Monday, February 18, 2013

Charity vs Justice

MTR Jeff St by paynehollow
MTR Jeff St, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

My church and other churches in our city are part of a Direct Action Justice group called CLOUT (Citizens of Louisville, United and Organized Together). The premise of these sorts of organizations is that churches/faith groups are called to at least three things: Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with God (the reference being to a passage from the book of the prophet, Micah, in the Old Testament of the Bible).

As I've pointed out in the past on these pages, we tend to think that the church does at least a passing decent job of Loving Mercy - of doing acts of loving charity for those in need. We don't do it completely and we spend an AWFUL lot of money on things that are not acts of charity (bigger buildings, softer pews, larger parking lots, etc), but we at least take it seriously, by and large.

Churches also, perhaps primarily, focus on walking humbly with God - ie, seeking after God's Ways, worshiping God, etc. While perhaps not always humbly, one can see that churches at least try to do this part of "being Church."

On the other hand, we tend to rarely think about or do much about "doing justice." What acts of Justice do you see churches involved in? Many churches were involved in the civil rights movement, right? Okay, that's a good one from decades past. What else? Some of us have taken part in protesting unjust wars, although that's probably a minority group.

What else?

...

Exactly. We just don't focus on Doing Justice, collectively as church.

For most churches, I'd hazard to guess that they don't really even give much thought to what that would be.

As part of our local organizing, we had a meeting this week and we were pointed to a good biblical contrast between justice work and charity work that I liked enough to want to pass on. Consider the biblical stories of the Good Samaritan and Moses, Egypt and the Children of Israel:

In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, the titular Samaritan happened upon an Israeli man (keeping in mind that Samaritans were the bitterly hated enemy of Israel and the feeling was mutual) who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead. What did the Samaritan do? The Samaritan went to him (keeping in mind that a Jewish priest and then a Levite passed by him without stopping to help the wounded man), bound up his wounds, carried him to town, took him to an inn and left him in the care of the innkeeper, paying the innkeeper for doing so. Truly, a good Samaritan.

This is an act of charity - he saw someone in immediate, obvious, desperate need and he met those needs.

In the OT story of Moses, the nation of Israel was enslaved and worked harshly by the Egyptians. Moses began a process of appealing to Pharoah to do the right thing and release the children of Israel from slavery to freedom. Moses and the Israelites were met with great opposition to such a crazy idea (why would Egypt release their work force, changing the system on which they relied?), but eventually, by increasing pressure on Egypt, Pharoah relented and Israel was set free at last, free at last.

This is an act of Justice - Moses and his crew of collaborators saw a systemic injustice, in this case at the national level, and they began a process of applying pressure to the powers that be to secure justice for an oppressed people.

Acts of charity and acts of justice are both needed, both biblical, both part of what we should be doing. If there is someone in immediate, pressing need, taking action to meet that need is a reasonable act of mercy, of charity.

If there is a problem of oppression or other injustice needing a systemic change, working non-violently to secure agreement to a just solution is a reasonable act of justice.

Acts of charity tend to be (although aren't always) smaller, specific, on-going, responses to crises situations. They can be done individually or as a community response.

Acts of justice tend to be (although aren't always) larger, specific, completed, thought-through responses to RESOLVE crises situations. They tend to be done (by necessity) by groups, rather than individuals.

Why is it that despite the models found in the bible, faith groups (and others) tend to shy away from the Call to Do Justice? Is it because doing charity "feels good," and there's an relatively easy personal investment? "Oh, that child needs food, I'll send money so they can get food." Boom! Problem solved! Done and done.

Like that?

Whereas working for just solutions to problem situations requires more thought, more effort and more organization? And it's not always clear what the best, most just answer is, right? And even when you figure out something to do, people will criticize you for being too "confrontational..."? As Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara said, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me communist..."

Of course, doing acts of charity can be involved and require great personal effort and sacrifice, too. This is in no way to criticize acts of charity. The point is, we need both. It simply isn't enough to do charity and leave justice alone. And doing charity is not the same as doing justice.

It just seems like justice should have equal effort applied as our works for charity. After all, oh humanity, what are we called to do but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God?

44 comments:

Marshall Art said...

The problem here is in identifying what constitutes an injustice that needs to be corrected. For example, I would say that a great injustice is the 55 million unborn snuffed since Roe v Wade. I doubt you would agree since you believe that it falls under some privacy issue under which a single person has complete authority over the life and death of another. The tortuous deaths of the "least of these" should be high, if not number 1, on every Christian church list of injustices to be rectified, but some "christian" denominations actually support the practice.

Dan Trabue said...

Actually, Marshall, if you think the medical procedure called "abortion" is a matter of injustice, then the steps involved in NVDA type organizations would work for you as well as they do others.

Myself, I find some abortions to be problematic, but I would also find the Gov't telling people what medical procedures they can and can't undergo would be problematic, too. I prefer to leave that in the hands of the loved ones involved rather than making it a Big Gov't solution.

Still, by all means, if you think some medical procedures are unjust, consider working for justice against those procedures.

Of course, all people and all Christians won't always agree on what is and isn't unjust. Such is life, I don't know any way around that.

Frontal lobotomies for the "wrong" people, perhaps?

But that would be unjust...

Dan Trabue said...

And lest anyone be tempted: This is not a post on abortion - its just or unjust or otherwise attributes. It's a post calling for people to not just "do charity" as part of their church commitments, but also do justice.

Marshall, no barb or attack, I'm just curious: In your church - or other conservative churches you know - do you all regularly do any work aimed at promoting justice (on any issue) on a regular basis and, if so, what form does that take?

