Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,Proverbs 31:8-9
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Jesus announced good news to the world – and that good news was that “the Kingdom of God is near”. This is one of a series of posts about ways in which our society is longing for the Kingdom of God, although it doesn’t realise it yet. My hope is that they will provide a basis for conversations with friends, relatives and neighbours – and perhaps a gentle provocation to some readers who do not follow Jesus, too. You can see the original post, with links to others in the series, here.
Global justice movements have gathered unprecedented pace and momentum in the last decade – movements for equal pay, against discrimination and human trafficking. Additionally, campaigns which have been around for longer such as the fight against global warming have been reinterpreted through this lens – in this generation, we don’t want to “save the planet”, we want “climate justice”. However, we have built a society that is deeply unjust, and sometimes the attempts to unpick it are overwhelming. The computer that I’m typing on at the moment may well contain components made by workers in unsafe conditions; the food we buy and the clothes we wear are consumer choices that often perpetuate injustice elsewhere in the world. If we borrow money to buy a house – as almost anyone buying will need to do – are we contributing to a system where only the rich can afford to live securely? And will the bank we borrow from invest its profits in companies that manufacture arms and sell them irresponsibly? We long for justice, but it seems that the total reset that’s needed is beyond our best efforts.
The answer is the Kingdom of God! That’s not to say that Christians live perfectly in this regard – far from it. However, one key foundation of the Christian faith is that God works in us to transform not only our behaviour, but also our desires. What would it look like for whole swathes of people throughout every section of society and in every nation to undergo this transformation? Then, to use the words of the prophet Amos, justice would roll on like a river – righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Why can this not happen through secular global movements? Avaaz.org claims a membership of 62 million people; 6 million people worldwide joined in “climate strikes” last year; blue-chip companies now pay their auditors for “sustainability audits” in response to public opinion – surely there is global momentum for justice? The trouble is – we don’t all agree on what justice is. This is seen most clearly in the “clashes of rights” that come to the fore every now and again. We could look at the Birmingham protests, where Muslims objected to the diversity curriculum – we want justice against homophobia and transphobia, but we also want justice against Islamophobia, so which one wins out? Pornography objectifies women, teaches objectification, and often exploits trafficked women; but surely women have the right to do what they want with their bodies and men have the right to consume what they want so long as no children are involved?1Just in case it’s unclear, I’m reporting society’s attitude here, not stating my own!
This clash becomes even more stark when it comes to the unborn. Lord Shinkwin, commenting on the recent discussion of his abortion disability bill, stated, “What I don’t understand is how after birth I can be good enough for the Prime Minister and the Queen to send me to the House of Lords but before birth I’m only good enough for the incinerator. I’m part of a group of people with congenital conditions that is being systematically killed.” He and others have regularly pointed out the inconsistencies of our approach to justice: take for instance two babies, conceived on the same day and with the same genetic disability. One is born two days before the other, and it is not only treated as a fully human life to be protected, but is further shielded by additional anti-discrimination legislation; on the same day, the other child can legally be killed simply because it is still inside its mother’s womb. This arises because of conflicting ideas of justice, and whose rights matter most.
There is an answer to these clashes, and I wonder if our society might nearly be ready for it. It focuses on laying down our own rights, and standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves. So much of what divides society stems from our concern for ourselves – our benefit, our rights. Look at how divisive debates such as the one around Brexit took place in the public arena: almost all of the campaigning and slogans were about which decision would make life better for me – which would offer me better economic stability, better opportunities, more freedom. However justice-minded we may be, there is a strong leaning towards wanting justice for ourselves first, and many people would trace all our human evils back to this intrinsic self-centredness.
It is not only a question of laying down rights, however – we will also need to adopt a universal standard. The only way through for a relativistic society will be to adopt an unchanging, objective standard; the only one qualified to set such a standard is the God who made us – anything else involves one group of people claiming the moral high ground with no basis for their claim. This will undoubtedly be uncomfortable for many, as it involves laying down our own right to decide what’s good and what’s evil; it involves acknowledging that God is in charge.
Thankfully, God is not simply a God who gives rules and laws: He changes hearts. If we really want to see justice in our generation – and if we are willing to lay down self-determination and accept God’s rule over us – He will set to work on our hearts, soften away the selfishness, and help us to live lives that are truly motivated by a love for others. And that is not a forlorn hope, but rather a truth with millennia of changed lives as proof.
Do you have friends or neighbours who are strongly motivated by social justice issues? Have you spoken with them about how the Kingdom of God is one of justice? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section!
The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;Psalm 97:1-2
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.