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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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12.03.2024

Wisdom Lab: Working out justice | Create (3/4)

The views expressed in these blogs belong to the authors, not necessarily LICC. In this series, we’re hosting a conversation in blog form.

You don’t have to spend long with friends or colleagues or scroll far through social media to find people making passionate pleas for justice to be done for a cause, person, or issue that matters deeply to them. 

We feel the effects of injustice incredibly strongly, particularly when it’s perpetrated directly against us or those we care about. There’s something innate within all of us that wants to see wrongs made right, victims protected, and the guilty held to account.  

But when it comes to issues like reparations, climate justice, or migration – and their everyday expressions in our spending, work policies, and pub conversations – what does justice actually look like, and how can we be part of bringing it about?

That’s the question this blog series explores. In four articles, four authors will have a conversation, responding to each other’s work and ‘triple listening’ to wisdom from the word of God, the world, and one another. Together, and at the Wisdom Lab: Working Out Justice event, they’ll help you ‘to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly’ (Micah 6:8), wherever he’s placed you, alongside the people he’s put you with. 

In part one, Matt Jolley helped uslisten to our culture. Then, in part two, Adom Otoo helped usimagine how a biblical theology of justice can shape what should be going on in the way we pursue justice. In this piece, Tim Lornie from Just Love will sketch out ways to create change in how we live and work. Then, in the final article, Hannah Lloyd from Tearfund will think about how to communicate the good news of the gospel to a watching world instinctively bent on seeing wrong things made right. 

 

Depending how you count, there are between 2,000 and 3,000 verses about social justice in the Bible. As Adom outlined, the story of Scripture is a story about justice: from the anti-imperial impulses of Eden through the socio-economic radicalism of Deuteronomy, Jesus’ ministry on the margins, to the cross where peace and justice meet, the whole thing is the saga of God’s active involvement in his world.  

And as Matt showed us, the vision of peace, justice, and ecological renewal held out in the Bible is no distant relic, but a concrete promise thrusting right to the heart of our present moment. If the church is to practice triple listening – to the word, the world, and one another – there is surely no more urgent task than to hear our groaning planet, the desire of the oppressed, and the prophetic cry of a generation discontented with the status quo.  

But how can we respond? As James crisply puts it, ‘faith without deeds is dead’ (James 2:26). Action matters. 

That’s the core belief behind the Just Love Network, a lifelong space of support and action in the work of social justice. From Dundee soup kitchens to Dalston community groups, for the last 10 years we’ve been asking what it means to ‘seek justice’ – not in the abstract but right here, right now, as ordinary people in our time and place, in situations like that which Matt described at his university in part one 

 

Six practices for social justice 

Last year, Just Love took what we’ve learned and crystallised it into a simple agenda for social change. 

All of us want to see deep, lasting change in our lifetimes; the question is ‘how?’. Whatever the issue – ending extreme poverty, reversing climate breakdown, safe housing for all, or a decolonised global economy – how do we move from complex planetary challenges to practical action in the everyday? 

The answer, among other things, is practice. And Just Love’s six practices translate the Bible’s call to justice into a set of everyday habits and commitments: 

  • Serve humbly: time, skill, and work 
  • Live lightly: ecological justice and mindful consumption 
  • Give deeply: radical, world-changing generosity 
  • Love widely: relationships and community 
  • Engage structures: politics and advocacy 
  • Pray boldly: everything is spiritual 

These six practices are not intended to be a universal expression of biblical justice – that’s probably impossible and definitely above our pay grade! Instead, they’re guidelines for impactful, lifelong action in some of the central areas of our lives. Depending on a million different things – especially our calling, relational circumstances, and experiences of privilege and oppression – these core commitments will look very different for each one of us. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to many of them, and we can’t to go full pelt on all of them at once!  

That said, we do want to be radical. Jesus’ response to evil and injustice was not half-baked or convenient, but an all-consuming passion and commitment. It cost him time, energy, wealth, power, comfort, and relationships; in the end, it cost him his life. As we approach these six practices, let’s ask the Spirit to pull us deeper into that story, into the lifestyle of Jesus – into another way of doing life.  

You can read the full set here, but in this article we’ll cover the basics. Let’s split them up: three resources and three postures. 

 

Three resources: time, money, lifestyle 

Our first three practices concern our resources – things that we have in our hands. 

  1. Serve humbly: time, skill, and vocation 
  2. Live lightly: mindful consumption and ecological justice
  3. Give deeply: money and generosity 

What does Jesus want to do with our resources? Whether it’s the parable of the sower, the parable of talents, or the parable of wedding banquet lamps, this much is clear: we are to multiply our resources radically for the sake of others. When approaching our time, money, and lifestyle decisions, then, the question is not ‘how can I use these things for my benefit?’ but rather ‘how can I use these things for the sake of others?’. This might sound a bit Sunday School-esque, but it’s intensely radical and counter-cultural when we put it into practice.  

