Thirsting for justice in a society of growing inequity – by Tom Sine

by Christine Sine

Today’s post in the series What Are We Hungering and Thirsting For? is written by Tom Sine, author and consultant Tom blogs regularly at msainfo.us.

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I had the wonderful opportunity, from 1977 to 1984 to head a community development project in Haiti for World Concern. We were invited by village leaders in the Pleasant Valley to work with them to improve the quality of life of 10,000 people who lived in this community. People were barely subsisting on an annual income of $150 a person a year. Children were frequently dying of malnutrition. 60% of the illnesses came from drinking polluted water from streams they shared with their cattle.

We worked with these leaders to drill wells for safe water, increase food production and create a village level healthcare system. However, the village leaders told us that there top priority was to construct a road so that they could safely get their products to market in other villages.

They also told us that one of the major reasons constructing the road was their top priority was that they wanted “justice to come down the road.” It wasn’t until months later that we finally learned what this meant. In their community like communities all over the world the powerful and wealthy too often taken advantage of the poor. We learned in this community a few wealthy land owners were routinely taking away land from poor farmers under the guise of changes in the law.

Since these poor farmers had no way to contest having their land stolen they wanted “justice to come down the road.” They wanted to construct a road so that leaders from the national government could come in reverse this misappropriation of their land.

My Australian Christian friends ask a great question:” what is God on about?” In other words what are God’s purposes for a people and a world? Too many Christians believe God’s purposes focus almost exclusively on private faith and personal pursuit of righteousness. Too often they don’t recognize that God’s purposes include societal change too.. bringing healing to the broken, justice to the poor and peace to the nations as well.

In response to the growing inequity that characterized society in Israel . God called on the people to institute jubilee.  This economic structural change was intended to end generational poverty and give every family a fresh start every 50 years. Not surprisingly those in power resisted this call to justice and jubilee was not widely practiced.

But Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and the other prophets all spoke truth to power often at the risk of their own lives. They not only called individuals to live more righteously they also called the whole society to operate more justly.

As we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem there is greater inequity in America than any other developed country. Regrettably that inequity is growing. The New York Times reported on March 21 that between 1993 to 2010 incomes of the richest 1% of Americans grew 58% while the rest of us only experienced a 6.4% gain.

In the important book Nickel and Dimed the author describes in vivid terms how many of those who serve us in restaurants and hotels barely subsist on their low incomes. A surprising number live in their cars and housing that is not safe. What’s new since the recession is that growing numbers of the middle class are beginning to struggle to just subsist like the working poor have done for years.

Isn’t it time for followers of Jesus to speak truth to power? Shouldn’t we be calling our communities,  corporations and government to increase educational and employment opportunities for all people to prosper and enjoy the fruit of their labor…. not just those for this new class of the super rich?

There is a new philosophy of extreme individualism that is becoming popular America. This philosophy does not find its roots in Scripture but rather as a product of the Enlightenment.  In its simplest form it asserts that if we all pursue our own self-interest it will automatically work for the common good. The reality is that too often when people of power wealth and privilege pursue their own self-interest it centralizes wealth and power for the few at the expense of many of the rest of us…. like we saw in Haiti.

Listen in this season Lent listen to the call of the prophet Isaiah to participate in a fast that hungers and thirsts for justice. Particularly note how this passage contradicts the ideology of individual pursuit of self-interest. It makes clear that our healing and well-being is directly connected to the well-being of our neighbors.

Isaiah asks if God calls us to a fast where we simply humble ourselves?  “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke , to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer, you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression with the pointing finger and the malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your life will rise in the darkness and your night will become like noonday.” Isaiah 58 NIV

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5 comments

cloakedmonk March 24, 2012 - 6:37 pm

Reblogged this on Cloaked Monk's Blog and commented:
“Isaiah asks if God calls us to a fast where we simply humble ourselves? “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke , to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Reply
Joe Carson March 25, 2012 - 11:03 am

I suggest you should connect the “hunger and thirst for righteousness” with “suffering for righteousness’ sake” in the ways the priviliged Christians who read your blog will most likely find opportunities to do so – related to their vocations.

But that is, in my experience, a “red line” Christian religious professionals will not cross, because the “blowback” from the pew sitters could well leave them saying “would you like fries with that?” in their next job.

Google my name, Joe Carson, I know whence I speak. I’m on organizing committe for March 30 OccupyEPA rally http://www.OccupyEPA.com and will be a speaker, going after Obama for his failure to do his explicit duty, as President, to ensure members of federal civil service can do theirs, competently and ethically, without fear or favor, per the merit principles of federal civil service.

American gov’t is becoming more corrupt – more like Haiti’s – captured by rich and distrusted by rest.

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tom sine March 26, 2012 - 7:51 pm

Joe,

A strong and compelling response. I would like to learn more about the Occupy Movement. Occupy EPA is new to me. You may well be right.about Christian religious professionals. Can you send me some of your views about the aspirations of Occupy Movement and any people of faith you have encountered who seem to be authentic to you?

tom@msainfo.org

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Damien74 July 31, 2012 - 10:55 pm

Thanks for your insights Tom, but I am wondering; this article, like so many others today, puts the focus for Christians on social justice at the cost of evangelism. The focus today seems to be more on feeding the hungry, rather than making disciples.

My take on reading the gospels is that the life of Jesus promotes three things working together; Teaching the Word of God, healing the sick and promoting social justice. Jesus primarily came into the world to save sinners (Matt 1:21, 1 Tim 1:15). He didn’t do this through social justice alone, but through preaching, healing and helping. All three must work together. In our social justice, let’s not forget to make disciples.

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Christine Sine August 1, 2012 - 4:25 pm

Damien thank you for your question. You are right evangelism and social justice are like two wings of a bird or two strands of a cord. They are meant to work together. The reason this post concentrates on issues of social justice is because these have historically been ignored by the evangelical church. Also it is my strong belief that salvation is not just about a decision we make in our hearts, salvation is about a total turn around of our life towards God and that includes social justice. We cannot love God and not love what God loves – justice for the poor, freedom for captives and healing for the sick. Social justice is an integral part of our salvation.

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