Advocacy for Social Justice Blog: The work of justice is the work of the church

10/8/2012

The work of justice is the work of the church

Caring for the most vulnerable is a consistent theme throughout Scripture.  Likewise, Wesleyan theology and the Methodist movement from its very beginning placed a high emphasis on caring for the “least of these.”  There are two primary ways the church lives out this calling: charity and justice.  Charity meets temporary needs.  Justice addresses root causes.  Charity feeds the hungry.  Justice asks why are there hungry people in the first place.  From the Old Testament Law, to the Hebrew prophets, from Jesus to the apostle Paul, from John Wesley to the Book of Discipline, it is clear that we as the church are called to do both.  We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick.  But we are also called to work to make sure that no one is hungry, that our society and our laws treat strangers and immigrants humanely, and that all people have access to health care.  That is the work of justice.

Unfortunately, too often the work of justice is either left undone by the church, or it becomes controversial, as it seems that different justice issues divide people along partisan political lines.  However, Scripture and Wesleyan tradition make it clear that justice is not something on the periphery of our faith.  It is front and center.  But a Christian understanding of justice is also something that cannot be relegated to who we vote for at the ballot box or whether we hold “liberal” or “conservative” positions on certain issues.  We hope this blog will be a helpful resource that moves us beyond the partisan rhetoric that so often immobilizes the church so that we can live out God’s calling to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” in North Alabama, across the country, and around the world.

This blog will be a resource for churches and individuals in several ways: 1) we will share stories of people who are in need of justice.  Too often, we discuss issues of justice in the abstract.  We talk about health care without knowing people who lack access.  We talk about immigration without knowing the family who was split apart.  This blog will bring those stories to light. 2) We will help people think about these justice issues through the lens of faith.  Our primary allegiance as Christians is not to our political party, our country, or even to our family.  Rather our primary allegiance is to Christ.  Therefore, we must learn to let our faith guide the way we think about justice issues.  This blog will provide discussion questions, excerpts from the United Methodist social principles, and reflections that will help both individuals and small groups understand the connection between their faith and justice.  3) This blog will share stories of churches that are actively working for justice.  Justice work doesn't’t always mean we have to lobby Congress or the legislature.  It can be as simple as working with the city council to get better sidewalks for kids who walk to school.  It can be something right outside the door of the church.  We have many examples of churches right here in North Alabama doing justice work that we want to share with others in the hopes that we can learn from each other and, therefore, better do the work of justice.  4) Finally, we will highlight selections from the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church to help us think through our church’s official position on a wide range of justice issues.

Finally, no one has all the answers.  It is our hope that this blog will not be a place for argument and debate, but rather a space where we can listen and learn from each other with mutual respect and understanding.  Our only ground rules for comments are: 1) try to understand someone’s point before arguing 2) treat people with whom you disagree with respect.  No where does God command us to always agree.  But we are commanded to love each other.  If we can have conversations about some very difficult issues in the spirit of love, then the church can truly set an example not only for how to do the work of justice but how to work together as one body even when we may disagree.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What does justice mean to you?  What Scriptures speak most clearly to you about God’s call for us to do justice?
     
  2. Can you think of any examples where the church has been an active agent in working for justice?  Can you think of any examples where the church sat on the sidelines when it should have been working for justice?
     
  3. How can we learn to respect and work with those with whom we disagree? 

Social Principle Selection: The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Its members have often taken forthright positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles. Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling, and to the cruel treatment of prisoners.

A social creed was adopted by The Methodist Episcopal Church (North) in 1908. Within the next decade similar statements were adopted by The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and by The Methodist Protestant Church. The Evangelical United Brethren Church adopted a statement of social principles in 1946 at the time of the uniting of the United Brethren and The Evangelical Church. In 1972, four years after the uniting in 1968 of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United
Brethren Church, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted a new statement of Social Principles,
which was revised in 1976 (and by each successive General Conference).

The Social Principles, while not to be considered church law, are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions. They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit. The Social Principles are a call to all members of The United Methodist Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice.


R.G. Wilson-Lyons
Community Church without Walls
rglyons@gmail.com


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