Let’s think first about our time and skills. Often, work, career, and even volunteering are framed as being about ourselves: we’re encouraged to follow our passions, to find employment that fulfils us, or to look for volunteering that’s rewarding. Even ideas of justice are framed in terms of what we can gain. This is all well and good, but it’s not the point. The point is others.  

When we adjust the lens and take a service-driven approach, we might find ourselves doing unexpected things. Think about the case study from part one. After university, Matt and his coursemates might choose to take a less exciting career path, deciding they can do more good for others by faithfully doing the same thing really excellently for 30 years, even if it’s quite mundane. Or we may conclude that the best way to serve people in poverty isn’t to work for a charity (even if that feels more intuitive), but to ‘earn to give’, taking a high-paid job in a business environment and giving away 80% of our lifetime income. Our friends at Christians for Impact have done some fantastic thinking about this! 

What about volunteering? We might give our time to something not hugely visible or appealing: training as a debt relief advisor or offering pro bono web design to a high-impact charity that doesn’t know up from down in the digital world.  

These decisions might be less immediately interesting or emotionally satisfying, but they’ll form us more and more deeply, and help us rediscover work’s original purpose: to ‘serve humbly’ for the sake of God, others, and all creation. And, as we do so, we’ll rediscover that classic kingdom maxim: when we lose ourselves, we find ourselves. 

The same applies to our money and lifestyle choices. The more our hearts are moved and shaped by Jesus and his gospel, the more we will find ourselves desiring to live simply that others may simply live. Whether it’s expensive foreign holidays, adventurous experiences, or luxury consumables, we may find ourselves sacrificing things our culture prizes so we can do what our hearts most deeply desire: ‘to share our food with the hungry’ and ‘give our clothes to those with nothing to wear’ (Isaiah 58:7). 

We’ll all end up in a slightly different place when it comes to money ethics and how exactly to implement Jesus’ radical lifestyle teachings in our day and age. Some options, though, to get us started: 

  • Take a ‘giving what you can’ pledge, committing to give away 10% or more of your lifetime income to evaluator-recommended charities. 
  • Aviation cut: commit to only taking one aeroplane flight once every three to five years, or eliminating flying altogether, to radically reduce your climate impact.  
  • Plant-based diet: adopt a plant-based diet, or significantly reduce your meat and dairy consumption, to reduce animal suffering and habitat loss. 

You can get creative here: friends in the Just Love Network have created expenditure caps for themselves, working out how much they need to live a healthy life and pledging to give everything above that to charity, even if their salaries rise. Money accountability groups are another fantastic way to share the load with friends, helping us find balance and perspective while also pushing us to be more and more radical over time. Or if all this feels a bit daunting, start smaller. Make a 1% giving pledge to get in the habit of regular giving – you can always build on it later! Or take some time to pray over your monthly subscriptions – could you give up one of them and share what you save? 

Whatever it looks like for you, the Bible’s call is to use our resources to be radically generous for the sake of others – to serve humbly, live lightly, and give deeply. 

 

Three postures – love widely, engage structures, pray boldly 

  1. Love widely: relationships and community 
  2. Engage structures: politics and advocacy 
  3. Pray boldly: everything is spiritual

God’s call to justice goes deeper than our resources. It’s beautiful, holistic, and claims every layer of our lives: it’s about posture. 

Three specific postures that really matter to God are to love widely, to engage structures, and to pray boldly. Let’s unpack them, starting with prayer. 

Colossians 3:23 encourages us to ‘devote ourselves to prayer’. One friend in the Just Love Network has done just this, devoting much of the last 20 years to praying for politics, conflict zones, and the global economy. Some of the breakthroughs she’s seen have been truly remarkable. She regularly tells me that, ‘whatever needs to be done in the political, it first needs to be done in prayer’. As this phenomenal Plough article on prayer and the US civil rights movement attests, to truly see the change we long for in the world, it’s essential we lay the groundwork in prayer over and above everything else.  

We don’t all need to quit our jobs and become full-time intercessors; that would miss the point, conceding to the age-old sacred-secular divide. However, to pray boldly is to bring a spiritual lens to everything we do – meetings, emails, church gatherings, volunteer shifts, political demonstrations, whatever. Each of these is an opportunity to put on a posture of prayer, quietly seeking the Spirit’s power to move things we cannot move ourselves. 

That leads us to our next posture: engaging structures. Jesus poured a substantial amount of energy into public dialogue; his teachings were in some ways a running commentary on the politics of the local elite and the Roman Empire. Matters came to a head when he drove out buyers and sellers from the temple courts, but the gospels are littered with other examples. As Adom mentioned in part two, Jesus took on societal structures that entrench injustice and inequality. 

