Monday, August 12, 2013

Social Justice Is Essential to Faith

Isaiah leaves no doubt that social justice is at the heart of prophetic faith. He calls the covenant people to repentance and it is very clear what he expects:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
   remove the evil of your doings
   from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
   learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow (1:16–17).

Three groups of people were the most vulnerable in ancient Israel and these three groups are repeatedly mentioned in the prophetic literature: strangers/aliens (non-Israelites), widows, and orphans.

Authentic faith in the prophetic tradition involves pleading their cause, defending their dignity, and rescuing them from their oppressed condition.   

There are some positive signs that a growing number of evangelicals are coming to realize that redemptive justice is not peripheral to the gospel, but at the very heart of it.

Recently, over 300 evangelical pastors and leaders converged in Washington for the “Evangelical Immigration Table Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform.” They were united in charging that the current immigration system is not only broken, but cruel.

Over 90 meetings took place with members of Congress and their top staff. Delegations met with top Republican leaders in the House of Representatives who will play key roles in the decisions made about immigration reform. Evangelical pastors and leaders also met with their congressional representatives.

These evangelicals pleaded with Congress to not turn their backs on these who are without legal protection and health care. According to Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners and one of the key leaders instrumental in bringing this group together, congressional leaders heard stories about immigrants regularly robbed, about women raped who can’t seek the protection of the police, and about injured people unable to seek medical care or even go to the emergency room so they curl up alone with their wounds and hope they don’t die.

They emphasized to Congress how important it is to keep families together and not separate children from their parents. They stressed with moral urgency that the time to act is now.

Evangelical pastor, Michael Wilker, writing in the Washington Post says: “Evangelical leaders deeply understand . . . the suffering of immigrant families, and the harm that a broken and cruel immigration system perpetrates on our nation.” He goes on to say that together with allies of all faiths, we “must advocate and hold U.S. representatives accountable if they do not take this opportunity to make the immigration system just and humane.” 

Wilker ends his piece by saying: “We are announcing the Gospel that welcomes the stranger and we will denounce those that block immigration reform.”

These evangelicals confronted the powers, pleading with Congress to enact the kind of immigration reform that will move immigrants out of the darkness of rejection and suffering into the light of acceptance, welcome, and opportunity.

In Isaiah 1 just prior to this demand for justice, the prophet denounces both the leaders and the people for going through the motions of religion. They never miss a holy day or sacrifice or special offering. They are at church whenever the doors are open.

But God, says the prophet, is weary of it all. It is an abomination and a trampling of God’s courts. (Prophetic language is intense and hyperbolic). For in spite of all their religiosity, violence and greed pervade the land.  

What is at stake here is nothing less than the Beloved Community—the kingdom of God on earth. To neglect the plight of the disadvantaged is to do evil; it is to be complicit in injustice.

It doesn’t matter how often we attend church, say our prayers, or engage in religious practices, if we turn our backs on the oppressed, the judgment of God rests upon us and we will be devoured by our own greed and inaction.

Our vocation is clear. The body of Christ on earth must exercise a prophetic voice and engage in the prophetic task. We are called to seek justice by pleading for, defending, and rescuing all who are denied, excluded, beaten down, impoverished, disadvantaged, exploited, oppressed, and caused to live in the shadows of fear and insecurity.  

Social justice has been at the core of the progressive Christian movement. Perhaps now the evangelical church, too, is realizing that restorative justice is not a take-it-or-leave it matter. It is fundamental and central to the good news of the kingdom of God.  

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