We find great inspiration from heroes and saints down through the ages who gave their hearts (and sometimes even their lives) for the sake of a better world. They remind us that hope emerges wherever love is present, that love makes a way out of no way, and that transformation and change are possible even and especially when we expect it the least. Their legacies invite us and challenge us to follow in their footsteps by choosing to give our hearts toward the mending, healing, and repairing of the world, all in the name of love.
“I will speak upon the ashes.” – Sojourner Truth, nineteenth century abolitionist and champion of human rights
Social justice is a phrase people often use that refers to the dreams God has for the world. Being committed to social justice, from a faith-based perspective, means partnering with God in order to make God’s dream become a reality in the here and now, for “God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Social justice is different than charity. Charity tries to help people who are in need, which is certainly important and worthy of our best efforts. But social justice tries to figure out why people are in need in the first place. It then tries to alleviate the causes of such need. As the popular analogy goes, it’s one thing to pull a body out of a river (charity), but it’s another thing entirely to figure out why bodies are being thrown into the river in the first place (justice).
This can be compared to what the great Martin Luther King Jr. said about the parable of the good Samaritan: “A true [transformation] of values will cause us to question the fairness of many of our policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
None of us can do the work alone, and sometimes we don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s important to connect with others along the way. Not only does sharing the journey make it far more valuable, meaningful, and productive, but it helps us learn from one another as well. For those in our society who carry significant degrees of privilege (perhaps due to race, gender, or sexual orientation), it’s all the more important to listen and learn from the experiences of others. This helps one reflect on the most constructive and beneficial ways to be part of the work that needs to be done, and why one feels drawn toward it.
Organizers and activists often speak of showing up, digging in, and staying connected. With this in mind, Brentwood partners with a handful of local organizations that are steadfast in their pursuit of justice. A great entry point is Faith Voices of Southwest Missouri, a grassroots community of activists and organizers committed to racial justice, economic dignity, and equal rights.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller, twentieth century author and activist
People often wonder whether to focus outreach and justice efforts locally or globally. At Brentwood, we do a little of both, and we begin in the neighborhood. For example, our Community Garden provides hundreds of pounds of free, healthy, locally grown produce to the Crosslines food pantry every year, which in turn feeds hundreds of local families in need of healthy nutrition. We also support a number of local agencies. At the same time, we sponsor a village in Temoa, Nicaragua that provides healthcare, food, schooling, and micro business loans (through the Rainbow Network). More than anything, whether it’s local or global (all people have the same worth), we try to maximize our energy and resources toward affecting change on a systemic level, as opposed to only giving toward charity (charity is important but it’s just a stop gap measure). Given the current humanitarian crisis on the southern border of the U.S., we’ve encouraged directing resources toward immigrant advocacy organizations.
It’s important to point out that even as we partner with people of faith, we also partner with people of good faith who may not necessarily identify as religious and may not share all of the same beliefs. What’s important to us is the spreading of love and justice in this world, whether it specifically emerges in one or more religious contexts or not. As a church, we locate our commitments through the teachings of Christ (Matthew 25:34-40 names this well), but we don’t believe love and justice are confined to the teachings of Christ. The beauty of the kind of love that Christians believe Jesus embodied is that it breaks down all boundaries that try to limit it, including religious boundaries. And there is always more love to come. As human beings, whether we identify as religious or not, we’re just trying to catch up to the beauty and wonder of love that beckons, inspires, and transforms.
“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King, modern day civil rights leader