In this year of elections, our call is the same. For some, perhaps including Matt and his university coursemates, this will look like full-on political engagement. Several Just Love members have run for local council and parliamentary seats, with dozens of others joining in local canvassing campaigns and political organising, as well, partnering with people who don’t know Jesus for the common good. Working in politics, advocacy, or government can be a fantastic way to make an impact – one friend has been heavily involved in campaigns on the UK government’s response to human rights issues in Hong Kong, helping push it up the political agenda (and keep it there).  

Even if you’re not called to politics as a primary focus, there are plenty of smaller ways to live out the practice of ‘engaging structures’. You could commit to spend an hour researching each of the main parties’ election manifestos, and another hour listening to God about each of them before you cast your vote. Or perhaps you could join a local community organising group, joining with others in your area to identify issues you care about and run small, super-targeted campaigns to bring about change. The UK Living Wage rose in part from just that kind of space.  

Whatever your response to politics, the Bible’s challenge is to love widely. Again, this will look different for each of us, but at its core this is about that central, repeated biblical commandment: ‘practise hospitality’ – literally ‘love the stranger’ (Romans 12:13).

For some, this will entail a major, life-defining commitment to one person, a locality, or a group of people. I think of friends who have chosen to remain in or relocate to tough, under-resourced, and dangerous neighbourhoods, resolving to love that place like Jesus does. Others are committing to fostering and adoption, helping meet the overwhelming need for carers in the UK. Just last night, I was speaking to a friend in London whose community house has a room set aside for refugees and asylum seekers in crisis.  

For others of us, especially those whose main focus is work or politics, this stuff might look different. We may not have the capacity to make the radical relational commitments outlined above – and that’s okay. However, the invitation of Scripture is to keep growing in that expansive, generous love of the stranger – even in small ways. We might not be able to host people long-term, but we can host people for dinner. What kind of simple, practical rhythms can we set in place to make sure we ‘love widely’ like Christ does? 

Not only is this good in itself, it’s also one of the only ways available to us to ensure our pursuit of structural change is rooted in some kind of relational reality, not just an ideological bubble or institutional echo chamber. To regularly practise hospitality is one of the only ways to keep our souls truly soft to the world. 

Which of these is God calling you to lean into more deeply at this time?  

 

Practising Justice 

As we close, a few words on ‘practising justice’ – and its pitfalls.  

In the heat of an encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus utters one of the most striking sentences of his entire ministry: ‘Go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”’ (Matthew 9:13) 

Quoting the Old Testament prophet Micah, Jesus pushes right to the heart of God’s value list: mercy. Not performative hardship, endless sacrifice, or formalised ritual, but mercy. The word here is the same word as used throughout the New Testament to describe God’s initiative in the gospel: radical, decisive, active, and costly.  

This mercy is not so much a feeling of compassion for others (though it certainly might involve this), but a rather proactive movement towards the brokenness of the world. According to Jesus, one of the most crucial steps in the whole of discipleship is to go and learn what this means. 

As we close, let’s note just two things about that line, and about the nature of practice. 

From the outset, we need to note that doing justice isn’t easy: it requires that we ‘learn’. It’s not always obvious how to act or respond to a situation of suffering or oppression, and we may sometimes make mistakes – that’s part of the process. According to Jesus, justice requires practice. This is a challenge to us – and should guard us from arrogance, self-righteousness, or believing we have all the answers.  

At the same time, these words are also a huge encouragement. According to Jesus, doing justice is not impossible. We can really ‘learn’ how to live a life of mercy and justice. This is not out of reach, impossibly difficult, or the preserve of ‘a special few’ – it’s actually something Jesus intends to help us do. It’s a steady journey of lifelong practice and habit. I find huge comfort in this. 

With this in mind, let’s neither get puffed-up nor lose heart in our pursuit of justice. With Jesus, we really can walk that narrow road between complacency and despair, neither living in the dangerous fantasy that we have all the answers, nor in the crushing sense that justice lies beyond our reach. Instead, let’s hear the words of Christ to each one of us – ‘I desire mercy… go and learn what this means’ (Matthew 9:13).  

 Tim Lornie
Head of Alumni, Just Love 

Discussion Questions 

  1. Which of these practices do you feel most or least drawn to? Why do you think this is? 
  2. With regards to social justice, what’s one really simple next step you could start doing now? (e.g. cutting out one monthly expenditure, starting a new volunteer project, making a 1% giving pledge) 
  3. What’s one really major thing you could start praying about seriously or working towards? (e.g. fostering/adoption, joining a political party, welcoming a refugee to live in your home, setting an ‘expenditure cap’ to give more radically, going plant-based, etc.) 

 Additional Resources 

The Justice Practices Survey 2024 is a really simple, interactive way to work through these practices and consider what they mean for you. 

Bridgetown Church’s series on Simplicity touches on a lot of the topics here 

Christians For Impact’s 10 Minute Guide on doing justice in your career 

Powers & Principalities: King & The Holy Spirit – for more on doing justice with a posture of prayer 

 

 

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