Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
— Amos 5
Nothing is as consistent to the message of the prophets than the persistent call to justice. This call mentions numerous times a very specific triad: the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. The prophets were concerned for the least of these — the most vulnerable of society.
Jesus embodied this same passion in the Sermon on the Mount, in his many stories of widows and in the Good Samaritan’s witness to loving the stranger.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
— Matthew 25:34-36
As followers of Christ, we respond with the love he showed for those in greatest need. We speak to the challenges of those who are suffering. We give to those who are hungry. We welcome those who are strangers. We visit those who are in prison and those who are sick.
There are many ways to organize people around this work. Too many churches have a social ministry team or an outreach committee that does all the serving for the congregation. Such teams would do better to ask, “How do we invite as many people as possible into this life-transforming work?”
Justice is about being in relationship. Collecting green beans for the local food pantry is a noble thing to do, but it can also become a way to avoid being in relationship to those who are poor and homeless in our communities. Without that relationship our serving can become patronizing and sometimes harmful. Robert Lupton’s book, Toxic Charity, makes a strong case that charity without relationships can be toxic. It can actually exacerbate problems.
As you consider your congregation’s approach to justice ministries, contemplate the following questions:
- Who is in greatest need in our community?
- What are those needs?
- What are the gifs of our faith community, and how might they best be put to use?
- Who else in our community is addressing these needs?
- When do we need to speak up for those who are being oppressed?
- How will we do so?
- Do we have a network of small groups that could be invited to serve?
- What guidelines will we set up so that we don’t risk falling into toxic charity?
- How will we engage those in need locally?
- How will we engage those in need globally?
†C9.03. Pastors Shall: “Speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.“
†C4.02. Congregations Shall: “Serve in response to God’s love to meet human needs, caring for the sick and the aged, advocating dignity and justice for all people, working for peace and reconciliation among the nations, and standing with the poor and powerless, and committing itself to their needs.”