Specifically, I'm wondering if you do anything that you think resembles at all the Moses confronting Pharaoh model? If not, don't be embarrassed to say so. I'd wager that most churches don't regularly do anything of that nature - certainly none of the churches I grew up in did - which is the point of this post.

Thanks.

Craig said...

Dan,

I'll not answer for Marshall, but for myself. My 5000+ member church does significant amounts of "charity", as well as significant work for "justice". Both domestically as well as locally. Just this week we will be providing over 500,000 meals for undernourished children, for example. Personally, I find your preconceived notion that "conservative" churches don't engage in these activities, or at least are not as "good" as churches like yours to be unfounded.

I'm curious, about a couple of things.

How does "charity" work in your mind. After years of involvement in both urban America and Haiti, I was floored by the book When Helping Hurts. It takes a look at a better way to look at how we do "charity", and how it can actually damage the people and societies that where well intentioned people come in doing "charitable" things.

Second, how do you define those issues of "justice" that are worthy of action?

Are you saying that as long as a particular organization defies something as a "justice" issue that you would support their definition?

Finally, are you suggesting that Moses was completely responsible for the freeing of the Israelites? Are you suggesting that the process involved was completely in accordance with modern NVDA standards? Are you suggesting that the Israelites were actually held in slavery in Egypt? Are you suggesting that they used NVDA tactics in order to free themselves? Are you suggesting that Moses actually existed, and that the nation of Israel was actually enslaved in Egypt?

Just curious.

Anonymous said...
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Dan Trabue said...

Reasonable questions, Craig...

How does "charity" work in your mind.

Charitable giving are simply acts of kindness in either dollars or actions to assist someone in need.

Craig...

...It takes a look at a better way to look at how we do "charity", and how it can actually damage the people and societies that where well intentioned people come in...

Agreed. Of course, anyone who has done charitable work for any time at all can see how there are right ways and wrong ways to help.

This is, in fact, why I lean towards acts of justice to try to resolve and end circumstances that require charity. Charity has its place, but it can be hard to help without being debilitating and placing people in tiers of Do-Gooders (up on high) and "the needy" (down below).

The Good Samaritan helped out a wounded Israeli in need and that's all fine and good, really. But, this story depicts an act of violence by robbers on a road known for violent robberies - why not try to make changes to reduce the violent robberies, rather than simply respond with aid after the fact.

I think that's another way of looking at the difference between the two: Justice is/tends to be proactive while charity is reactive.

Craig...

Second, how do you define those issues of "justice" that are worthy of action?

In our CLOUT organization, we do this from the grass roots up. Every year, we have citywide one-on-one and congregational discussions about the topics of concern for us, as citizens. What wrongs are we seeing that need to be corrected? Where are our "Jericho roads" filled with violence that need interventions?

From these conversations, we collectively try to narrow down to a few more specific topics and then research specific, tested solutions to these problems.

One problem we are seeing in our city is the problem of urban, especially male, especially black, students getting in trouble in school and in trouble and in trouble over and over, getting in deeper and deeper until they are on their way to prisons. Why? Are urban black males more evil than suburban white females? Of course not! There are systemic changes that can be made to deal with these problems and that is a way of seeking justice in that situation.

Does that answer your question?

cont'd...

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

Are you saying that as long as a particular organization defies something as a "justice" issue that you would support their definition?

? No.

Craig...

Finally, are you suggesting that Moses was completely responsible for the freeing of the Israelites?

God used Moses and specific strategies, increasing pressure on the powers that be to force their hand to change.

I think God can use us in a similar way. I don't think that God will send a literal plague of frogs or locusts on the mayor and city hall (do you?), but I do think we can learn from that model about finding allies and common ground and applying pressure towards change.

Craig...

Are you suggesting that the process involved was completely in accordance with modern NVDA standards?

It's an anciet story that can be interpreted as a model of how to do NVDA. Modern NVDA does not call for us to pray for literal swarms of locusts, but rather, metaphorical ones. Pressure for change.

Craig...

Are you suggesting that the Israelites were actually held in slavery in Egypt?

Yes, I think there's at least a bit of evidence to support that conclusion. Although, I have to say that the hard physical archeological evidence for this appears to be nearly non-existent.

It's irrelevant to the point of this post, though.

Craig...

Are you suggesting that they used NVDA tactics in order to free themselves?

No. I think these stories can serve as allegorical models for how WE can accomplish similar goals - how WE can nonviolently call for our allegorical Pharoahs to set our allegorical slaves free.

Craig...

Are you suggesting that Moses actually existed, and that the nation of Israel was actually enslaved in Egypt?

I believe there is some evidence (although it might be rather scant and inconclusive, I understand) to support that conclusion. Clearly, there is/was a Hebrew people that literally exist/existed. Clearly, they had some role in the times they lived. I could not tell you definitively what the factual historic record supports on this point.

It's irrelevant to the point I'm making here, though.

Craig said...

Your answers lead me to question how you are defining justice/injustice. Using your example of young black males. In your construct the main/only issue is some systemic oppression of said males by someone else. While there may be some degree of truth to this, does it invalidate the premise of John Perkins who is investing time and effort into instilling these same types of young men with self respect and giving them tools to deal with this type of situation? I guess, you've provided an example without actually answers the question.

It seems to me that a reasonable case could be made that the plight of young black men could be ameliorated by concentrating on providing mentoring and job training/placement assistance. Helping them to understand the proven value of education, marriage, staying away from drugs and gangs. To avoid fathering children, or to marry and support the mothers of children that they do/have fathered. While these things might not address whatever societal issues you all may have down there. They seem, to me and folks like Perkins, to be a way of effectively addressing the real problem. Do you and your group feel that these types of things have less value than protest or is it that you choose one approach over the other?

