Deep Justice

One of the biggest challenges to addressing social issues in our culture is what I’ll call the “pat on the back” mentality - the tendency to offer charity and handouts that meet someone’s immediate needs, but are as much about our own desire to feel good about ourselves then it is about genuinely helping others.

Giving money to a homeless person; volunteering at the food bank; sponsoring an impoverished child - all great things! - become a matter of checking off the “loving my neighbor” box of Christian faithfulness. The result is a segmented life where loving others is only something we do occasionally instead of an overall posture to life in the world. I think it’s clear that we need more.

In her book, Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World, Mae Elise Cannon cites this helpful distinction between service and justice.

Not-So-Deep Service
Deep Justice
  • Service makes us feel like a ‘savior’ who rescues the broken.
  • Justice means God does the rescuing, but often he works through his great and diverse community.
  • Service often dehumanizes (even if only subtly) those who are labeled as receivers.
  • Justice restores human dignity by creating an inclusive environment which all involved ‘give’ and ‘receive’ in the spirit of reciprocal learning and mutual ministry.
  • Service is something we do for others.
  • Justice is something we do with others.
  • Service is an event.
  • Justice is a lifestyle.
  • Service expects results immediately.
  • Justice hopes for results some time soon but recognizes that systemic change takes time.
  • The goal of service is to help others.
  • The goal of justice is to remove obstacles so others can help themselves.
  • Service focuses on what our own ministry can accomplish.
  • Justice focuses on how we can work with other ministries and accomplish even more.
  • Service is serving food at the local homeless shelter.
  • Justice means asking why people are hungry and homeless in the first place – and then doing something about it.


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