“Love without justice is sentimentality,
Justice without love is legalism.”
God’s love in Action…
For many years the strap line for Kingscare has been, “God’s love in action”. Love is voluntary, and is an excellent motive for giving.
- We need to be sure that our love is not condescending.
- It needs to be more than just sympathy.
- It must not be out of a sense of superiority.
We can stand alongside the
needy in the world, and stand up for them. That is where justice comes in.
For some time Kingscare has been channelling resources (mostly money) to developing countries. I believe that we need a change in emphasis. We are not just giving because there is a great need, but because justice demands it.
It is really a matter of: “Love and justice in action”.
“Mobilisation to End Poverty”
The story for me started in 1978. I read a book called, “Rich Christians in an age of hunger”. The book was a call to biblical justice and a call for Christians to take action, not out of guilt, but motivated by God’s justice. As I put the book down, I remember saying, “This book is going to change my life”. I began to read all I could about a Christ-like response to global poverty. In 1988, Kingscare was born.
In April 2009, I attended a conference entitled, “Mobilisation to End Poverty” in Washington D.C., organised by Sojourners International. The emphasis on justice was refreshing and stirred within me many of the motivations which originally caused me to found Kingscare back in 1988. I came away with a new determination to seek justice for the poor and to make justice a part of the aims and values of Kingscare.
There was a talk by Jim Wallis emphasising justice and campaigning on behalf of the poor, particularly in America. With 35 million Americans living below the poverty line, and with the Senators and representatives being particularly available to the people, campaigning is certainly very relevant in the United States situation. Members do not always vote on party lines and so there is scope for influencing individual Senators and representatives to change policy. We have more of a challenge in the United Kingdom seeking to campaign through our members of Parliament, who are more likely to vote on party lines.
There was also a message by Richard Stearns the C.E.O. of World Vision. He referred to his book entitled “The Hole in our Gospel”. He pointed out that in America the average churchgoer only gives 2.5% of his or her income to the church, or indeed to any other charity. Only about 2% of giving by churches is to international ministries of any sort, so that giving to organisations such as World Vision was only about 2% of 2%.
Richard said that the Millennium Development Goals, which were set in the year 2000 to drastically reduce poverty by 2015, will not be achieved by governments alone. He said that he had a dream which greatly moved me, and obviously the other 1100 conference attendees. In his dream he imagined the year 2015 in which the Secretary General of the United Nations stood up to say that the Millennium Development Goals had been achieved. This was mostly because of an unexpected surge of donations from the faith community and in particular the Christian community in the United States and other developed nations.
In the past we have tolerated injustice. Christians have often participated in this injustice or at least stood aside and let it happen.
- For many centuries we encouraged and tolerated slavery. It took a people like Wilberforce a lifetime and a civil war in America to see institutionalised slavery brought to an end. (Slavery still exists in various forms but is not legal.)
- We have seen the genocide of people groups like the Native Americans in North America, the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe, the Tutsi’s in Rwanda and the Muslims in Kosovo.
- We have seen sections of the community marginalised because of their race or culture ─ hence the segregation in the United States, apartheid in South Africa and even to some extent the Catholics in Northern Ireland.
- We still tolerate extreme poverty around the world amongst people of a different race, culture or language.
All of these situations come out of a belief that people from other cultures are somehow worth less than we are. At the worst this is racism, at best it is wrong thinking.
- I have seen how distress is just as real to a young Ugandan child who has lost his parents through Aids.
- A father from Jaffna is just as concerned as we would be for a son caught up in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
- A mother from Ethiopia is just as devastated as a mother from England would be if she had to watch her baby die from hunger.
It is not good enough to see the problem of poverty as being a problem “over there”. In a world where the media informs us of what happens thousands of miles away, we simply have no excuse.
Examples of injustice
- It is not right that 1 billion people live on the equivalent of less than $1 per day (that is £4 per week). It is not right that more than 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day or £9 per week.
- Each day the equivalent of 100 airliners crash, killing 26,500 children. Imagine if these airliners were actual planes. Imagine the press and media coverage! World leaders would fall over themselves declaring the gravity of the situation. Flights would be stopped, investigations would be launched and heads would roll.But these are real people, indeed real children who die each day needlessly. And the same figure is repeated day after day with no media coverage. These children die of preventable causes related to poverty.They die from malaria, from waterborne diseases, from Aids, tuberculosis, and diarrhoea and childhood illnesses made deadly through hunger and poverty. These are preventable. We have the knowledge and skills but we have yet to have the will to eradicate these causes of childhood deaths.
- What about distribution of wealth. Although hard work deserves a just reward, is it really just that the average income in the top ten countries is 75 times higher than the poorest 10 countries?
In the Bible the words, “Justice” and “Righteousness” appear together dozens of times. In fact the two words are virtually interchangeable. Righteousness is not only about our attitude towards God and about our standing before Him. Righteousness is about our attitude towards others and our actions being just. It is about seeking justice for the oppressed.
In the 21st-century, and in an ever reducing global community, we can no longer tolerate the injustice of poverty that causes children to die of preventable causes. The situation demands justice.
I am talking about justice, not judgement. If we break the law of the land, we will have justice forced upon us. We are all called to exercise justice on behalf of other people. Justice on its own can be legalism. We can seek justice out of a sense of duty, or we can seek justice voluntarily.
Love and Justice
But as Paul said, “Let me show you a more excellent way”. I believe that biblical justice should not be a matter of law but should be given voluntarily as an act of love. Love and justice go together. The Old Testament says that God loves justice and the New Testament says that God loves a cheerful giver.
If we voluntarily choose to pursue justice, not out of any sense of duty, but out of a desire to be righteous before God, and out of a love for our fellow human beings, then we have the best combination of love and justice. Justice on its own implies rules and laws, but we cannot legislate for love. Love is not a law but a positive commandment.
The gospel is good news for the poor. We should embrace the whole Gospel which not only puts us in a relationship with God but also maintains a right and just relationship with our fellow human beings most of which are desperately poor compared with us. Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, made it plain that when commanded to love our neighbour, that neighbour can be of another race, of another culture or another religious emphasis.
I must emphasise that we should not be motivated by guilt, duty or merely sympathy. We can be motivated by God’s love for every individual. Grace means that we can feel something of God’s heart for the poor and oppressed, and this can motivate us and change our attitudes as we give our lives and our resources (often money) to God – and to the poor.
We can give with various motives, but the best motives are justice and love. There is a progression here:
The needs of the world are enormous. But the fact is that the Church really could change the world. Even without the help of governments and secular agencies, there is enough wealth amongst followers of Jesus in developed countries, which if given to seek justice through love, really could reduce the extremes of poverty and bring education and basic health-care to those who are oppressed by lack of opportunity and resources.
Let’s change the world, that His Kingdom may be evident everywhere, that all may see a demonstration of God’s love!