I guess it boils down to how you define issues of injustice, and you really haven't addressed that part of the question.

As to the Moses example, you seem to be ignoring that almost every increase in pressure that God used involved force or violence. Up to and including the death of the firstborn. If your point is that these stories are fiction and provide merely an example, then it seems like you have no reason to expect success. If you are suggesting that this really happened, then it doesn't fit into your nice neat 21st century leftist playbook

personally, I don't see how you can get much from a allegorical reading, but hey, it's your world.

I also accept your apology for your slight of the work more conservative churches are doing in these areas. It may be a stretch, but I know you can admit that you all don't have some sort of monopoly on this kind of thing.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig (I've placed my questions back to you in bold font so you don't miss them)...

It seems to me that a reasonable case could be made that the plight of young black men could be ameliorated by concentrating on providing mentoring and job training/placement assistance.

I would tend to agree.

Craig...

Helping them to understand the proven value of education, marriage, staying away from drugs and gangs.

I would tend to agree.

These certainly could be part of what we do to effect positive, just change. Did you suspect I/my type of person would disagree with such obvious answers?

Craig...

I guess it boils down to how you define issues of injustice, and you really haven't addressed that part of the question.

Injustice: MW: absence of justice : violation of right or of the rights of another : unfairness.

I am quite sure we're defining injustice the same way - in English. Do you define it some other way?

So, an unjust situation would be one in which young black urban men are imprisoned at higher rates. An unjust situation is one in which you have wealthier folk going free while poorer folk are being imprisoned for the same crime. An unjust situation is one in which young urban boys go from slight problems in schools to greater problems in school, to juvenile delinquency to prison, all for no good, equitable, sane reason.

How are you defining injustice?

Craig...

If your point is that these stories are fiction and provide merely an example, then it seems like you have no reason to expect success.

? Why not?

The Good Samaritan is a parable - a fiction, if you will. Does that mean we have no reason to expect good results if we model our lives on that illustration?

Craig said earlier...

I find your preconceived notion that "conservative" churches don't engage in these activities, or at least are not as "good" as churches like yours to be unfounded.

In my experience, in 30+ years closely involved in more conservative, traditional churches, being in touch with dozens of such churches in my area and the general southeast for those years, there was almost no push for acts of justice.

I do now have your testimony that you DO do acts of justice in your church, but no examples.

What specific acts of justice is your church involved in?

Please note that I'm not saying that no conservative churches do acts of justice. There were certainly some more traditional/conservative churches involved in the Civil Rights movement, for instance. I'm just saying I'm unaware of much going on.

Now, having said that, let me back up and say that many - most? - of our CLOUT churches could be called conservative in many, many ways. (Indeed, as is our church, in many ways).

But, please, enlighten me. What are you doing? I'm genuinely interested and hopeful. I know of your work in Haiti and appreciate that charity work greatly. Is there a justice component to it, as well?

Craig said...

" Did you suspect I/my type of person would disagree with such obvious answers?"

Not necessarily. But reading your post would indicate that you/r focus is less on the individual and more or the government/societal. Therefor I asked the question to try to clarify.

I'm not suggesting I'm defining justice differently, I'm trying to understand why you are treating these symptoms as a justice issue rather than a personal responsibility issue. If you have evidence that black youths are incarcerated falsely, that is an issue of injustice. If black youths are incarcerated because they actually commit more real crimes than other groups, then I don't see a lack of justice. Again, maybe you are and left that part out, but as you have written the post and your responses, I don't see where you differentiate.

"The Good Samaritan is a parable - a fiction, if you will. Does that mean we have no reason to expect good results if we model our lives on that illustration?"

Good results in what sense? The good Samaritan is more about charity than justice. More so, it is about a more foundational Truth about loving God and loving others. I don't see any guarantees that following that course of action necessitates a "good" result. However, the foundational principal holds true, no matter what the short term results are. However, you seem to be conflating a "parable" which is a fictional story designed to make a larger point, with the Exodus narrative, which is not presented as a parable. You still can't make the Exodus narrative fit into your 21st century progressive narrative.

So, the sum total of your accusation that conservative churches as a whole don't do "acts of justice" is your limited experience with a small slice of "conservative" churches that you haven't identified. Even if your limited experience is 100% accurate, it seems strange to project your impressions on the thousands of other churches throughout the world.

First, my work in Haiti, is not through my church. But, I would consider providing eye care that allows Haitians to find work or keep the work they have to have a justice component. Further, I would consider the community/leadership/sustainable food/housing development to have a justice component.

As for our church. I hesitate to go into much detail, as it can sound like pride, so I'll throw out some generalizations.

First, almost all of our mission initiatives are aimed at support of LOCAL groups/individuals so we don't try to impose our version of what is right on others.

We are working with single women in Africa to provide them with tools to support themselves economically. We are involved in education and leadership development in multiple locations in Zambia and the Congo. We are involved with an economic development organization in the middle east, we support financially and work closely with IJM. We support and work closely with the CCDA and the John Perkins foundation in racial reconciliation and community development. We support (financially and otherwise) tutoring/mentoring programs locally. One of our ex staff started an organization that teaches entrepreneurship to at risk inner city students. Since so many justice issues are related to stable decent housing we work with several organizations that are involved in this area as well.

I could go on, but that should suffice to make the point.

I honestly can't understand why it is so hard for you to just admit that you allowed your preconceived notion of what "those conservatives" do or don't do caused you to overreach and paint with a broad and inaccurate brush. Lord knows I've had to admit my mistakes enough.

Dan Trabue said...

Okay, looking back, I am trying to put together where you've misunderstood me, Craig. In your first comment, you said...

