Charity or Justice or Both?

I love the intentional charitable choices Les and I make at Christmas. We give coats to a clothing closet so someone will have a warmer Christmas. We buy gifts for someone we know in need. We put together shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. And because of my parents’ Salvation Army background, I have trouble passing a kettle without dropping a little something inside. This year we added the alternative gifts for the family.

Giving to others in need reminds me of the real reason behind Christmas: Jesus came because we needed him. He gives to us and so, in his honor, we give to others.

Two articles in the latest PRISM magazine—the magazine published by Evangelicals for Social Action—reminded me, though, that giving isn’t the only reason Jesus came. An arresting phrase turned up in the first article and then was the title (and subject) of the second: Charity is not justice.

Justice involves using the power you have to provide fair treatment for others, especially the most vulnerable. When Jesus announced his own mission in the synagogue, he used a passage from Isaiah that says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

There are both acts of charity (giving sight to the blind) and of justice (freedom for the prisoners, setting the oppressed free) spoken of in those verses. When God, through Micah told the people what true religion was he said it was “to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” To truly follow God, I cannot just “do charity.” I must also “act justly.”

I always say that I want the spirit of Christmas to be evident in my life all year long, and so I try to ensure that I continue to do acts of charity. But how committed am I to acting justly? And to doing my part to require those holding the reins of power—governments or corporations—to act justly?

That’s harder, and to be honest, it doesn’t usually supply the warm, fuzzy feeling that my charitable giving does. It often means slogging along for the long haul. It might mean writing e-mails or letters, making phone calls, choosing inconvenient shopping options, recruiting others to do the same. It can take years of work (think about the calls to end apartheid). I may never meet the “recipient” of my act of justice; they may never even know that anyone acted on their behalf. But it is still the will of God for me.

So I’m thinking. How will I “act justly” this year? What will I commit to? I can sign petitions through or send an e-mail through when an important vote is on the table. Will I take the second step to make a phone call to a politician to make my voice heard? Will I use the power I do have—my money—and write a corporation and then choose not to buy their product or shop at their store when I hear of unjust practices, not just for a week or two until it gets inconvenient, but until they change? Will I regularly pray for justice to become the norm and listen to God’s voice telling me where I need to work to implement it?

I hope I will consciously choose to support justice, to remember that charity is not justice, and that God desires both. How will you join me in the quest for justice in 2011?


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