Christian Living

Integrating Justice Into our Spiritual Disciplines

Kevin Garcia

Humans are more than fact-accumulating machines. I think we all feel this in our gut. Have you ever been at a cookout just waiting for the food to be done and the inevitable LeBron vs. Jordan discussion breaks out? You can guarantee there is a moment when statistics are tossed aside and an old head yells out, “BACK IN OUR DAY, YOU HAD TO GET HIT TO SCORE AND WE DIDN’T TEAM UP!”

We know that we are more than just the facts we listen to. If we look at the political positions we take, the sports teams we love, or where we land on a favorite music artist, it is often more than just an acknowledgment of information that shifts our views.

Spiritual Disciplines

Everyday there are several rhythms that shape our beliefs. What podcast do we play the most? What books do we read? What channel do we go to for our news? Who do we follow on Twitter?

I began thinking more deeply about this recently as our church joined in a fast to start the new year. During this time, I immersed myself in some works considered classics on spiritual disciplines. At the same time, I was also reading “Rethinking Incarceration” by Dominique Dubois Gilliard. I began to have one of those moments of holy discontentment that I could not shake.

In the classics I read, there was no model for prayer or meditation that advocated or even referenced the oppressed. There was no spiritual model that emphasized a rhythm of continual prayer for those in society most in need. There was not a single section on fasting that made sure to include what Isaiah 58 defines as a just fast that doesn’t exploit workers. This biblical model includes an active role in setting the oppressed free through meeting needs for food and shelter.

Take it to the Lord in Prayer

If you are a Christian, chances are you have heard the phrase, “It’s impossible to hate someone that you’re praying for!” from the pulpit. That is because there is an intimacy that happens when praying for someone else. Deep prayer for others effectively binds us to one another in love.

Christians should add praying for those who are most in need to their intentional spiritual disciplines. Our prayers should include the fact that we live in a country where 1 of 3 Black males will be incarcerated. We should weep and pray about the Black men, women, boys, and girls who can be killed just because someone “feared for their life.”

It is convenient to leave out these faces in our prayers. When a prayer that speaks of God’s love theoretically but ignores the man whose family is ripped apart at the border, we need to pause and reflect that this must change.

Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses a group called the “quartet of the vulnerable” in his book “Justice: Rights and Wrongs.” He touches on God’s emphasis on orphans, widows, immigrants, and the poor. Wolterstorff describes justice as rooted in inherent worth. Justice declares that people are valuable and have a right to the necessities in life because they are created in the image of God. In the Psalms, there are multiple texts that highlight justice for those in need. One example would be Psalm 37 which emphasizes both justice for God’s people and a right posture towards God while that justice may be delayed.

Practicing the spiritual disciplines should be directly tied to those God said his love is directly tied to. A form of personal piety unanchored in social responsibility is rightly critiqued by many in the modern evangelical movement. Many evangelicals may (rightfully) discuss things like art, business, and economics but ignore the zoning laws preventing communities from building wealth. There is much talk of cultural change but these discussions rarely touch on those the Bible says our spiritual lives should be impacted by.

Investing in communities to build up the marginalized in our communities demands a day by day approach. What we do daily is who are eternally. It is a billboard for what is most important to us. This inadequate diet of spiritual disciplines divorced from justice can grow the believer to some extent but only as a child raised on pizza and soda. It should be of no surprise that until this union of injustices invades our “spiritual” lives, the American church will remain malnourished and defective.

In “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” Bryan Stevenson writes, “The measure of our character is how we treat the poor, accused, and condemned.” It would be a terrible reflection on Christians to ignore the marginalized every single day in the ways we pray, fast, read, give, and worship — all in the name of seeking to know a God who fervently desires justice for those very people.

3 thoughts on “Integrating Justice Into our Spiritual Disciplines

  1. Thomas W.

    Well said.

    I think it’s also important to look at how the world often attempts to define justice and value. Without Christ, the world resorts to degradation of another as it’s means to the end. As with immigration, this is perhaps as easily seen in abortion and racism.

    Over abortion, the world is right to declare women as equal to men, but apart from Christ, it attempts to achieve this by the tearing down of men and the tearing down of a woman’s own nature to achieve that end, an end often related to financial capacity. Thus, masculinity and pregnancy are viewed as evil. But, equality and value are never achieved in such ways.

    For the church and the Christian, this gives us opportunity to be counter world/cultural, to minister in ways that celebrate the value of life, women, pregnancy, etc whether we do that solely through opportunities like pregnancy centers or if we appeal to our government for broad support such as paid family leave.

    How often does an individual disparage and degrade a woman because she either works, doesn’t work, has no kids, has 10 kids, etc? Why are we so insecure in our own value that we have to tear down others, different than us? It’s because we lack belief and faith in the value that Christ establishes from the beginning.

    Likewise, as the Witness, Jemar, and others pursue racial equality, my hope and prayer is that they continue to do so without the need to degrade and devalue others. Examples of red flags in this are the continual degradation of others as xenophobes and racists and making legalistic demands prior to engaging in fellowship. Value reciprocates value.

