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May1WedSocial justice is an essential part of our relationship with God. May 1, 2013 by Kristin Fryer
Chocolate may not be the first thing you think of when you hear the words “social justice,” but as Salvationists in Australia know, the two are closely tied.
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In 2007, The Salvation Army got behind a major campaign to stop companies from using child labour to produce chocolate. Starting with Cadbury, those involved in the campaign sent postcards, held public prayer vigils, asked managers at their local supermarkets to sell fairly traded chocolate and more.
“In less than two years, Cadbury changed their practices and offered a fairly traded Dairy Milk bar—then Mars followed and Nestlé is catching up,” says Major Danielle Strickland, who was territorial social justice director, Australia Southern Territory, at the time. “A few thousand teenagers, The Salvation Army and other partners in the campaign were able to challenge and change a major industry to do business justly. This is a remarkable success.”
Thy Kingdom Come
Jesus and Justice, a book produced by The Salvation Army's International Social Justice Commission, defines social justice simply as living right while righting wrongs.
“As a concept, social justice means that everyone in society is given the dignity they deserve, their rights as human beings are respected and they are treated fairly,” says Dr. James Read, executive director of The Salvation Army's Ethics Centre in Winnipeg. “As an initiative, it means addressing the injustice experienced by the most vulnerable and belittled in society.”
Major Strickland, now corps officer at Edmonton Crossroads Community Church, adds that social justice is our Christian faith in practice.
“Faith has always been and is always rooted in relationships,” she says. “Jesus summed up the Commandments with two: love God and love others. This is how our faith makes sense in the world, and how we treat others is a direct reflection of how we interact with God.”
For Christians, social justice is not an optional add-on, but an essential part of our relationship with God.
“It is the responsibility of the people of God to enact his kingdom in our lives and in the world around us,” says Aaron White, corps leader at Vancouver's 614 Corps. “Social justice is the active and transformative love of God poured into a dark and despairing world through his children.”
“Social justice is about challenging systemic structures and attitudes that allow suffering to happen”
Love in Action
“The first and most important reason why we should all be passionate about social justice is that God is passionate about it,” says Dr. Read. “Jesus made a point of ministering to those who were oppressed, demeaned and discriminated against.
“God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven means that every human being is treated with the dignity they have as bearers of his image.”
Acting out the love of God in the world may take many forms, including social services such as soup kitchens, food banks and homeless shelters. But White cautions that these services should not be equated with social justice itself.
“It is not enough simply to feed someone or give toys at Christmas,” he says. “This does not necessarily recognize the dignity of each person, nor does it encourage self-determination or ask why this help was required in the first place.”
“To use a familiar analogy, social services is like giving a person a fish,” says Rob Perry, ministry co-ordinator at Toronto's Corps 614. “Social justice includes teaching a person to fish but, over and above that, it means speaking up to allow the poorer fishermen access to the waters, keeping the waters clean, protecting the ecosystem so the fish can replenish themselves and petitioning the government for more equal fishing license laws.”
“Social justice is about challenging systemic structures and attitudes that allow suffering to happen,” adds Major Strickland.
Challenging the structures of society may seem to be a daunting task, but what is at stake is far too important for the task to be ignored.
“The fight against human trafficking, which is being fought locally, nationally and globally, is a defining justice issue for our generation,” says White.
Stop the Traffik, an international advocacy group, defines human trafficking as being deceived or taken against your will, bought, sold and transported into slavery. Forms of slavery may include sexual exploitation, forced begging or removal of human organs, as well as forced work in sweat shops, circuses, farms and domestic servitude. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year and over 20 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide.
Canada is not exempt from the problem of human trafficking. The RCMP estimate that 600 to 800 people are brought into Canada each year—other estimates put that number as high as 2,000.
Closely related to the problem of human trafficking is prostitution.
“In Canada, we have a raging debate about the legalization of prostitution,” says Major Strickland. “But if we are using social justice as a measure then no one should be bought or sold.
“We need laws that will protect vulnerable women from predators,” she adds.
Human trafficking may be one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today, but social justice is more than a list of issues. It's part of the redeeming work Christ accomplished when he came to earth, lived, died and rose again for our salvation.
“We should care about justice because we were oppressed and enslaved by sin and have been set free by the gracious and merciful intervention of Jesus,” says White. “We have to be aware that there are people in our world who are being crushed by the weight of oppression, and we have to fight for their freedom.
“We are very good at calling on individuals to be set free from sin and transformed, but not so good at calling on the system of our world to be set free from sin and transformed,” he adds. “This is a part of our heritage that we should work to recover.”
View the Territorial Priorities at salvationist.ca/mobilizing-our-army.
Practical tips for fighting injustice
Get informed. Read about local and international social justice issues facing us today. “Educate yourself in the concepts of social justice and acquaint yourself with the visionaries, especially the ancient and modern 'prophets,' ” suggests Dr. James Read.
For a Salvation Army perspective on social justice issues and resources, see the International Social Justice Commission at salvationarmy.org and The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory's Just Salvos (justsalvos.org). Major Danielle Strickland also recommends The Micah Challenge (micahchallenge.org) and Stop the Traffik (stopthetraffik.org).
Pray. As Jesus taught us, pray that God's kingdom will come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Pray for victims of injustice. Ask God to show you how you can use your talents and resources to serve his kingdom. Join Salvation Army prayer initiatives such as the Weekend of Prayer for Human Trafficking, held annually in September.
Watch what you eat. Buy fair trade products, such as food that has been produced under proper working conditions, where workers are paid fairly and treated humanely (see fairtrade.org.uk). Chocolate and coffee are just two important social justice battlegrounds today.
Advocate for change. Find your voice. Let your local politicians and member of Parliament know about social justice issues that you care about and want to see change.
Start a campaign. Target corporations that contribute directly or indirectly to social injustice. For example, write letters, phone or boycott newspapers and magazines that advertise brothels and escort agencies.
Build relationships. “Get to know people who are actually affected by injustice—such as people who have been trafficked, refugees, people in jail or the elderly,” suggests Rob Perry. “Learn their story, find out where they have faced or are facing injustice, and ask yourself what you can do about it.”
Watch what you wear. Avoid buying clothing that has been produced in sweat shops. Recycle clothing by donating to and shopping at thrift stores.
Protect the environment. Wherever possible, avoid putting things in the trash. Find out which items can be recycled in your community. Find ways to reduce your consumption in the first place.
Donate. Support local and international organizations that are advancing the cause of social justice.
Volunteer. Donate your time, as well as your money, and join others who want to make a difference.
Collaborate. “Social justice is done badly when it is done alone,” says Dr. Read. “As one of the slogans of the International Social Justice Commission puts it, we are 'seeking justice together.' ”
Expand your horizons. Don't be afraid to dream big. Remember that with God nothing is impossible (see Luke 1:37).