By Jean Johnson
I was driving down a popular boulevard in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In a grassy area along the boulevard, I saw a man lift up his iron rod that served as a cane to strike a woman over her head. Without thinking, I slammed on my brakes, jumped out of my vehicle, and inserted myself between the man and woman to prevent a terrible tragedy of domestic violence. I stopped the bleeding anyway. I deescalated the situation. It was my spontaneous effort to participate in social justice.
Social justice – a raised consciousness about social injustices and doing something about it.
Social justice is very dear to God’s heart and He is the inventor of it. God was responsible for setting up a communal society for the Israelites after their escape from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. God’s design of this new society included justice, especially treating the poor, fatherless, widows, and foreigners in their midst fairly. He made rules upon rules that were designed to create freedom, even though rules and freedom can seem to be an oxymoron at times. But all His rules were to create healthy and whole living for everyone.
Listen in on this conversation between child and parent about social justice:
Child: What are these precedents and rules and judgments the Eternal our God commanded you to obey?
Parents (to your child): 21 We used to be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but then the Eternal delivered us with overwhelming power. 22 He sent amazing and awful signs and omens to torment the Egyptians, Pharaoh, and his royal court—right before our eyes! 23 He brought us out of there so He could bring us here and give us the land He promised to our ancestors. 24 He commanded us to remember all these rules to show that we fear Him, our God, so that things will always go well for us and so that we can keep living here as we are now. 25 If we carefully obey everything the Eternal our God has commanded us, then we’ll be living as we should, in righteousness and in right relationship with Him. (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).
God gave social justice rules and precedents so that things would go well between them and God and them and their neighbors. Basically, if the Israelites followed His concept of a society, they would know peace through and through. But as we know, humans are stubborn, so we have to keep working at it, that is this social justice stuff.
I think Isaiah 1:17 is one of the most clear invitations about living out justice:
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about social justice, especially through the lens of dignity, sustainability, and multiplication in global missions. I will address questions such as:
- What happens when we wrap social justice in a Western worldview for non-Western settings?
- What might a social justice lifestyle look like?
- What happens to social justice when spiritual justice is ignored?
As you may imagine, social justice in one’s own culture is complex enough, so we really have to work hard to practice it in a cross-cultural context.
I hope you join me for the journey!