Social justice is a calling beyond social service. Addressing the needs of our fellow human beings through direct service is important, but it’s only one step toward justice. Here are many other ways to live more justly and work toward a more just world.
Pay attention to the inequities and injustices around us. When we see injustice, we are inspired by our faith and empowered by our church to take action.
Enter into relationship with the person or people in need. Discover how those needs might be better met or connect with those who currently meet those needs (or try to) and partner with them.
Whether with partners or as a new effort, provide direct service to people in need.
Based on the above experiences, seek to discover how it is that the needs arose.
Share about all the above. Share with friends. Share your thoughts on a sign at a rally. Share your insights with the larger community, with other churches or institutions, or with whoever will listen. Share that you saw a need, what it was like to connect and serve with those who have that need, what you learned about the personal or social realities that produced need, and invite them to the community of people seeking to make a difference for the good.
Creating a new reality includes working with individuals or social structures or both. Sometimes it looks like joining with those in need to generate better choices or to take advantage of more options that are revealed in conversation. Sometimes it looks like advocating among the politically or economically powerful for more just and equitable policies or more effective programs.
Faced with either victory (yay!) or defeat (sigh) whether at city hall or with the person in need, re-group with your community to discern how to better organize for more effective action, and let the cycle start all over again!
All along the way of this process, take time to connect and reflect. Effective leaders in justice work often refer to the Action/Reflection model. Act and then reflect. Lead the people in a trek across the desert, then go up the mountain to stand on holy ground. Feed the people with loaves and fishes they thought weren’t enough, then go away from the crowd to pray. Those who fail to reflect and are obsessed by damn-the-torpedoes action simply can’t sustain the level of energy and enthusiasm (in the original sense of that word) needed for the long haul. And work for justice is a long, long haul. So action AND reflection are necessary components of any effective social justice effort. The trail of social justice is littered with those who didn’t know how to nourish their spirit and who fell away out of exhaustion or despair and were never able to recover. Or worse, with those who remained in the struggle beyond their ability to not only bring justice, but beyond their ability to themselves be just.
After a decade of ministry, I’ve found I need to add another step. My model is Act/Connect/Reflect. All of the above bullet points are actions. Those who act without taking time to connect soon become numbered among the well-intended, self-righteous, and ultimately ineffective. Connect by being with those in need in their distress. Connect by reaching out when you see an injustice and discover “Where does it hurt?” and “What do you need to heal?” Connect with those efforts or institutions who are already working on behalf of the people in need you want to serve with, and ask them “How can I be of use?” Connect with the people to whom you are testifying by asking them, “What did you hear?” “How does that make you feel?” or “What do you need to be of use to others in need?” Connect, most importantly, with your own inner life, with the God of your understanding.
Doing Justly Together
Allegheny’s Social Justice Council works to balance direct service with effective witness, learning, testimony, advocacy, and better organization in an urban community that is full of challenges and opportunities for growing a soul through serving one another. All these acts of social justice build the common good and the equitable and compassionate world we seek. If you seek a more just, peaceful, and healthy world, please join us.
Blessings, Rev. Dave