Justice and Righteousness
As a young adult, I was very involved in community service activities. However, this has led to many discussions as to the role of churches in working for justice with my friends. Many promoted the idea that churches should not be involved in any community work or be concerned with social justice but should only be involved in “spiritual” work. They saw the work of making society a more just place as “political” and thus was not “spiritual.”
The definition of “spiritual” by some is only about ensuring eternal insurance by saying a prayer of “accepting Jesus.” This is based on the idea that everyone is going to go to ”hell,” and the only way of escaping “hell” is by saying a few words in a “prayer,” regardless of sincerity. They claim that the “hell escapees” should focus only on helping other people “escape hell.” This is their definition of “spiritual.”
To them, any discussion about manifesting the grace and mercy of God in the world is “secular” and is a waste of the church’s resources. They turn a blind eye to the people starving to death, children being denied education, systemic racism, destruction of God’s creation, women being abused and trafficked, and every other problem in the world is not the church’s concern.
The First Great Awakening had a great impact on the church and society. The spiritual awakening included the Christian churches starting many social service programs and organizations such as Salvation Army, Dorothy Day Centers, Union Gospel Missions, and more. The church was involved in the work of manifesting the presence of God in the world and easing human suffering as a part of the responsibility of the church. They had a view that their spiritual lives should affect the world in a way that reflects the love of God for all people.
This changed during the Second Great Awakening when the individual’s salvation became the focus. As the West grew rapidly after the Gold Rush, the new settlements were truly a “Wild West” and suffered a lack of civility. The church blamed the social problems of the West on the lack of churches in these new settlements. A new crop of religious leaders rose to ‘save” these “lost” souls and started a new kind of ministry. The “Tent Revivals” sprang up everywhere, and a new breed of “slick, snake-oil-salesman preachers” went from town to town “saving” people.
These preachers went from town to town, setting up tents and became the weekend entertainment for the community. They preached a rousing sermon scaring people about the upcoming hell and damnation that awaited them. These preachers were supported by a group of paid actors who cried and made a fuss about how bad of a “sinner” they were and went to the preacher asking to pray for them to save them. However, the problem was that when the circus tents came down, the new “converts” did not have a faith community to be a part of their “new Christian life” that ended before it began.
This eventually led to a division in the church as many saw the shortcomings of the revival movement not resulting in any sustained spiritual life of those who were “saved” at these weekend entertainments. In defense of these revivals, the “conversion” focused Christian movement arose and separated the work of justice from the work of the church. This eventually led to a hollow and shallow Christianity, and the group of young people left the church in droves in the ’50s and ’60s. Now what we have are two generations of young people who did not grow in the church and a larger society that believes the church is a danger to society.
What we find in the Bible is that Justice and Righteousness are not two separate concepts, but they are two sides of the same coin. Without justice, there is no righteousness, and if we promote righteousness in individuals, we can only do it through our work for justice. The artificial division of the two has left the church as hypocrites and out of touch.
Those who have known the grace of God believe that reflects the righteousness of God and are graceful and grateful people. They are not arrogant because they know that the mercy of God was not something that we have earned, but it once comes to us because God is merciful. Prophet Jeremiah reminds us that when the Messiah comes, there will be justice and righteousness. We will know spirituality that brings about social justice.
As we celebrate the presence of the Anointed One in our world, let us be biblically spiritual and work for justice and righteousness.