April 1, 2010 / David Fitch

On Making Justice Local and the Upcoming Evolving Church Conference

4113345421_3b31384e8cWe have a tendency in American church to make a program out of the practice of justice. “Justice” then becomes a concept, something we do for a couple hours a week, where we get in our cars and go to some location of urban blight, and serve God. In the process, by definition we become distanced from God’s justice in the world. It becomes “a cause,” a bumper sticker, an abstract concept. It becomes something we fight for like “the Christian Nation” that enables us to put all our energy into working for change meanwhile avoiding where real change might take place, on the ground, in our lives, immediately around and among us. In our very midst, as we sit together worshipping God together, there are poor among us, there are excesses, there are inequities that reveal the lack of a real reconciliation of Christ among us on Sunday morning. And so on and on we go, with real justice (not just the idea) never taking root.
I contend that God’s righteousness is intensely relational. Separating monetary economics from all other sorts of relationships is not possible in the Kingdom. This means we cannot promote justice as some sort of program alone. Money won’t solve the injustice problem alone (although it’s inseparable from it). It’s a whole new order that begins in people’s lives with and among each other. In Christ God is reconciling the whole world to Himself – a new order has begun (2 Cor 5:17-21).

So, can we promote justice in the world when it has not yet taken root in our own social bodies? Can we minister to those who are hungry in the world if there are those hungry among us right here in the body of Christ (1 Cor 11:21). I suggest this is the 6000 pound gorilla in the room of many evangelical churches, especially mega churches where we prize our anonymity from each other and don’t know who’s struggling from who’s not. We need to know what justice looks like here in order to know what it might look like elsewhere. The justice of Christ must take shape as a way of being His body, a form of sharing and caring for each other that results in another form of economics that breaks down the isolation and well-defended personal financial security that capitalism requires of us all in N. America. When we set this process in motion through obedience and faithfulness, we “become the justice of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). We can actually “see” what true justice might look like. We are gifted with the ability to subvert and transform the social injustices of our day. We offer the world a new way of being together. We become salt and light in the world for God’s justice. We have the ability to not only accuse the world of injustice, but to participate where God is already at work for the justice of the world because we can see it, recognize and even complete it by joining in with God for the “making of all things right.”

All of this means that we need to take seriously the issue of Kingdom economics. How can the church show the world the way forward in the shaping of our socio-economic relationships among us as God’s people? What does this mean? This is so ‘stinkin’ complicated I almost feel the urge to warn any one who takes this one on – Go slow, think through this, study and preach Scripture, allow the Holy Spirit to shape our imaginations, discern each little thing as it arises for the faithfulness God is calling us to. Assign a person the role of cultivating and shaping imagination for what God is doing in each situation of hurt, lack or victimization in your church (this is what we’re in the midst of doing at our church). Does this mean living socially under one common purse? Many people would say so based on texts like Acts 2:44. I don’t necessarily think so. At least not in many current contexts (although for some contexts this might be the only option). Does this mean we start moving into together so as to live “more simply?” maybe, maybe not depending on a lot of factors. Does this mean we grow gardens, share food. Does this mean we all have unlimited financial liability towards one another? Does this mean we start co-op non-for-profit banks or healthcare services? More and more, I am convinced we need to think seriously about these things, not just in poor urban areas but in richer suburban areas as well.

We all to need to pray and think about this stuff as we seek to cooperate with God’s righteousness to the world. Ironically there’s a conference up north talking about local justice. I say ironic because most conferences I’ve seen promoted deal with justice on a mass scale as opposed to the nature of local justice, local economy. This next coming weekend, April 10, the guys at the Evolving Church Conference in Toronto are bringing together wonderful minds to think through what local Kingdom economics might look like (the painting you see in this post is from the conference). The title of this one day learning time is “Kingdom Economy” and Brennan Manning, William Cavanaugh, David Dark, Becky Garrison and others are gathering to speak and converse on the very issues of this post. I’m especially interested in hearing J Kameron Carter – I’m a big fan of his book – Race A Theological Account. YOU CAN GET ALL THE INFO RIGHT HERE.  If you’re near by, if you can make the trek there, by all means go! I’ll see you there in Toronto …
Blessings on the conference!