From inception Watershed has sought to put justice at the forefront of our mission. Whether embedded into the themes of pop culture artifacts or real life events in our city, nation, and world, justice has become a hot topic. Over the course of the next few weeks Pastor of Justice Cedric Lundy is going to conduct a blog series aimed at unpacking our understanding of justice and why it’s fundamental to our community.
“This social justice agenda is an add on to the gospel by liberals and progressive Christians, but it has no biblical basis.” I simply replied, “Well as a Pastor of Justice, I’m just going to have to disagree with you. I can assure you there is tons of biblical basis for justice, social or otherwise.”
I don’t think my friend meant offense by what he said. He wasn’t trying to get my goat. He was simply just sharing an opinion on the current cultural and political landscape of our country. It didn’t surprise me to hear a comment like that. In all honesty I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that a lot of Christians believe there is no biblical basis for social justice. I’ve heard other pastors refer to “social gospels” as though it were some well meaning, but ultimately neutering of the “real” gospel. That somehow a “social” gospel is a gospel with an agenda that wasn’t Christ’s agenda and relies on non-biblical sources to make its case. Martin Luther King Jr. was often criticized by the Christian community for being a socialist.
The truth is that taking out the portions of scripture where justice is explicit or even implicit would be like removing the advertisements out of Cosmopolitan magazine. You’d be left with little more than the binding and a few seemingly random pages. The fact that we’d need to emphasize the gospel being “social” is evidence that our default gospel telling is set to “self-center”. It should be no surprise that the biblical basis for social justice starts at the beginning; the very beginning of the biblical narrative in the book of Genesis.
What makes for a just space? Judaism has a one word for that which dates back to ancient times. Shalom. In English shalom translates to peace, which unfortunately does not begin to capture the robustness of what Judaism was trying to communicate. Our usage of peace typically means the absence of conflict. The picture the writers of Genesis paints of the beginning is absent of conflict, but it is also absent of any signs of life. The earth is described as being “without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”
What happens next and its significance is often lost on those who want to debate on whether or not it should be taken literally. We are witnesses to the fact that the earth is not formless and devoid of light and life. We know that the earth is teeming with life and light and beauty of seemingly infinite form. Far from being empty, it is full.
Genesis gives its own poetic account of the divine speaking creating and declaring good things on the earth. The divine creates entire social system of plant life, wildlife and human beings all “blessed” with the ability to continue the creation process or as the writer simply puts multiply! At the end of their work the divine looks at the earth and declares it all very good.
But what is good about it?
This is where the Jewish understanding of peace or shalom is tantamount. It is good because there is complete and undeterred individual and corporate harmony between and amongst every inch of the earth and its creatures. If Genesis 1 had a theme song, Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” seems the obvious choice. Shalom is the idea that everything is as it ought to be.
Justice depends on the idea that our world, and everything in it, was good and is good. Justice is the belief that whatever has gone wrong with our world can be made right. Justice is the ethic that our goodness as mankind is tied together with the goodness of this world we inhabit. Creation didn’t end after the sixth day. Most everything that fills the earth was bestowed a blessing to continue the creation process by being fruitful and multiplying. In the Genesis 2 account mankind is explicitly invited into the vocation of creating more when God tells them to work the ground and keep it. Eden had no boundaries no fence no limits. It was always meant to go forth and expand. The world is the showcase for our creative endeavors that multiply and expand goodness and thicken shalom.
Last but certainly not least shalom is also the idea that everyone and everything has enough. Some have more and some have less but everyone has enough. Everyone and everything have enough to contribute to the increase and expanse of good in our world. Everyone and everything have enough to keep inadequacy, or shame, and guilt or blame out of the equation.
Justice recognizes when this isn’t the case and springs into action to make things right. To pursue, at times what seems impossible, shalom. For things to no longer simply be the way they are, nor the way they could be, but to be how it ought to be.
At Watershed we are energized by seeing people in our community who see the absence of shalom and respond by using their resources, ingenuity, and creativity in unison with others, to bring about shalom. That’s how we know people really truly understand what justice is, why it’s needed, and that it is inherently social.