Building a More Just Society


Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a group of students from Denmark and Brooklyn at Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies about how we can learn to build a more just society together.  [Reading time about 6 minutes]

As we think about the many injustices going on in our world, our communities and even our school, we come at the issues from very different angles and are affected by them in very different ways. With this in view, we need to learn how we can move closer together and be more on the same page as we address these injustices around us.  From my work and study over the last few years, these are some of things I think that can help us be better together
First we need to,

Accept personal responsibility

The temptation, as we think about racial, criminal and financial injustices facing our communities and maybe even affecting our own lives, is to to put all of the load of change on others.  The problem is the government, society, our culture, broken systems and/or history.  This isn't to say that all of these factors and more aren't part of the problem but as the saying goes, "When you are pointing your finger at someone else, you are pointing four back at yourself"

Whatever the issue, we have to learn to do the hard work in seeing what this hardship, this issue, this struggle is teaching me, showing me and how it's refining me.

My bitterness, apathy and ignorance, my fear of being uncomfortable and selfishness, my assumptions and prejudices are parts of the problem.  If I am unwilling to see, accept and address these things being revealed in me, then sadly I will let them affect and color the work I do.

I have to accept that the only person I can truly be responsible for is myself and so it has to start with me and how the issues around me are inviting me to change.

Second though, we move from personal responsibility to,

Collective Morality

Or what some might call ethics. 

In moving towards becoming a more just community and society, we have to accept that our actions, our words, our purchases, our decisions have impact on others

We need a bigger and deeper plan than just my own personal happiness, safety and success, because without knowing or thinking those things might come at the expense of someone else's justice and well-being.

  • I want convenience and immediacy when it comes to my purchases and my desires
  • I always want the latest and greatest technology or clothing

But do I stop and consider the implications of my immediate gratification, or convenience on the lives of others?   Reducing right and wrong to what's best for me, or what makes me feel good is what leads to so much friction as personal worldviews [and perhaps better described as personal kingdoms] come into constant collision.  Put another way, the reality is if my agenda for life is only my happiness, not everyone is going to be as committed to that plan as I am.

Beyond that, the problem then, is that its hard to advocate collective human rights, when I am most focused on my own, rather than what would serve, bless and build up humanity. 

Within the realm of the Christian thinking then, Mark Sayers says it well in his book, Disappearing Church, saying,

Post-Christianity intuitively yearns for the justice and shalom of the kingdom, while defending the reign of the individual will...Therefore social justice is less about economic or class inequality, and more about issues of equality relating to individual identity, self-expression, and personal autonomy.

I want people to be free from sexual exploitation and abuse, but don’t consider how my pursuits and longings might be playing a part of that injustice.  I want economic equality and access for all but don’t stop to consider how my spending and purchases may perpetuate injustices.

And so to encourage and inspire a more just society, the invitation is to accept personal responsibility.  From there remembering and accepting we are part of one race, the human race, learning to see the implications of my ethical choices on the lives of others and finally,

Understand the Other

Humanity is infinitely complex, as a wide and beautiful variety of ethnicities and nationalities make up our neighborhoods and communities.  We also have different experiences, desires and struggles that affect how we live our lives.  This is coupled with the fact that we enter into the variety of social issues affecting our city, country and world because they affect us differently, leaving lots of room for disagreement.  To encourage a more just society then will require that we learn to understand each other rather than simply dismissing each other, especially when those disagreements are serious.  We live in a society, sadly, full of suspicion, fear and judgment of the other and this leads to increasing friction and isolation in our communities.  But when we come to realize that hurt people hurt people and healing people, heal people, we can start to break down walls between us and really hear from and learn from one other.  

Thoughtful collaboration justice work is fueled by learning to deal with dissonance and being able to see and celebrate similarities

This means learning to see each other as part of one race, the human race and learning to see the intricacies not as reasons to divide but as reasons to learn and appreciate.  This means learning to rejoice with others instead of tearing down; it means seeing their tears and leaning in;  it means moving from seeing these issues on paper to seeing them in the flesh.

This is messy work, but the nature of redemptive justice is rooted in a belief that we are made for love, a love that we rejected by trying to put ourselves at the center leading only to chaos. God’s response was to understand by entering into our mess, taking on flesh.  In so doing, being affected by the injustices but then overcoming them by dying for them so we might learn to love again by trusting His good and perfect plan.  A plan that says all humans are equally beautiful and precious, meant to be protected.  A plan that promises that He will change us and help us to love selflessly and sacrificially as we trust the One who did so graciously and perfectly for us.  A plan from a God who understands our weaknesses and our anguish and promises to set things straight.

And so as we accept our responsibility personally and collectively and seek to understand each other in view being loved, forgiven and empowered by God, we can then inspire others to join in building a more just society or what John Perkins so aptly calls, “The Beloved Community”

So what do I do now?

Well, consider…

  • What am I being invited to change about me?
  • How might my actions and pursuits be affecting others adversely?
  • Who [individual, group] do I need to understand better instead of just dismissing?

Reverend William Barber has been speaking and calling for this for some time now on the shoulders of many who have gone before him and so in closing, be blessed through his invitation into this rebuilding of a moral movement.