What Would Justice Do?
Authored by Foo Pham, Church of the Crossroads Moderator and Faith Action HousingNOW! Chair
“WWJD: What would Jesus do? (Christians) don’t want to know so they can do it, they want to know so they can tell other people to do it.” These are the convicting words of late comedian George Carlin. The ‘WWJD’ mantra and Carlin’s perspective can be interpreted multiple ways. Sometimes it’s a reflection on the choices we make that affect us, sometimes it’s a reflection on the choices we make in how we treat others. I see it as both. Whether it’s the passing of judgement, showing mercy, or acting with empathy, how we choose to treat others also affect us.
Without getting into data analytics, many Christian leaders understand the reality that by and large, young people are not joining the Church or (those who have been raised in it) are leaving the Church. Again, research exists that explain the array of reasons we young people leave the Church. I’ll tell you the reason why I almost left it years ago—I saw the rampant hypocrisy and the passing of judgement by followers of Christ onto me and others that don’t fit the mold of their idea of who a Christian is or how we are to act. With the rise of secular non-profit organizations, it felt like there were places where I could belong and carry out the mission of the Church—just not with the Church.
Two years ago, I joined Church of the Crossroads. The congregation’s Open-and-Affirming identity was one quality that drew me to visit, and the thing that kept me around and led to my eventual membership and now administrative role is that I saw a congregation that doesn’t need a ‘WWJD’ bracelet or bumper sticker to remind itself to be like Jesus. The congregation’s ministry work led me to a new outlet with Faith Action for Community Equity.
Prior to Crossroads, I belonged to multiple churches and participated in ministries therein. These congregations and ministries taught me the values of our faith and offered ways to put our faith into action. One that is clear to me is that Jesus has a heart of the least among us and directs us to show compassion, mercy, and love to others with the understanding that faith without works is dead. For many churches and ministries, that manifests itself in charity work to alleviate human suffering and poverty by providing direct services. Faith Action offered something different: an opportunity to take the mission of the church one step further by seeking systematic changes.
You’ve probably familiar with the saying, “Give a person to fish and they will eat for a day; teach a person to fish and they will eat for a lifetime.” That’s great, but what if the waters are overfished? What if the best place to catch the fish is only accessible by boat? What if you need a fishing/boating license? What if there’s a schedule for the boats and certain fishers get priority during the times of abundance? What if the person you taught to fish can’t afford a boat? You could pose hundreds more questions like this. The point is that in an imperfect world with generations of creating civilizations and systems, fallible humans can intentionally and unintentionally create systems of oppression.
For the sake of word count, I’m going to jump ahead to the point in which we agree that these systems exist. Maybe you are someone who lives in an advantaged position within our societies’ systems. Maybe you call that your privileges, circumstances, or blessings from God. While you may not be responsible for the creation of unjust systems, you can act to change them.
There is a place for service-oriented ministry—teaching people to fish or even simply giving them fish without judgment of expectations. Charity work is necessary because there are people with immediate needs whom we, the Church, are called to serve. However, why not simultaneously change the systems that make our charity work necessary in the first place? This is what it means to live out justice-minded faith.
We all have unique talents, experiences, and interests—you could even call these spiritual gifts. We should take these gifts and put them to use as we feel called. I acted on the calling to participate in Faith Action HousingNOW! to advocate for addressing our community’s need for housing anyone and everyone can afford regardless of economic standing.
Maybe you have the writing ability, speaking ability, and/or time to rise to action when Faith Action asks for you to testify to the gatekeepers of the systems (usually but not always: the government). You don’t have to bite off as much as I have chewed these past two years, but maybe you also feel called to join a Faith Action task force and do the organizing necessary to effect change. Maybe you can identify other methods of living out justice-minded faith that better fit your spiritual gifts.
As Christians, we have been called to act and love in many ways. The one that has resonated with me the most in my life for the past two years has been the call to act justly.
An excerpt of this piece was originally published in the October 2021 issue of The Friend.