I remember hearing a story in the spring of 2011 during the Arab Spring in Egypt about a group of Christians surrounding a group of praying Muslims in order to “protect” them from violence during their prayer time. A short time later I read a similar but unrelated article about a group of Muslims attending a Coptic Christian worship service in Egypt in order to provide a “human shield” to Christians during their time of worship. (More likely than not the radical militants would not bomb the Coptic Christian Church service if fellow Muslims were inside.)
As I think back on these accounts I realize that at the heart of this “protection” for the other religious group was a sense of justice. Deeper than their religious differences lay a sense of human dignity that when activated led to a pursuit of doing justice.
Justice and our belief system
In Chapter 7 of “Generous Justice” Keller explores the topic of doing justice in the public square. He states “justice is always “judgmental”, meaning that we can’t just come at justice from a neutral perspective. Though many try to sum the idea of justice up into simple noncontroversial terms such as freedom and equality the reality is that beneath the concept is always an underlying set of moral and faith assumptions. You and I make decision based on our moral and faith beliefs.
For example, as a Christ follower I act based on my beliefs and convictions of the Bible. For others, whether they believe in many gods, no god or a personal god of some sort, they act according to those convictions and moral beliefs. Therefore, what Keller is saying is that the idea of justice is always going to be loaded with a moral and faith foundation. It can’t be neutral.
One example he gives is the idea of slavery. Why did the US not give people the freedom to own slaves? Ultimately it came down to a justice issue. It was because as a society we made the moral determination that members of all races were fully human, eventually resulting in legislation that abolished slavery. The decision wasn’t impartial and neutral it was deeply rooted in convictions and moral beliefs on what is right and wrong.
Letting go of the comfortable
As Christians we sometimes tend to associate and congregate in our own little pow-wows. Stepping out of our comfort zones and relating to people of different religious beliefs and morals can be challenging. It’s intimidating and scary. (At least for me sometimes it is.) But as Keller states, in the area of doing justice Christians must be people who are humble and cooperative.
The Bible preaches justice to all people. It’s clear, expansive and unwavering. There are no notes hidden in the margins that give us excuses or outs when it seems uncomfortable. (Believe me I’ve checked!) Thus, should not we be willing and ready to participate in acts of doing justice, even if it means being involved with people of others faiths or no faith at all? What is just is just, and needs to be supported.
“The Bible warns us not to think that only Bible-believing people care about justice or are willing to sacrifice in order to bring it about. When we speak publically, we should do so with thoughtfulness and grace, in recognition that Christians are not the only ones who see what needs to be done in the world.” (Keller, 161)
Keller also highlights the fact that such cooperation gives credibility for the believer to share why they are doing and believing what they are. Christians should have no fear in humbly identifying themselves as believers while treating all who work beside them as equals. Our motivation is Christ, and sharing with others our gospel incentive is a special privilege.
Ground is to be gained
I believe there is a lot we can learn from the stories of the Coptic Christians and the Muslims in Egypt. Recognizing our differences is easy. We are good and have lots of experience at that. However, finding our common ground is often more challenging.
It’s easy to be stalled by stereotypes and we are all guilty of giving in to our fears, but great ground is to be gained. I believe significant healing could occur in our country if Christians were willing to find common ground and link arms with those different from us to pursue justice. Not to become like them but to show them we aim to become like Christ.
Once again I think Keller hits the ball out of the park in this chapter. As followers of Jesus may we follow our convictions to do what’s right, move past the labels that hold us back, and find the courage to not be silent about the biblical roots that drive our passion for justice.
As we go and serve in the world while not becoming of the world, our gospel witness can bring great impact. Not only for those we seek to do justice FOR but also those we seek to do justice WITH.Image courtesy of MTSOfan / Flickr.com