Personally, I find your preconceived notion that "conservative" churches don't engage in these activities

I looked back and confirmed that you have appeared to have misunderstood, reading something into what I said that wasn't there. It appears you have read my words, like...

"On the other hand, we tend to rarely think about or do much about "doing justice."

and

"For most churches, I'd hazard to guess that they don't really even give much thought to what that would be..."

And read into that a condemnation of conservative churches. But, as you can see, I make no mention of conservative churches in my actual words. I was positing the suggestion that for MOST CHURCHES (that would be Left, Right, conservative, moderate, liberal, whatever), WE don't tend to think about "doing justice" as a church.

Just to set that out there. Does that clarify what appears to be a misunderstanding on your part, based I guess on something you read into what I wrote that I didn't actually say?

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

Good results in what sense?

The Good Samaritan offers a good model of what charity looks like. It is a story that demonstrates what good giving/sharing to a neighbor can look like.

Moses' story offers a good model of what asking for a just solution from the powers that be.

They both offer stories that are good models. Does that make more sense?

Craig...

However, you seem to be conflating a "parable" which is a fictional story designed to make a larger point, with the Exodus narrative, which is not presented as a parable. You still can't make the Exodus narrative fit into your 21st century progressive narrative.

As it is off topic here, I'll start a new post to look at OT texts, NT texts and what they do and don't say about themselves.

Craig said...

"In your church - or other conservative churches you know - do you all regularly do any work aimed at promoting justice (on any issue)..."

The above are your words that caused my question. Had you said "other churches" or not used the qualifier "conservative", I don't think I would have had that question. However, you chose to specifically call out "conservative churches", which led to my asking the question. I hope that clears things up. I reached a conclusion based on your actual words, that you presumably actually wrote. I will assume that in your rebuttal you simply missed this sentence, rather than cherry picked to make it seem as though you didn't specifically point out "conservative churches". I hope that clears thing up.

In my earlier response, I actually made the point that the good Samaritan is a good illustration of the basic truth found in the Shema. Of course it is. It is a parable that was crafted to make a specific point, if it didn't make that point it wouldn't have been particularly effective. So, while I agree that living the Shema is a good pattern for us to follow, I don't necessarily see how that translates into "good results". It certainly could, but it is not a linear relationship. It's possible that the beaten man dies, which might not be a good result, for example. So, while your response addresses my question, it doesn't actually answer it in the sense of explain what you mean by "good results". It could be that your using the term "good results" was a mistake any you meant something else, but I'm not quite sure from your comment. Sorry, If I'm missing something.

I am assuming the my church "measures up" to your standard, or you probably would have acknowledged my response to your question.

As to the good Samaritan v. Exodus. I would assume that asking questions about an illustration(s) that you chose, in order to support your contention is within the bounds of "on topic". If I am somehow mistaken, my bad, but it seems reasonable to me.

But, hey, I'll play along for a bit anyway.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

Had you said "other churches" or not used the qualifier "conservative", I don't think I would have had that question.

Those words aren't in my post. My post is about churches in general.

Those words are in my response to a conservative commenter. I asked about his church, which I presumed to be conservative church. But the post itself is making a sweeping comment about churches.

Does that clear up the confusion?

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

I am assuming the my church "measures up" to your standard, or you probably would have acknowledged my response to your question.

I am glad your church does charitable work. The question was not designed to embarrass or nitpick, but to raise awareness.

Based on what you say, I don't really see how what you reference is justice work, it seems to fall more into the category of charity to me, but that was not the point so I was letting it go.

I guess I'm seeing justice in the sense of various biblical examples, like Moses and Israel, like the prophets confronting the powerful about unjust practices, unfair scales, etc.

Helping people develop jobs I guess could be seen as justice work, too, I'm not complaining at all. It's very good work, and sounds very cool. I just wasn't sure what injustice it was addressing - I guess in a patriarchal society that limits options for women, fighting against the injustice of that sort of patriarchy would fit, was that your point?

Thanks.

Craig said...

OK, I've dealt with your other issue.

I'd still be interested in answers to my earlier questions.

How do you determine something to be an issue of injustice, rather than an issues of responsibility?

For example, if a higher percentage of black young men are in prison for murder, because they actually killed people, then their incarceration is without a doubt just, as per our current legal system.

At what point do you draw the line?

Why do you choose to focus on "the system" rather than on providing tools and support to help the affected group to better function in society?

Marriage, for example, has a demonstrable positive effect on almost every social issue that concerns you. Is your group working with individual black young men to prepare them for, encourage, and support them in marriage? Education is something else that has a demonstrably positive effect of both individuals and society. Is your group mentoring and tutoring these folks to help them reach their potential?

While not suggesting that govt. or society is perfect, or that there are not instances where change must be made, why would you focus on a govt. solution rather than an individual or small group solution?

Maybe your group is doing all of these things, and you just chose to focus your post on the govt. side of things.

Granting for the sake of this discussion your conjecture that Exodus is an allegory, how do you make the story as told fit your 21st century progressive non-violent mold?

It seems to me that your story, as you've presented it in this context, fits in with what I perceive to be a tendency on the part of the left to see these issues in terms of the group, society, or govt.; rather than to see people as individuals. One of the things that my church focuses on is empowering individuals and small groups of individuals to flourish, and to effect systemic change that way.
In the best sermon I have ever heard in Haiti, the pastor talked about how by God effecting significant change in individuals, those individuals can effect change in neighborhoods, towns, cities, and eventually the country. I see that as a pretty good model. Until God changes individual hearts in order to become a part of bring His kingdom into "...earth as it is in heaven.", I'm not sure how much the rest of it matters.

Again, I'm not suggesting that your group is completely wrong, I am curious about your process.

Craig said...

