Ask two people for a social justice definition and you’ll probably get two different answers. It all depends on our awareness of the world around us and what causes catch our attention. Unfortunately, Christians often fall into the trap of only concerning themselves with church business, and they miss their calling to make the world a better place.
Self-care isn’t just about taking care of ourselves. It also involves learning how to take care of others in kind and courteous ways. When we learn to approach others with curiosity and kindness, we discover endless possibilities for self-improvement. This month’s Self-Care Sunday posts will focus on reaching out and learning more about other cultures so that we can fulfill our greatest potential by helping others. Social justice begins with me.
Prosperity for All Christians?
“What’s with this guy?” I asked my co-worker at the bookstore as I held up a hardcover book. The author’s toothy grin took up most of the dust jacket, and the title proclaimed the best year within my grasp. The entire four-foot section had multiple copies facing out.
She rolled her eyes. “He’s one of those prosperity gospel preachers.”
“Prosperity gospel? Never heard of it,” I said.
“It’s preachers who tell people that God wants them to be rich. Those guys promise to reveal the formula for gaining God’s favor.”
“That sounds like the Puritans and their theology of the elect.” I dusted the shelf and set the books back. This time, spine out.
“Exactly,” she agreed. “I’ve been a Christian for ten years, and I can barely make ends meet.”
I nodded and moved on to a different section while she went to help a customer. Odd that she should mention scarcely making ends meet. I had recently added up my summer wages and wondered if working at the bookstore made any difference to our budget. My real job provided wonderful health insurance and other benefits, while my part-time job barely paid for gas.
My co-worker, on the other hand, didn’t have a full-time job, nor did she have health insurance or benefits of any kind. Only the bookstore manager received full-time wages. Many nights in the winter he slept on the office floor to save money rather than make the commute home.
My daughter, who worked part-time as a hotel maid to make money for her private-school tuition, at least received retirement benefits.
It seemed like a Christian bookstore should care more about the welfare of its employees than their bottom line. But maybe the leadership adhered to the prosperity gospel or something.
Social Justice Definition from the Biblical Perspective
I’m reading through the minor prophets right now, and some of the books, especially Amos, spell out the reasons God will bring calamity upon the people of Israel.
Amos 2:6-8 lists nine sins that have brought God’s judgment. Five of the nine sins involve social justice: selling the righteous, selling the needy, trampling the poor, denying justice to the oppressed, and taking advantage of young girls.
Amos 5:7-15 again highlights how Israel has failed to carry out social justice by oppressing the poor, perverting justice, and trampling the poor. Amos repeats the warnings in chapter 8, verses 4-8—God will punish those who trample the needy and do away with the poor; those who buy the poor and needy and sell dishonestly.
In the Old Testament, God defines social justice for us through his prophets. He wants his people to:
- Protect the orphans (Deuteronomy 24:17, Psalm 10:18, Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 10:2, Jeremiah 5:28, Malachi 3:5)
- Speak up for those with no voice—the marginalized, widowed, and ill (Deuteronomy 24:17, Psalm 36:6, Psalm 82:3, Proverbs 31:8, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 10:2, Amos 5:12, Malachi 3:5)
- Defend the and seek justice for the poor (Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 10:2, Jeremiah 5:28, Jeremiah 22:16, Ezekiel 22:29, Amos 5:12)
- Champion the oppressed (Psalm 10:18, Psalm 45:4, Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 1:17, Amos 5:24)
- Take care of the earth and animals (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 36:6)
- Help the foreigners (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:10 & 33, Deuteronomy 10:19, Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 27:19, Psalm 37:28, Ezekiel 22:29, Malachi 3:5
- Treat workers fairly (Isaiah 10:2, Malachi 3:5)
God doesn’t want to bless us so that we can buy a bigger house, a better car, or the latest iPhone. He blesses us that that we can carry out his will for our lives:
“Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.”Amos 5:24
New Testament Social Justice Definition
Jesus had scathing words for religious types during his time and the way they ignored social justice in favor of lengthy arguments about trivial things.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. (also Luke 11:42)Matthew 23:23
A good social justice definition for a Christian should include seeking justice for the same groups of people mentioned in the Old Testament. God blesses us so that we can bless others.
Furthermore, we should actively speak up for the marginalized, support the poor and foreigners (whether we do so ourselves or by supporting legislation that helps them), and have a willing heart to get in the trenches with people who need our help.
Jesus doesn’t just ask us to do good, he asks us to hunger and thirst for justice (Matthew 5:6). If he asks us to hunger and thirst for it, that means it should happen daily. After all, we slack our thirst and satisfy our hunger on a daily basis.
Self-care means not only taking care of ourselves, but reaching out to others who need our help. Without the reaching-out part, our self-care routine stands in danger of turning into a self-indulgence routine.When we fail to reach out to care for others, our self-care turns into self-indulgence. #selfcare #SelfCareSunday Click To Tweet
Paul warns us about self-indulgent behavior in his letter to the Galatians:
Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.Galatians 6:7
God cares about social justice, and he gives a broad definition of what it means for Christians.
