All people of good will, who have a heart of the poor and vulnerable, who are appalled by the corruption and injustice they see, who are aghast at the slaughtering of females on the scale of a holocaust, who grieve to watch sex-slavery replace black slavery … all such people want to do something to stand for justice.
But how we are to work for social justice, what policies and programs are needed, is hotly debated. The heat is actually generated, though, at a level much deeper than pragmatic considerations such as policies and programs.
Policies and programs are not suspended in air; they are the logical consequences of principles and paradigms. Our sacred belief systems ultimately determine how we understand the issues of social justice and how those issues are to be solved. The discussions may be at the level of policy and programs, but the people in the discussions get hot under the collar because their sacred belief systems, which they may hold unconsciously, are being challenged.
We need to realize that people who have a heart for social justice may be working from differing paradigms or worldviews. These different paradigms establish very different principles, policies and programs. What assumptions underlie the sometimes bitter discussions over poverty and social injustice?
A simple way of diagramming shows how Paradigms drive Principles which drive Policies which drive Programs.
Or, to say it differently politics and economics are downstream from culture and culture is downstream from cult – worship. Or, Worldview leads to Values which shape Behavior which drives Consequences. In this post, we will use the four P diagram above.
The way one defines a problem will determine how one solves the problem. Many may be motivated by compassion to help the poor: they have a worthy goal of reducing and working towards the end of poverty and injustice. But different paradigms will lead to very different solutions.
Wherever we can, we need to work together. Yet at the same time, where we have real differences in our approach to solving problems of poverty, we must avoid minimizing those differences. We need to speak about and treat others who are working with the poor in civil fashion, even when we disagree on how best to solve the problems our communities and nations face.
Most people who speak of social justice do so because they believe the universe has a moral dimension. That is, there is evil in the universe and it manifests itself in three distinct ways: moral evil, natural evil and institutional evil. It is the responsibility of those who seek justice to fight evil in all of its manifestations, to do that which is right and oppose that which is wrong. Because the universe is moral, we have a responsibility to relate ethically and justly to other human beings and to the creation. We are our brother’s keeper! We have a responsibility to steward the creation. We have responsibility for ourselves, our families, and the larger community, including people who are economically and politically marginalized.
To seek justice in a fallen world is not easy, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s story so powerfully illustrates.
As darkness grew in Europe during the rise of the Third Reich, the young pastor Bonheoffer understood that the church needed to stand against the injustice being perpetuated on the Jews. He challenged the church to engage on three levels, each, in succession, more difficult and dangerous.
First he called the church to advocacy - to speak out on behalf of Jewish people. Second he called the church to compassion – to “come alongside in passion,” opening their communities and homes to shelter and hide the Jews who were being persecuted. The book by Corrie ten Boom and the diary of Anne Frank are testimony to the hardship and cost to those who provided a “hiding place.”
Third, Bonheoffer called the church to live out justice, in this case to throw a wrench in the Nazi killing machine. He called the church to stand against the unjust legal authority and do all in her power to stop it. Each successive call found more and more Christians abandoning the cry for justice. And Bonheoffer ended up paying with his life.
- Darrow Miller