Friday, April 3, 2009

Justice vs. Charity

Last night I went to a B.O.L.D. Justice (Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice) rally. This group is made up of religious people, primarily of the Protestant Mainline and Catholic varieties, who have come together to work on eradicating poverty, or at least to alleviate issues that aggravate poverty.

Last year, they focused their efforts on dental care. And now, a year later, there are more dental clinics, more money for dental care for those who can't afford it, and more dental health care workers employed in our county.

Will all poor people have good teeth now? No. But they have a better chance.

Last night's demands revolved around affordable housing and jobs. The leaders of the group had specific action plans, and they invited city and county politicians to the rally, where they asked for commitments from them. They had already met with these people, so these ideas weren't new. But there they were, in front of a huge amount of people, making a commitment.

And they know that they'll be watched and held accountable.

My husband asked me if I thought it would make a difference. I said that I did think it would make a difference.

It certainly won't solve all the problems. Even if we should achieve the modest increase in availability of affordable rental properties that we demanded, there will still be a serious shortfall between what's needed and what's available. Even if the new jobs created by the new federal stimulus projects go to Broward workers first (more specifically, for the first 30 days after the job creation, the job will only be available to people who live in Broward county), as we demanded, crafty people will still find ways around that.

Still, every little positive difference counts. And even if we aren't successful at creating change, God still calls on us to work for justice.

Not to contribute to charity, although God mandates that too. But to work for justice.

In a book I cannot recommend highly enough, The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg explains the difference this way: "Charity means helping the victims. Justice asks, 'Why are there so many victims?' and then seeks to change the causes of victimization, that is, the way the system is structured. Justice is not about Caesar increasing his charitable giving or Pilate increasing his tithe. Justice is about social transformation. Taking the political vision of the Bible seriously means the practice of social transformation" (page 201).

He offers this comfort: "The world's need for systemic transformation is great, but it is important not to become passive or discouraged ('without heart') because the need is so great. None of us is called to be knowledgeable about all of it or capable of doing something about all of it " (page 204).

Last night I was tired and cranky after a day of meetings and workshops, and I was tempted to stay home and go to bed early. But for years, I have yearned to belong to a church that supported activities like a rally for justice, and now that I'm finally a part of a church that does, I feel it's important that I actually participate.

And I'm so glad I went. I sat with my new church friends and looked around the beautiful Catholic church and felt so inspired; my work day exhaustion just melted away. Tomorrow I'll blog about a time in 1986 when I felt a similar feeling, at an anti-apartheid prayer service.

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