“Who shall put his finger on the work of justice, and say,
‘It is there’?
Justice is like the kingdom of God:
it is not without us as a fact;
it is within us as a great yearning.”
—George Eliot: Romola, Bk.III, ch 7
The question of justice is the subject of this issue of Let’s Talk. As the Editorial Council discussed the direction and possibilities of the content, we asked ourselves: “What does justice mean in our world, especially in the wake of September 11?”
Is justice the fulfillment of, “…a new heaven and a new earth,” or is justice punishment or even revenge?
Is justice primarily a political action to bring about fairness in society, or is justice commanded by God in the words of the prophets and the words and actions of Jesus?
Is justice really social ministry with another name?
These are among the questions puzzled over and discussed by the authors with richly divergent viewpoints. Ah, but that’s what makes Lutherans what we are. We hope you find the articles interesting and thought provoking.
Craig A. Satterlee, writing with Trish Madden, traces the historical change in the Lutheran approach to social ministry. Satterlee and Madden develop the shift in Lutheran understanding of social ministry from “inner missions” to “justice making.” They say, “As Christian and cultural values diverge, the church’s social ministry moves from caring for those who have fallen through the cracks of a ‘Christian society’ to working to make society more just.”
This movement, they say, is often met by resistance as congregations “hold tightly to a doctrine of the separation of church and state that understands public policy as an inappropriate topic for preaching.”
Encouraging pastors to carefully consider how they will lead their congregations to embrace their calling to be communities of justice Satterlee and Madden offer six preaching realities. They conclude: “That Christian preachers are called to proclaim God’s justice and mercy is undeniable. The question we are called to consider is how we will preach justice as our response to God’s grace.”
Dan Schwick also considers the past and present of justice. He says, “Today’s vision of justice must still be informed by the ancient biblical vision of God’s shalom—the whole cosmos in balance.”
Schwick asks us how often do we as individual disciples of Jesus or as church communities take a step back and ask hard questions about why there are hungry or homeless or otherwise deprived people in our communities? He then challenges the Metropolitan Chicago Synod to undertake a process of “consciousness-raising” in our own community.
In conclusion, Schwick says that the men and women who helped shape the mission statement that calls the church to “Preach Christ, Make Disciples, Do Justice” understand that doing justice is not an after-thought or an add-on to the church’s ministry. Hopefully we do also.
Frank C. Senn takes another viewpoint in his column “As I See It…” He asks, “When did we move from having social ministry committees to having justice teams in our synods and congregations?”
Senn says he doesn’t believe that doing justice necessarily goes along in a continuum with preaching Christ and making disciples. “Belonging to Christ means being initiated into and witnessing to a new creation with a new way of being even in this world, while doing justice means making things work in the old creation.”
Christian morality, according to Senn, is always a matter of going beyond justice because justice is not always desirable. He reminds us that God does not do justice with regard to human sin; God forgives it.
The final two articles deal with justice in the wake of September 11. As indicated in the credit lines both originally appeared in other publications shortly thereafter.
Gilbert Meilaender gives us three points he would like to hear in any discussions about justice in relation to the attacks of September 11. First, Christians should care about justice. Second, Christians stand in relationships of special moral responsibility to certain people. Third, Christians need to talk seriously about Islam.
Leon Spencer writes that if we are to find peace in a world where both good and evil exist, we must first do justice. He gives us a litany of ways we have neglected to do justice in the name of national self-interest.
The above are all lively articles which could and should lead to lively discussions—and perhaps even justice.
In addition to the five articles, two book reviews add to the wealth of this issue. Brian Halverson reviews The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong, a close look at fundamentalism across three world religions. Nicholas J. Zook reviews Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, by Gilbert Meilaender, which looks at moral debates through the “Christian Vision” formed by Baptism and life in the context of God’s faithfulness.