micah, “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NLT). Even this Old Testament passage emphasizes what is right – justice – is a part of God’s call for us. I think mercy (an outward action, even loving our enemies) and humility (an inward dependence on God) are necessary aspects of what God requires of us. Justice is necessary but not sufficient, for without mercy and humility we miss the mark.

We must not be afraid of paradox, or of a reality that holds many concepts in tension with one another in an approach to truth. Dr. Wolterstorff said that the essence of the Torah itself was to love your neighbor as yourself. Justice is a way of love, an example of honoring your neighbor.Seeking justice and loving your neighbor are in fact at their best when they’re unified.

Justice is a growing movement in Christian conversation and action and I couldn’t be happier. Our faith is best when it’s walking alongside others just as Christ walked alongside and ate with people in all social spheres. So yes, we must pursue justice. If we seek justice in humility and love, I think we are two dimensions closer to how God envisions the pursuit of justice. We must hone an ability to pursue multiple dimensions of God’s call for us and believe they can coexist, and in fact strengthen each other.

Here lies a tension. If we water down reality to a cause, even a just cause, we are missing out on these other aspects of reality. I don’t think that a justice campaign is wrong; quite the opposite, it is necessary. Nevertheless, justice is not a word we can throw around and expect to stand alone. God’s call for us actually expects more.

Going back to the Word and studying who God really is, and therefore what he desires of our world, must be a constant process. God does desire for us to act justly, and he also requires that we love our enemies and walk humbly with Him as our focus. We can pursue justice and miss the pursuit of God, simply because we are imperfect. I truly believe that if we pursue God, we can’t help but pursue justice along the way.

-Lauren Walker is a senior at Calvin College, graduating this spring with a major in psychology and minors in international development and Spanish. She currently interns at the Center for Public Justice assisting their education policy reform project, which explores how Christians can better invest in public education.