A Cry for Justice
Are we really willing to seek a justice that transforms or do our current systems incline us towards charity over justice?
I write this with a heavy heart. A heart that cries for justice. Like many of you, I dream of a world without brokenness and poverty; a world where no one is oppressed by injustice. A world where injustice and unnecessary death do not dominate the narrative for minority and disadvantaged people groups. It is a dream that is inspired by the biblical vision of the Kingdom of Heaven which Jesus proclaimed. A world where justice and righteousness are joined together as a foundation (Psalm 85). This is the essence of TEAR’s work.
To realise this vision we need to see systemic change. However, sometimes, in our desire to make a positive contribution we get caught-up in the misperception
that charity is enough. Money or time is given to help ameliorate an obvious need. This type of mercy is important – in fact essential – and in many cases TEAR is actively trying to raise this kind of support for humanitarian crises. But real and lasting change requires something much deeper. Fixing things superficially by simply doing charity around the edges of intractable injustice is not enough, and never has been. Over the 25 years that I have been involved with communities facing poverty, I have seen too many well-intentioned initiatives focus on putting a band-aid on problems rather than truly transforming what is broken.
Charity alone does not bring justice. Justice comes when the economic, political and social systems of our world, which are broken by sin and selfishness, are redeemed and restored.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about transforming systems. Studying Scriptures and understanding a theology of shalom (biblical wholeness) and the implications for injustice guide my thinking. A week ago I spent the day with thought leaders from across various parts of society, including academia, private sector, government, civil society, and Non-Government Organisations. Together, this eclectic group considered the future of global systems which need to be changed if we hope to achieve the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), working towards a world without extreme poverty by 2030. The challenging fact which surprises many people is that this isn’t just a “pie in the sky” dream. We do have the ability to achieve this goal through existing global resources. But to do it, we need to rethink our existing economic models which trend towards inequality and injustice. We need to rethink our global politics which choose national interest as a priority.
Simply put, our economic growth paradigm, which is geared towards serving our lust to consume more, and our current political theory, seem to win more votes for a ‘me-first’ approach to national interest at the expense of loving our global neighbours. In our group discussions we noted that unless these systems change we can never meet the global goals. I left that day wondering if we are really willing to seek a justice that transforms or do our current systems incline us towards charity over justice?
For so many people in this world, it is the personal tragedies that result from broken systems that turn the theoretical debates about system theory into palpable reality. Systems broken by sin have tragic results. My own family has been touched by this type of pain just a few weeks ago. It is devastating. But I know that this personal pain is just one small story in a world that cries out to be made whole.
All of creation is crying out for justice. Do we hear their voices? You don’t have to look any further than the evening news to hear these cries. Current examples include our government’s policy to inhumanely keep refugees in detention centres, the Rohingya people fleeing genocide in Myanmar, kids trafficked into orphanages in order to meet the market demand from well-intentioned orphanage tourists, Aboriginal communities facing huge incarceration rates; the list goes on and on.
In the midst of this extreme pain and suffering, I thank God there is reason to hope. As Christians we know that God created the world with a perfect vision of shalom and that all can know fullness of life. The good news that Jesus proclaimed is not simply individualistic – it is good news for all of creation – it is shalom for all things. It is truly transformational for each of us, for our families, for our communities, for the systems that are broken. We celebrate what has been achieved through Christian initiatives to overcome systemic injustice in relation to slavery, trafficking, civil rights, gender justice, prison reforms among many others. All creation groans for redemption and for freedom for the captives and we have a redeemer who has called us to be part of that redemption story.
May the cries of our hearts embrace the Kingdom vision for shalom in ways that take us beyond charity and towards a commitment to work for system change that will bring justice.
TEAR Australia has a long and proud history of working for systemic change. As a movement of Christians in Australia we were the engine room of the Jubilee 2000 campaign to relieve the burden of developing country debt and we helped birth the Micah Network and Micah Challenge. We simply refuse to shy away from robust conversations to confront the issues that most impact our partners and their communities. Whether that’s acting on climate change, advocating alongside our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, or in our interactions with the Australian government, we will always speak truth to power with courage and respect.
Matthew Maury is TEAR Australia’s National Director.