Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

How Should Our Response Be Different?

Photo Credit: kugel.mozart via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kugel.mozart via Compfight cc

In this insightful article, Deborah Hancox looks at some key principles we as Christ-followers should all be applying when we respond to the needs of those around us.

Across the world, people from all religions, world views, cultures, economic conditions and political persuasions are living and working to end poverty and injustice. As Christians, we can join hands with these people and see in our common human concern that we are all created in the image of God and thus can work side by side to eradicate poverty and injustice in all its forms. However, as Christ-followers, there are certain distinctions that we should seek to include in the way we respond:

As Christ-followers, we should engage poverty and injustice with the power of Jesus.

Christians the world over have access to something beautiful and life changing – the power of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to heal physical, spiritual, economic and relational brokenness. Remember the words of Peter and John when they said to the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” You can read the full story of this miraculous healing in Acts 3, 1-11. In our work to end poverty and injustice, we must create the place for the power of Jesus to change people’s lives.

As Christ-followers, we should engage poverty and injustice by facilitating reconciliation.

The devil is the lord of diabolos – apart-ness, separation, disorder. Our God is the God of shalom. Shalom is an interesting word to meditate on and refers to dwelling at peace with God, with self, with others and with nature. It is the “life to the full” that Jesus speaks of in John 10:10. Our God reconciles all things to himself and to each other through Jesus Christ: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19&20). As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s reconciliation: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18 – but do read verses 11 – 21). Our work to end poverty and injustice needs as its outcome… people reconciled to one another, to God and to the world.

As Christ-followers, we should engage poverty and injustice through presence and relationship.

It is much easier to give money to a third party (e.g. an NGO) to deliver charity on one’s behalf than to become involved oneself. This reduces the messiness and risk of getting involved in people’s lives and them in yours. Giving financially can be of great benefit and giving generously is a part of living social justice, but not when it is used to justify our non-involvement in the lives of the vulnerable people around us.

I am challenged that Jesus did not send a messenger, but came to us in person, and gave of himself at great cost. Throughout the gospels, we see how he entered into honest and loving relationships with people in all sorts of difficult circumstances. He also challenged the rich and religious directly, and not through supporting an advocacy group – as helpful as that can be. Read Matthew 25: 31-46. Here is an extract: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” Giving generously of our finances is an important part of living out the gospel but it should never be used as an excuse not to build relationship. Christian responses to poverty and injustice must include being up close and personal.

As Christ-followers, we should engage poverty and injustice by bringing True Hope.

Certainly we need to address the injustices and inequalities in the world that are the result of greed and power of one group over another. We also need to respond compassionately to those who are suffering in a variety of difficult circumstances. But if we do not at the same time find ways to share the good news of a relationship with Jesus Christ with those who do not yet know him, we are only affecting temporary and not permanent change and hope. In our work to end poverty and injustice, we need to introduce people to Jesus in ways that allow them to freely choose him as their Lord and Saviour.

As Christ-followers, we should engage poverty and injustice with and through the local church.

God’s agent of love and hope in the world is a local church acting as a transformative presence in her community, and drawing people into a loving community of faith and action. In seeking an end to poverty and injustice, may this increasingly be done with, through and out from a local church.

As Christians, we need to seek an approach known as Integral Mission which says: “Our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world.” (Micah Challenge Declaration on Integral Mission, 2001.)

– Deborah Hancox works as a facilitator, trainer and consultant with Christians who are seeking to address issues of poverty and injustice. She is a member of Common Ground’s Constantiaberg AM congregation.

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3 thoughts on “How Should Our Response Be Different?

  1. Roger Wood on said:

    My one word of caution would be that as Christians we are called to be salt and light in the world. Our involvement in social justice is therefore to establish God’s kingdom by being the hands and feet of Christ to the world. In doing so we do have opportunities to share our faith with others but we must accept that all will not respond. In Luke 17 Jesus healed ten lepers but only one responded in thanks. Acceptance Christ must never become a ticket for our meeting the needs of others. Wherever you have influence you have the opportunity to reach out to others with:
    – Love that is undeniable
    – Mercy that is visible
    – Grace that is unconditional

  2. Thanks for this introduction, Deborah. I’m wondering how much of a role self-consciousness plays in our response? That is, would you say there is any need to understand both our moment in history (and what that historical story is) and also the position we occupy in society, as we seek to pursue social justice?

    • Deborah, thanks for clarifying the difference between humanitarianism and integral mission. I do think Roger Saner’s question is an important one to consider. So, Roger, thanks for asking it. Consideration of one’s social location should create a critical awareness of what we bring to the task of responding to poverty and injustice. None of us comes to this task empty handed. As Christians we bring a particular set of ideas of what the world could look like; a vision of a new world under the rule and reign of God. But we seldom take the time to question whether that vision reflects more closely our own social location with its privilege and power. We sometimes very naively assume that because we are seeking to enact and embody the Good News of Jesus, that we are able to do so without the influence of multiple other factors (including, race, economics, gender, ehtnicity, politics, tradition, religion, etc.). So, Roger’s question forces us to not only consider the importance of articulating the difference between humanitarianism and integral mission, but to reflect on what our position and status in society (and the histories that reinforce such position and status) adds to the mix in our response. Failure to reflect on this, I would suggest, results in reinscribing some of the entrenched ideology that maintains status quo.

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