For a long time, I questioned what justice had to do with Christianity.
I know. It probably sounds as ridiculous to your ears as it does to mine, but this was the school of thought I ascribed to when it came to matters of faith.
I remember milling around the Back to School Fair the first week of college. Every organization and club represented at my liberal arts university had information displayed at their respective booths, ways for every student to get involved and make a difference, ways to express ourselves in this new chapter of life.
I signed up for everything, of course.
Sure, I’d love to snowshoe in the Cascades with Outdoor Club. Sure, I’ll try out for The Sound of Music and give my time to the thespians on campus – I had, after all, starred on the high school musical stage once or twice in my high school career. Sure, I’m up for traveling to South Africa with the study abroad program. Sign me up, man!
But I stopped when I got to the religious clubs represented on campus. There was Young Life, which offered outreach opportunities to local middle school and high school students. There excited The Well, a non-denominational weekly gathering. And then there was the Social Justice Club, a group that claimed to love God and serve the world through action.
I couldn’t help but wondering, though: Were they real Christians?
A couple of the girls from my dorm stood in front of the table, but they didn’t seem to encapsulate Jesus to me. I’d seen them come home drunk night after night, and I’d heard that they sometimes smoked pot. And I, for one, had never seen them hanging out in the dorm lounge early in the morning, reading their bibles and writing in their journals.
I therefore reasoned they must not be real Christians.
In my version of Christianity, real Christians didn’t sin so blatantly. Real Christians put their personal relationship with Jesus Christ above all else. Real Christians didn’t drink and smoke and do drugs and have sex, but real Christians lived a life of purity. Real Christians didn’t give in to temptation. Real Christians didn’t say one thing and do another.
And real Christians cared more about inward manifestations of faith more than outward expressions of religion.
Or so I thought.
I’ve since changed my mind, of course (and hopefully hung some of my Judge Judy ways up to rest permanently). And I’ve since come to believe that God makes manifest through various expressions of faith and worship, through different types of believers and churches and denominations alike.
Maybe I’ve taken the words, often attributed to Saint Francis, and taken them to heart: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
Maybe I’ve seen the power of Jesus most evident in the fleshy, real lives of people I love, when casseroles baked with love are dropped off on doorsteps, and when tears are wiped with the handkerchief and long sleeves of a friend, and when people don’t just throw I’ll pray for you accolades around like handfuls of confetti, but really, actually pray, and really, actually call, and really, actually show up.
And maybe, when it comes to conversations of justice and reconciliation, as I am particularly prone to engage in and drawn to on a personal level, it’s then not about lackadaisically keeping the peace, but it’s about actively, passionately, justifiably making the peace. It’s not merely about reading the story of the Good Samaritan, and giving Jesus a pat on the back for being such a good storyteller, but it’s about entering into the story and becoming Good Samaritan ourselves, whatever our context.
So, as for me, and maybe for you as well, I will not sit back and watch as the marginalized are further crushed by corrupt systems of injustice alive in our country today.
And I will not sit back and watch as the homeless and the mentally ill and the refugees among us are not given access to equal opportunities, education and health care.
But I will fight.
I will stand up and I will fight for peace; I will rally and I will petition and I will speak out to make peace happen, not merely as an observer and not merely as an inactive participant who wishes to peace to reign.
But I will stand up and I will do something.
I will enter into the conversation. I will get educated. I will get proximate to the pain, and I will choose to notice the marginalized right in my neighborhood; I will beg God to open my eyes to the pain that surrounds me, so my soul might be awakened to social and racial and economic injustices happening around me today.
At least that’s my prayer.
Could it be the same for you?