This blog post is Part 8 in a 12-part blog series on Christianity and justice. (If you missed the first post, you can find it here.) Now that we have talked about the biblical foundation for justice, as well as some barriers that hold Christians back from fully engaging in justice efforts, I’d like to move on to discussing how Christians can incorporate justice into their everyday lives. How do we ‘do justice’ in our neighborhoods, communities, nation, and world?
The first step is to get your attitude right. Sometimes when people get excited about working for justice, they come up with a bunch of ideas for how things should be, and they try to make those ideas happen, without first trying to understand the situation and the needs of the people who are most impacted by the unjust social systems.
This strategy doesn’t usually work. It’s a bad idea to make assumptions about what you think needs to happen regarding a problem or issue, especially if you haven’t personally experienced the issue or are not educated about the problem. If you start out thinking you know more than you do, your intervention is unlikely to be effective, and you might alienate the people you are trying to help.
Instead of making assumptions and thinking you know more than you do, start with humility. Humility was a foundational aspect of Jesus and his ministry. Paul described it this way:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8).
Humility involves having an accurate view of yourself, including your strengths and limitations. You have a particular cultural background, story, and set of experiences. This background may make it easier for you to connect with certain groups of people and understand their experiences, but it also can make these connections more difficult. You may have a certain amount of knowledge based on your experiences and education, but there are likely gaps in your knowledge.
Humility also involves an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented rather than self-focused. The point of working for justice isn’t to make you feel better about yourself or alleviate your guilt. Instead, the point of working for justice is to help others. This involves listening and being open to the experiences of others, even if their experience is different from your own. Humility allows other people to be the expert on their own situation and experience, even if this perspective causes you to shift or change your view of the world.
When learning how to be an ally or advocate for justice, start with humility. Acknowledge your cultural background, story, experiences, and your limitations. Make it a point to first listen and understand, rather than giving your opinion and trying to show what you know or how you can help.
Discussion: What do you think about humility as a foundational attitude for justice work? What is the most difficult part about engaging others with humility?