Can Christians Practice Social Justice Today?
Every society and era will have different definitions of social justice—but all definitions should lead back to the basic list found in the Old Testament. Nowhere did I find a stipulation that only the wealthy should care about social justice, either. Everybody, all the time, needs to care about social justice.
Support social justice when you:
I confess I haven’t done a good job at this because I thought I didn’t make enough money to pick who made my clothes. But I know about modern-day slavery—especially in the garment industries—so I have no excuse.
If you love shoes, check out the Root Collaborative. They even offer interest-free payments so that you can shop sustainable, fair-trade products with ease. TOMS® also sells shoes and some clothing and believes in the power of corporations to do good.
2. Buy gently used items.
Shopping at the Salvation Army and Goodwill promotes social justice in two ways—stewarding the resources on Earth and helping the marginalized. Sure, we all like shiny and new, but make a game of it.
One school hosted a second-hand prom and everyone had $20 to spend at thrift stores to see who could come up with the best outfits. You could do the same with your kids or a group of friends.
3. Purchase ethically produced items.
Look for things that don’t hurt the environment whenever you can. I’ve joined Grove Collaborative to receive free shipping on sustainably sourced products that are good for the environment and smell great. (I’m not an affiliate, but if you choose to sign up, I get a bonus).
4. Stay politically active.
Sure, taking a page from ancient China seems like a good idea. But it didn’t work for the Chinese. If we worry about illegal immigration, maybe we should figure out how to keep employers from hiring illegals. Have we considered the environmental impact on birds and animals (things God tasked us to steward) of building a wall?
You can also keep tabs on your Representative and Senators and the things they vote on. Sign up for their newsletters and write back if you disagree with their stance on an issue. Our country can’t be a democracy if we don’t get involved.The U.S. can't be a democracy if we, the people, don't stay involved! #socialjustice #democrazy Click To Tweet
5. Keep snack bags and water bottles in your vehicle.
Not for your kids or yourself, but for homeless people. Even better, save all your hotel samples and add those to the bags, too. Don’t forget to smile and look the person in the eye when you hand them the bag of goodies.
6. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food bank.
Cold weather in winter creates increased demands on shelters and food banks. They could use your time and your money (or supplies). Remember when you serve to walk in humility. Approach people with curiosity and kindness (link to last week’s post).
Likewise, you can volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels to minister to elderly people.
7. Join a Family Promise group or Immigrant settlement organization.
I’ve participated in the Family Promise ministry, and it has thorough trainings that make participants feel equipped and enabled to serve widows, orphans, and the economically disadvantaged.
I have friends who live in cities that have immigrant settlement programs. Their lives get enriched daily from the relationships they form with immigrants.
8. Eat locally produced organic foods.
Not everyone has this luxury, but as far as possible, choose organic over filled with chemicals (not just as a steward of the environment, but as a steward of your health). Choose locally grown over shipped in from elsewhere. Many mid-sized cities have food co-ops or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs.
Palmer, AK has one of the most ingenious community gardens I’ve ever seen. Planter boxes line the local exercise path, and signs urge passersby to take what they need in exchange for pulling some weeds.
9. Recycle, reuse, and repurpose.
Our local community only recycles #2 plastics and cardboard. So we save glass and aluminum for our occasional trips to a bigger city.
When we no longer love a household or clothing item, we donate it to the local thrift shop. A caveat to this practice—make sure the items work and have no stains, rips, or missing buttons.
I work at a non-profit organization, and I can’t tell you the number of times we receive ‘Junk for Jesus’—broken items that belong in the trash. If you wouldn’t offer the item to a friend, don’t offer it to charity.
10. Start empowering people through microloans.
Check out Kiva to find out how you can loan money to people in need who want to start a business to better life for their families. Kiva has a 96.8% repayment rate. But, hey, if your loan doesn’t get repaid, just skip a couple lattes.
+1 Bonus Idea!
Speaking of lattes, you can purchase social justice coffee, too! Exploitation happens in the coffee industry, as well (rainforest destruction, underpaid workers, etc.).
Starbucks often gets a bad rap for being a mega-company, but they believe in social responsibility, too.
If you’ve found other companies or organizations that promote social justice, make sure and share it with us in the comments section.Ten practical tips to promote #socialjustice today (plus a bonus idea). Click To Tweet
The Bottom Line
Christians often agonize over knowing God’s will for their lives, but perhaps we overthink it. God has told us what he wants: to do, to love, and to walk. Read Micah 6:1-8 again if you need a refresher.
We don’t need to read books on how to gain God’s favor (God isn’t a get-rich-scheme). Doing God’s will means living a right life—one that focuses on doing what is right (for us and for others), loving mercy (extending it to ourselves and to others), and walking in humility (operating with curiosity and kindness).
When we do these things, God grins widely, does a fist pump, and shouts, “That’s my child!”