  2. Katherine

    What a thoughtful piece. This website invites nuanced conversation. Am glad to have found it.

    Thomas W. has an equally thoughtful comment posted. Christ is definitely missing from our national obsession, argument, disregard, and political chess game that is the “issue” which is not truly single, but the twins of both immigration and illegal entry.

    Also absent is the consideration that these are not issues, but persons.

    There is a myth that people have been coming to our country for generations with families intact. Arriving together to begin their new life in peace.

    The decision to leave Home and head to another country is unique and personal. It always involves a leaving behind of kin and country, a journey, and uncertainty of what life will like after landing. Family separation starts at that point.

    I have seen the museum displays at Ellis Island in NY. Wall size photos and staged recreations of rooms. Imagine crowds streaming off a boat and separated into lines. There were separations of family in those days, too. If you had a cough or were found ill, or even for reasons unknown (perhaps even racism, classism, other-ism) – you could be directed into the line that shipped you back across the ocean.

    I am friends with a lovely Vietnamese running grannie. She is the most joyful, active, marathon running retired woman I know. I enjoy hearing her stories of her children, grandchildren, her strict and as she says “stereotypical” father (God rest his soul) and her faith. At times, she shares what it was like to leave Vietnam. Scary, dangerous, uncertain. And her family was not able to leave intact.

    I think of the tiny boats that arrive at our Florida shore even today – with tragic stories and only those who could survive.

    The family that leaves from a home in Mexico or the south, has already been ripped apart. My heart aches for a father or mother who makes this choice.

    The “family” we see at the border might be a true unit of mother and father and their own children. But is also very likely that it could be adults with kids not their own – either purchased or borrowed with promises to parents at home that their child will have a better life and hopes the crossing adult entry will be fast-tracked. Or worse – a trafficked child or teen.

    It seems to me, that the Justice Christ calls us to is this: an open conversation about how to secure our border (from drugs and violence) while simplifying the process for allowing people to enter our country as a certified guest worker to work, flee violence or starvation and additionally – to apply for citizenship through legal means.

    And in this day of internet, social media, news and connectivity – we should also be talking about the reasons why people seek to come. We can KNOW why home is not an option. What is happening daily in these other countries? To me, a further Justice is found in looking at our neighbors outside of our border.

    Mexico is beautiful with stunning geography, amzing cities, and has a diversity of natural resources. Much of the organic produce found in on US grocery shelves comes from Mexican farms. Why is this country not thriving? Why is it not a mecca for working traveling south?

    Drugs, gangs, violence, and goverment fraud and graft are ills and evils. It seems to me that America – through politics, prayer, business, and culture could help eradicate those. (I pray for the beautiful Haiti for the same reasons).

    It is not enough to watch images on the news or read the latest clickbait article from whichever side of the political spectrum you associate.

    It is not true to say that “families have never been separated”, that this reality and process is somehow a new brutality, and then use inflammatory politics to shut down real thought, debate, discussion about how to best help, welcome, limit, or account for people who wish to be here.

    I did not find that inflammation in this article! Am reflecting on the narratives in the media these past weeks.

    I pray that each American can ask “what can I do to help my neighbor”?

    This might mean resisting jumping on a bandwagon. Repeating inflammatory but empty rhetoric. Asking deep questions. Focusing on solutions. Calling and writing local politicians. Writing letters to editors and posting solutions-focused messages on blogs and social media. Asking your own church – what are we doing to help individual persons?

    At some point, it is not just build a wall or not build a wall. And immigration, legal and illegal, are not just issues. The Justice comes in seeing each person as having dignity and a story, unique and worthy.

  3. Thomas W.

    Our fallen nature likes to get in the way when we talk about “justice” as defined by Biblical standards in upholding our declared by God, image and value.

    But that foundation means entirely that the rich nor the poor, the black nor the white have any bias from Justice.

    Justice does not excuse actions on the basis of need. It does not treat the poor greater than the rich. It does not give a pass to the sick. As God is our Great Provider and commands that we extend that dignity to others. Yet, we’re so easily drawn into class and race warfare.

    For example, the illegal who circumvents the law to obtain access to other’s property, land, resources, and goods is still subject to Justice. If we ignore this on good intentions, our good intentions reduce the value of the resident/s and their freedom. In our heart we think we give mercy, but mercy is only mercy at the behest of justice due.

    The command to be generous to others is not a waiver for the other to take without permission on any scale.

    Likewise, the resident/official who detains an accused must uphold the value and image of the accused. lest they be subject to Justice all the same.

    So when we look at an issue like the border issue, and some of us see families being “ripped” apart. Prayer is definitely a good start. We should also slow down, and talk about the ramifications of changing the due process and what that due process should look like.
    As the reality of the situation is often the attempt to prevent abuse, theft, trafficking, etc…how do we juggle all of these while keeping “families” together in the process so that we can accept immigrants while also maintaining the value of the current resident/s?

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