The Church and Injustice

written on 05 July 2021 by AKIYE

Art by Nat Iwata

Before I get started, I want to clarify that this is by no means a theological piece on “justice”. This is an open reflection on my evolving understanding of “injustice” and how it has transformed my approach to God, others, and myself. It has certainly been a liberating journey, yet it has equally made my heart ache more. I believed it has taught me to love better, yet I also discovered that love sometimes means being at war. If anything, I hope this helps you on your own rollercoaster journey called faith, in this simultaneously wonderful and wrecking place called earth. I hope it gives you the courage to step into the troubled waters; where faith, hope, love, and life are multiplied.

A little while ago, I came across a short clip that discussed the theological meaning of “transgression”. As I watched, I discovered that beyond “sin” and “iniquity”, there is a very specific word used in the Bible to address how personally evil affects us. To me, this word perfectly captures how anything done selfishly and outside of love is not just “not good” or “not nice”, it has profound repercussions for our souls. But why? For the first time it became clear to me: because such acts were “never meant to be”, they break all divine universal laws. The death of a loved one is painful because it goes against the natural law of life; the betrayal of a friend is hurtful because it goes against the natural law of loyalty; mistreatment leaves us feeling suffocated and inadequate because it goes against the natural law that, bearing the image of God, we ought to be treated with respect and regarded with dignity. In that moment, I realised that all the “negative feelings” I had so often been taught to suppress because they were not “Christian” could in fact at times be the only appropriate ones. What I mean by “divine universal laws” is that I believe that the whole of creation is submitted to a natural order which can ultimately be summarised as “love”. As the physical realm on earth is limited and sustained by gravity, I believe that everything that exists is tied by love. Even as we heed to the critical environmental condition of our planet, we quickly come to the realisation that it is the result of selfish ambition.

Acknowledging this law has been liberating. When I am being poorly treated, instead of assuming that God is against me and that my focus should be on “getting over it”, I now wonder: isn’t God angry? When I let myself be consumed and distracted by misplaced affections, I now ask myself: isn’t God jealous (and I don’t mean in an insecure way but in a rightful you-are-mine-so-who-is-this way)? As I watched the video of a man be unjustifiably choked publicly by someone who was trained and paid to lawfully “maintain order”, I wondered: would God be okay with this? Wouldn’t that make him “snap”? In any case, it made me snap. When I first heard the news about G. Floyd I thought: “just another black man being killed publicly and unjustifiably. There will be no justice, riots are going to pass, and it will soon be forgotten.” I quickly caught myself in this thinking and realised something was not right. I realised I was making myself comfortable with injustice. Not only had I gotten used to accepting racism towards myself in mental “it’s ok’s” or unconvinced “whatever’s” but I had also let my heart grow indifferent or self-protectively distant from the experiences of “others”. I had done such a good job that I did not even know how I was actually supposed to feel, so I started asking God about his own feelings and repented from accustoming myself to injustice. In the following days and months, something changed in me. When my friends were confiding in me, I started to feel more deeply. When I watched a documentary or saw something on the news, I could not brush it off as easily. I started noticing people more. I would also allow myself to feel a wider range of emotions, recognising that feeling an ill, rather than ignoring it and tolerating it, was actually an act of acknowledging God’s perfect order being disrupted. Would that not be an act of honouring God? All of this led me to the conclusion: defending, minimising, or even letting myself getting used to injustice goes against God’s perfect law of love, it goes against God’s very command, it goes against God’s commission, it goes against God’s heart, it goes against God. As I said before, this has been liberating in many ways, but it has also awakened my heart to feel more anger and pain. Sometimes, the discomfort it has brought me made me wonder: Should I maybe just ignore this? Maybe I shouldn’t take this so seriously? Can I just walk away from this? And every time I was reminded: I am called to be true to God and his perfect law, not to minimise discomfort. And by this, I certainly do not mean holding up hateful signs condemning others. By this I mean, kneeling and sometimes getting bruised lifting others to experience a fuller life and the wonderful light of their Maker.

So, as a friend asks me: “what do you think is the role of the Church in fighting injustice?” It seems to me that the only reasonable answer is that as much as we are called to walk in righteousness, children of God are called to eradicated injustice. These to me, (righteousness and justice) seem to be two faces of the same coin. Both are about honouring God, in the way we treat others (and ourselves).

“Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:5-8)

Somehow, our Western Christian culture has cheapened the Christian walk to a path to getting “all the things we want, the way we want them” and has discouraged many by holding idealistic views of “a good Christian”. Our services and organisations are so often developed around self-development and materialist improvement, away from the very simple mission we were given: to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.
Could it be that God is tired of our polished Sunday services? Could it be that he is tired of our singing? Could it be that he is tired of our political correctness? I believe that if we are only experiencing pain, anger, joy, doubts, and pride for ourselves and never for others, we might be missing the point. If we are never petitioning in prayers day after day for someone else, we might be missing the point. If we are never “moving heaven and earth” to see changes in the lives of others, both individually and collectively, we might be missing the point: “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:14-26). And this is not a call to “performative activism”. I am not writing this to suggest that you should add a charity event to your calendar: please do not. I first want to acknowledge that we all are in different ways, to different extents, and less and more consciously both victims and agents of injustice. We all need grace, and we all need help. But I do want to encourage us to consider how sensitive our heart is to God’s heart, rather than our own assumptions of what pleases him or rather more truthfully: what “scores points” with him.

Since last year, many have loved to quote Micah 6:8. I would like to end with a proposition that to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God are all the same thing. Self-righteous activism is NOT what we are called to do, it brings more harm than healing. So, if you are now wondering: how can I do justice? I suppose the answer is difficult but simple: love your neighbour as yourself. The person in front of you, whoever they are. Learning to love them will move you to action and challenge your own heart. Enough to teach you to hate injustice, recognise your own stature and appreciate God’s kindness. Also, know that while only God will ever be able to bring a satisfying justice, as no human court sentence could ever erase a harm caused or loss endured, we all have a responsibility in our relationship to God and with others. This means that we all have a responsibility to make this world more just, today.