Why Social Justice?
The Jesuits teach it. The sisters are doing it. The pope is preaching it. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Thomas Merton, Walter Rauschenbush, Harvey Milk, and Robert F. Kennedy witnessed to it. Countless others are living it. So, why does social justice matter? Why write about it? And what difference can a blog about social justice make?
It all begins with how one defines justice. Perhaps the most vivid image of justice etched in the minds of many is the sculpture of Lady Justice, which sits prominently outside the Supreme Court of the United States. This familiar sculpture, found around the world, is of an elegant goddess wearing a blindfold, carrying a sword, and holding a balance scale. As familiar as this image may be, it purports to suggest that justice is blind and impartial.
And yet, that could not be any further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that human beings are affective, emotional beings. And while all persons are created equal, born with a dignity that is inherent and irrevocable, and have the fundamental human right to full flourishing in community, not all persons are treated equally. If justice is blind and impartial, how can these toxic, relational discrepancies be righted?
The pursuit of justice is a social, public enterprise; all members of society are called to participate in a collective project whereby everyone is empowered to live as they have been created to be: fully human. Hence the term social justice. The pursuit of social justice is a massive, sweeping undertaking. Some say that a full and comprehensive instantiation of social justice is far-fetched and impossible. They will assert that sin is so pervasive, that we are all going to hell in a hand basket, and there is nothing we can do about it. We are, in fact, going to hell in a hand basket. If anything ought to convince us of this fact, it’s the disturbing reality of climate change; our earth is in peril. But I believe that there are three things that are essential to realizing social justice: (1) experience; (2) judgment; and (3) action.
Experience requires that we are aware. Experience requires that we listen. Experience requires that we take it upon ourselves to be attentive to the needs of others. And experience requires that we are open, humble, and available to undergo ongoing moral conversion. We do not live in a bubble, but in an interconnected and incredibly small world.
Judgment requires that we think critically about what we experience and understand. Judgment requires that we make a decision about what we understand and experience that is motivated by love. The greatest threat to realizing social justice in the here and now is lazy thinking that is not driven by the universal call to love. Jesus Christ taught every human being that the greatest moral imperative is to love one’s neighbor (Mark 12:31). But love requires risk and vulnerability. The price to pay when we fail to love because we are afraid of taking a risk and because we are afraid to be vulnerable is just too costly. We also do not live in a black and white world. Everything is grey, nuanced, and complicated. Judgment requires prudence. Judgment requires that one’s conscience be unshackled from fear.
Action requires that we realize our potential to act as moral agents. Action requires that we work for change and transformation. But more basic than all of that, action requires a deep-seated attitude shift in our hearts and minds. And this deep-seated attitude shift is required especially of persons of power and influence. Social justice lobby groups need more committed members who bring talent, dedication, passion, and financial resources to the table. Becoming involved with visible social justice lobby groups like NETWORK is an important first step in acting for social justice.
An example. Environmental justice is not just about making a building greener. It’s not just about recycling, reducing, or reusing. While both are fine and good practices at the micro-level, environmental justice at the macro-level is more about wresting the political power from the impersonal, profit-driven, corporate interests of big business in order to invest in better, more efficient energy resources that are easier on our earth. We the people need to make our voices heard. Social justice lobby groups like the Sierra Club can make a difference at the macro-level and have a lasting impact on public policy if more people like you and me become involved.
So, why blog about social justice?
I admit that my blog barely begins to scratch the surface; I do not pretend to have any or all the answers. But I do believe that we can make a difference and better our world when we work together and most importantly, when we love together. Social justice begins with the act of love. And love is something that all of us, no matter our upbringing, social location, religious tradition, socioeconomic status, or level of education, are capable of doing. And love is not blind, nor is it impartial. How we love, who we love, and what we love must weigh on us each and every day of our lives. Sound familiar? This is easier said than done of course. But I write to hold myself accountable and I hope that by reading my blog you can be inspired and emboldened to hold yourselves accountable to the pursuit of social justice as well.