While we're clearing up confusion, I never said your "conservative church" comment was in your original post. It is however your comment, and it does suggest (as do your later comments) that you suspect that "conservative churches" don't quite measure up.

I'm quite clear.

Dan Trabue said...

Then you DO understand, now, that my point was clearly about all churches not really addressing issues of justice much? Because it sounds like you're still not getting the actual point.

Yes, it seems that conservative churches aren't dealing with justice matters much (other than their perennial favorite - abortion, which is to them a matter of justice - but even then, it seems mostly to fall under the category of "complaint" rather than actual work to resolve the perceived injustice), but conservative churches aren't unique on this front. They are simply included in the larger group "churches" as a subgroup.

Craig said...

You second comment gets to my point. While it seems you see justice issues as fighting some sort of oppressive system by community organizing, I look at justice differently.

First, I actually mentioned some organizations we work with that do address justice in the sense in which you choose to use it.

Second, I guess I/we see justice on a more foundational level. For example I see our work in developing entrepreneurs as a basic an issue of justice. If people are dependent on others for their basic needs, are they being treated justly? Again, not that this is an either or situation, I just think that we see justice differently. Due to that, you give the impression that while charity is "cool", it's just not quite as important as "justice". I may be wrong and if I am I accept that. It just seems as though you're drawing a line that doesn't exist.

Craig said...

Since I said I see your point, it might be safe to assume that I do. The fact remains that you specifically pointed out "conservative churches". Now, you can belabor this minor nitpick, or move on. It seems like there are more worthwhile questions unanswered and issues un-dealt with to be focusing on this bit of minutia.

So to be clear, in your original post you were focusing on all churches (except your group), while in your comment on the original post, you chose to focus on "conservative churches". Got it.

FYI, up in my neck of the woods, the churches on the left side of the spectrum talk about doing things. They even advocate to pressure the government into doing things. But they don't actually do all that much. While the churches on the right side of the spectrum, are much more involved both financially, as well as personally.

Having said that, I would never try to extrapolate that beyond my own observations and try to broad brush and side of the issue.

One possible reason for this could be that the more conservative churches here are the churches who have the resources (mainly people and money) to become more involved in these types of things.

But, that's just my experience/observation.

Craig said...

"In the OT story of Moses, the nation of Israel was enslaved and worked harshly by the Egyptians."

Although you present this as fact in your post, you seem to have backed away from the factualness of this statement.



"Moses began a process of appealing to Pharoah to do the right thing and release the children of Israel from slavery to freedom."

If one was to accurately represent the story, one would say that God began the process by dragging Moses into His plan. By no stretch of imagination could anyone suggest that Moses was the driving force in this story. At least how it is written.


"Moses and the Israelites were met with great opposition to such a crazy idea (why would Egypt release their work force, changing the system on which they relied?), but eventually, by increasing pressure on Egypt, Pharoah relented and Israel was set free at last, free at last."

Technically it should be God and Moses...

If one appeals to the text, once again, we see that God raises the pressure, not Moses. Or that God uses Moses to explain why He was raising the pressure.

"This is an act of Justice - Moses and his crew of collaborators..."

Again, God pointed out the injustice to Moses, who reluctantly went along.



"... saw a systemic injustice,..."

Again, if we look at the text we see that Moses wasn't particularly concerned prior to the message from God. Even after being spoken to he still tried to get out of being involved. Further, Moses was not in a position to see the systemic injustice. He was pretty happy herding sheep or whatever.


"... in this case at the national level,..."


"... and they began a process of applying pressure to the powers that be to secure justice for an oppressed people."

If by they you mean God, then I agree. If by they you mean someone other than God, then the story doesn't support that conjecture at all.

True or False, right or wrong, it doesn't matter. It's a bad illustration of your basic point which has merit, and is worthy of serious discussion.

Too bad.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

Although you present this as fact in your post, you seem to have backed away from the factualness of this statement.

This would be better dealt with in the next post, which is more about the stories than about the topic of justice and charity. This statement is not about justice or charity.

Having said that, I have not backed away from anything. IN THE STORY OF ISRAEL, they were harshly enslaved. That is a fact that this is how the story is presented. I'm not making a value judgment in this post about the literal veracity of the story, I'm just using the story as a model or object lesson. Understand?

Craig...

If one was to accurately represent the story, one would say that God began the process by dragging Moses into His plan. By no stretch of imagination could anyone suggest that Moses was the driving force in this story.

In the story from the point of view of the powers that be, Moses was the one initiating this process. Again, I'm using this story as a model or parable in this post. Pharoah didn't know the backstory of God calling Moses, all he knew was that some protestors were looking to cut into their system and mess their way of life up.

In this regard, it is a good model for NVDA. Just as today, the powers that be will not know or perhaps even care if we feel led of God to work for justice, they'll just know that pressure is being applied.

Understand?

Again, God pointed out the injustice to Moses, who reluctantly went along.

God called. Moses answered. Just as with us, right?

Craig said...

Dan,

So, are you suggesting that when Moses went before Pharaoh, that he didn't represent himself as God's representative?

"Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’”

Are you suggesting that Pharaoh was somehow confused about who was speaking?

I really applaud your effort to shoehorn this story to fit your 21st century progressive political narrative, but it just doesn't work.

It's a bad illustration. It's OK to admit it and try to find a better one.

"Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.”

So, if Pharaoh was confused as to who he was dealing with, why would he ask Moses to pray to the Lord to remove the frogs?

"This would be better dealt with in the next post, which is more about the stories than about the topic of justice and charity. This statement is not about justice or charity"

Except that you have chosen THIS story as the lynchpin of THIS post, it seems quite reasonable that an examination of the "biblical" underpinnings of your actions be examined here.

Also, had you read my earlier comment, you would realize that I'm willing to stipulate for the purpose of this thread that the story is allegory. Because it doesn't matter to my point. It's just a bad illustration.

Anyway, I'm sure you'd like to catch up to the comments to this point. So, I'll hold off until you catch up.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

It's a bad illustration. It's OK to admit it and try to find a better one.

Man, you focus on things that aren't the point and won't let go.

The point of the post is that we ought to do both charity and justice in our lives.

To illustrate the justice ideal, I referenced a Biblical story where...

1. There are an oppressed people (in an unjust situation)

2. Where the people of God called on Pharoah to end the injustice

3. Where Pharoah eventually relented thanks to increased pressure to force the change.

In ANY ONE of those points, am I mistaken?

You don't like the analogy? Fine. I happen to find it apt. I disagree with your opinion that it's a bad analogy. Get over it and move on.

Do you have anything to say about encouraging the church (and people in general) to get involved in works of justice?

Craig said...

Had you read my earlier comments, you'd know the answer to your last question.

I get that you are really attached to your analogy and that's great. I'm thrilled that you find it appropriate, I'd go back to one of my earlier unanswered questions though. I can't see how you can take a story where the pressure you refer to was violence perpetrated by God and turn it into some sort of justification for NVDA.

If you want to go back and address something else I've brought up great. If not, oh well.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

I can't see how you can take a story where the pressure you refer to was violence perpetrated by God and turn it into some sort of justification for NVDA.

And where exactly did I say the story was a "justification for NVDA..."?

Once again, MY POINT in using that story was...

1. There are an oppressed people (in an unjust situation)

2. Where the people of God called on Pharoah to end the injustice

3. Where Pharoah eventually relented thanks to increased pressure to force the change.

In ANY ONE of those points, am I mistaken?

Be specific.

Or just let it go if you don't have anything to say on topic.

Craig said...

I've said plenty on topic, and asked plenty of questions on topic. If you'd like to deal with what has already been said on topic I'd appreciate it. Otherwise I don't see much point in adding anything else on or off topic.

Marshall Art said...

First, as regards my own church, I haven't attended in some time. My own church, that is, the church with which I have a distinct membership and for which I both served as Church Council President and Chaired the Board of Elders for several years, is a UCC church. This means that the term "social justice" gets bandied about with some frequency. But this incredibly small congregation, while having conservative members besides myself, was largely less than conservative. I recall some years ago some members, including the pastor, were involved in an effort to increase the pay per bushel for some field workers. Before successfully getting the employer(s) to bump the pay literally only a couple of pennies per bushel (I don't recall how it added up to improve their wages per day or week), their pay was considered to be an injustice. Of course, this was not true. However high or low the wage, if one agrees to do the work for that wage, and then having performed the duties is paid that wage, no injustice has taken place.

The church we've been attending more often these days, without yet having become members, is a more Biblically sound Evangelical Free Church. At this point, while we are aware of the many ways in which it reaches out on a charitable level, I am as yet unaware of anything related to matters of "justice".

You said, Dan, that justice is proactive. This is untrue. There must be an injustice to be resolved and therefor justice is reactive and always is. Reading the comments since my initial post (though I kinda skimmed the last four or five, I've seen very little that resembles an accurate definition of "justice". Everything so far seems to be acts of charity. It goes to my initial comment regarding what constitutes an injustice or an unjust situation to which one can hope to bring some measure of justice. To wit:

Craig said...

"And where exactly did I say the story was a "justification for NVDA..."?"

Since your history shows a tendency for you to use the lack of answers on others part as a reason for you to avoid answering questions, I'll give you an answer.

To be clear, you did not use those exact words.

You are using the Exodus story as your support for Christians engaging to protest injustice. Further you have suggested that it is a model for such protests.
You further state "If there is a problem of oppression or other injustice needing a systemic change, working non-violently to secure agreement to a just solution is a reasonable act of justice.". It seems reasonable to conclude,, that you are using a story in which a significant amount of the pressure applied was violent to support non violent protest.

If you'd like to clarify, great. If not I believe I'm caught up on the answer game and it's your turn.

Marshall Art said...


1. "So, an unjust situation would be one in which young black urban men are imprisoned at higher rates." 2. "An unjust situation is one in which you have wealthier folk going free while poorer folk are being imprisoned for the same crime." 3. " An unjust situation is one in which young urban boys go from slight problems in schools to greater problems in school, to juvenile delinquency to prison, all for no good, equitable, sane reason."

#1 is not an injustice at all. Indeed, these young men have experience justice by being sentenced for the crimes for which they were convicted. If, as Craig suggested, any where falsely accused, then you can talk about an unjust situation.

#2 is not an injustice unless you can show that any of the comparisons are identical with money buying a better outcome. That's not the same as saying that some can afford better lawyers and others are force to make do with court appointed attorneys. It is possible for wealthy people to hire crap lawyers and get the maximum. It is possible for a court appointed attorney to win cases for the worst offenders. But there is no injustice here. What there is is stupidity on the part of the less wealthy to take the chance of committing a crime when a good lawyer is beyond their financial means.

#3 is the worst example of the bunch, as it provides no hint of where the injustice would even lie.

All this to illustrate that the idea of what constitutes an injustice has not been soundly defined. I'm not sure you even know what an injustice might look like if you think abortion is just a "medical procedure", when in fact it is the taking of a life without just cause.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Just by way of observation. . .

Is it possible for Dan to write a blog post in which he states, in general form, "Here is what my church does, and why it does it," and not have someone come along and insist he's wrong about everything?

He invites others to share their stories of how they are parts of communities of faith that live out that faith in distinct ways. He isn't looking for an argument. He isn't daring anyone to tell him he and the members of his congregation are wrong. He's just sharing his experiences of his faith life and inviting others to do the same.

Why, Craig and Art, do you have this need to tell him he and his church are wrong? Even if it were true, it's rude. Even if it were the case that his congregation didn't do Christianity in the correct fashion, do you honestly think comments from strangers on the internet are going to convince him of that? These comments keep going and going, around and around the same circles, and Dan is far more polite and accommodating than I ever would be, patiently telling you both that you either (a) deliberately misunderstand or misconstrue his words; or, (b) assume things about him and his approach to living out the faith that just aren't true or borne out by the facts of the matter.

Yet, on you go.

Dan Trabue said...

I have no problem with questions in general, Geoffrey. The problem to me is in the rather belligerent approach to asking questions.

So, where Craig has asked...

How do you determine something to be an issue of injustice, rather than an issues of responsibility?

I think that is a fair and good question for us all to consider. No problem at all with that question.

The answer to this line of thinking is that, of course, we support really three approaches to societal problems...

1. Charity - for meeting immediate needs, as with the Good Samaritan example.

2. Justice - for meeting societal or larger, institutional problems, as with the Pharoah/slavery issue.

3. Personal and societal responsibility - for dealing with both larger and smaller problems, as with encouraging living in smaller circles, walking, biking, mass transit, living sustainably or, looking for a biblical model, Jesus' call to the woman caught in adultery, to go and sin no more.

The only problem in Craig's line of questioning is the presumption that we focus on justice at a systemic level to the exclusion of personal responsibility as another road to deal with perhaps related matters. In Craig's defense, he allows that "Maybe your group is doing all of these things, and you just chose to focus your post on the govt. side of things."

So, looking at the Good Samaritan issue (an individual harmed on roads plagued by constant robberies/assaults), we could consider a few options

1. Charitably helping the immediate need of the victims.

2. Calling for the powers that be to do something - increased police presence, perhaps, increased job opportunities to reduce the "need" for robberies - to deal with this ongoing, systemic problem.

3. Individuals finding ways to increase jobs and reaching out to the thieves and thugs to find out ways to call them to a different way of living and personal responsibility in a moral and sustainable manner.

All of these (and many more) are possible ways of dealing with this sort of problem. I'm not opposed to any of them.

The purpose of this post was not to talk about personal responsibility and individuals finding ways of offering opportunities to reduce societal problems, but rather, considering the difference between how we people of faith tend to focus on acts of charity and our walk with God, but how we don't generally talk about how to live out Justice, as a faith community.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

you give the impression that while charity is "cool", it's just not quite as important as "justice". I may be wrong and if I am I accept that. It just seems as though you're drawing a line that doesn't exist.

I think that I have been quite clear that charity is a good thing. I just clarified for you that of course I believe in personal responsibility.

The thing is, some issues are more systemic in nature. Again, look at the good samaritan. Yes, it is a good thing to help the victim in that situation. But wouldn't a better on-going solution be to treat the SYSTEMIC cause of the problem? WHY are these people being attacked regularly on the road to Jericho? What can be done to change that problem?

Asking systemic questions is, to me, a higher priority than merely responding to disasters and atrocities after the fact.

So, yes, you DO correctly perceive that I place a high value on dealing with issues of Justice. Charity is a band-aid approach, I think it is most reasonable to find ways to prevent the need for band aids.

Wouldn't you agree?

The problem with Charity, it seems to me from my first hand experience, is that no matter how gracious and helpful people try to be in providing charity, is nearly always places people in hierarchical roles - the poor, needy person and the Super Helper Person. I'd rather find ways to work hand in hand (as indeed, you mention in your work in figuring out job opportunities) with people to help change the circumstances together than simply give them something.

If you give a person a fish, they eat for a day.

If you teach the person to fish, they could potentially fish for a lifetime...

IF they have access to clean water and healthy fish, but then, we also have to work together to ensure they DO have access to this or merely teaching them to fish (personal opportunity/responsibility) is a moot point in the face of systemic injustice.

All of the above.

Is this not only rational? Where specifically am I mistaken?

Craig said...

GKS,

Maybe you missed the parts where I have said several times that what Dan and his church are doing is good. I have not suggested otherwise. I have suggested that the Exodus story is a poor choice to use for support of their actions, and asked questions in an attempt to understand why he chose this example. But, I have never said that he and his church are doing it "wrong".

Craig said...

Dan,

Thank you for restating what I said in an earlier comment, regarding doing charity well vs. poorly.

I'm glad we agree on that. Of all of the charitable work I/my church is involved in this is a guiding principle.


As I have said repeatedly, I have no problem in principle with churches addressing what what you define as issues of justice. Using your (better) example of the Good Samaritan. It is perfectly reasonable to petition the government to address this public safety issue. So, to clarify what I have been saying all along, I support the right of churches to advocate for justice, as our church does. Where I see concerns (not that this necessarily describes what you are doing) is when the churches become too enamored with government solutions, or to enmeshed in the political process.

So, despite the fact that I might disagree with some of the specific issues that Dan's group addresses. Despite the fact that I may disagree over the best solutions to the problem (see may attempt to dive deeper into his black young men example). Despite the fact that I think his use of the Exodus narrative is a poor choice to make his point. (I do assume that's it's OK to disagree on these kinds of things) I completely support his groups attempts to involve themselves in issues that concern them.

For example, I'd would be interested to get a sense of how the "black young men" example used earlier is determined to be a justice problem rather than a personal responsibility problem. Or what aspects of that problem are considered to be injustice.

Maybe we can find that out.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

You further state "If there is a problem of oppression or other injustice needing a systemic change, working non-violently to secure agreement to a just solution is a reasonable act of justice.". It seems reasonable to conclude,, that you are using a story in which a significant amount of the pressure applied was violent to support non violent protest.

I used the story because...

1. You had an oppressive, unjust situation in the story, just as we sometimes face today.

2. People of faith responded (indeed, to God's call - just as we do today).

3. The response was calling on "the target" to do the right thing and applying increasing pressure on "the target" to change his policy - just as we do today.

Where specifically am I mistaken on any of that?

That most of the pressure in the story comes as a result of miraculous God-actions is irrelevant to the point I'm making. Just as we too can join in with God in the process of creating and in the process of restoring, we too can join in with God in the process of applying pressure.

The specific pressures may change (God magically sending locusts, bloody rivers, sick cows and dead babies their way are increasing pressures in the story; letters, pressure from their peers, research-based pressure, pressure from the court, etc, in our case), but THE POINT is, first, ask for change and, if that fails, apply pressure to effect change and, if that fails, apply increasing pressure.

The specific actions/pressures are not the point, any more than the specific actions of the Good Samaritan are the point. If we use the Good Samartian story to make the point, "We should help those in need," and someone responded, "Well, the only way we can help those in need is to bind them up, take them to a hotel and leave them there," then haven't they missed the point being made, getting caught up in the details foolishly?

Where specifically am I mistaken?

Craig said...

Dan,

Now who can't let go? ;)

Note, I didn't say you were mistaken in any of your points. I did say that you have to go through some significant editing to make the story fit your point. In my opinion you made a classic youth leader mistake and tried to shoehorn the bible story to fit your point. So what, it happens all the time to some pretty good folks. I asked for clarification, you gave your best effort, I still think it's a stretch. So what, it's your analogy. As I keep saying, I think a dialogue on the how's and why's of your thought process regarding what makes an issue a "justice" issue as opposed to some other sort of issue. It almost seems like it is so important that I like your illustration or that I agree that it is a good one, that you can't get past it. Maybe I'm wrong, and if so, I apologize.

So, it's kind of your call from here. I've asked what you consider to be legitimate questions, I've not said you're doing things "wrong", I've raised concerns about your choice of illustration, and I don't see anywhere else to go. If you'd like to explore some detail, great, if not great. Either way I don't see anything else to add to this particular small point.

Parklife said...

Another observation from the sidelines..

"In my opinion you made a classic youth leader mistake and tried to shoehorn the bible story to fit your point."

Its a classic MA / Craig statement. They take their "opinion" and wrap an insult inside of it. Its served within the context of "this is wrong from my pov" but without the acknowledgement that all we have are opinions.

It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Errr.. something like that.

Craig said...

Porkie,

You seem to be looking for offense where there is none. The first person who used that youth leader line was a guy who had been doing youth ministry for 20 years or so. It's not an insult, it's simply a really common occurrence in that context. It's an inside joke in a sense. I realize that you are determined to find something to get worked up over, but this isn't it.

To put this in simple terms for you. There was no insult. I have been fairly clear that my disagreements with Dan on this are in the realm of my opinion of what I consider to be a poor choice of illustration.

It is still OK to disagree right?

Alan said...

"I realize that you are determined to find something to get worked up over, but this isn't it."

vs.

"I have been fairly clear that my disagreements with Dan on this are in the realm of my opinion of what I consider to be a poor choice of illustration. "

Heh.

Seriously, that first one ought to be the tagline of this blog. Or the title.

Parklife said...

"Porkie"

heh.. stay classy Craig.

"The first person who used.."

Do you have to be so predictable?


Craig said...

P.

Spoken predictably.

Marshall Art said...

Geoffrey,

I don't see why you have such a problem with my comments, as they are related to the post. Dan speaks of justice issues and hasn't taken the time to define the term. He has stated he believes justice is proactive. This indicates a clear misunderstanding of the term, as justice is always what takes place after an injustice is perpetrated. I point out such things for the sake of clarity, but you, and apparently Parklife and Alan, prefer to pretend there is some evil intention behind it. How sad. In your case, it is quite clear to me that you prefer no comment that has the possibility of exposing flaws in your reasoning, or the reasoning of those with whom you are likely to be in agreement. Flaws might not even exist, but to question the possibility is too much for you. Again, how sad, but also, too bad.

Marshall Art said...

In the meantime, I am still left with no clarification on what constitutes injustice against which a church might feel compelled to battle. I pointed to one obvious possibility that any true Christian church should see as a righteous cause, but Dan has proven my point by disagreeing that it constitutes a true injustice worthy of his time.

Meanwhile, he would have a church contend that an urban youth convicted of a crime is a victim of injustice, simply because some guy of better means is able to avoid prosecution, conviction or heavy penalty due to his ability to better defend himself in court.

There's so much wrong with Dan's stated understanding, such as it was. His reference to Micah in the face of his example of the urban youth incarcerated proves the point. If the urban youth are impoverished, it is not because of the same reasons that Micah railed against the wealthy oppressors of ancient times. A hard to detect few who are poor in this nation can rightly claim to be victims of injustice to explain their poverty. And very few who are truly impoverished for no fault of their own (if such exist) can use their poverty as excuses for breaking the law.

What's more, the very lifestyles that Dan encourages is one of simplicity that cannot easily deal with tragedies that might befall and cripple the already minimal financial security such a lifestyle can generate. On top of that, the political measures so often supported by Dan lead to the very inequities for which he now demands justice. Jobs for the inner city? From where? Employers are often fleeing the cities where Dan's chosen politicians have the greatest support.

It seems rather unjust to expect that those who have worked for and supported economic growth policies should now clean up the results of the very policies put into place by the people that Dan has supported with his vote.