Desensitized to Justice Matters?

This week marks time when the 2013 Justice Conference comes to Philadelphia. If you have time, come for a visit and see what many of the well-known advocates for justice have to say ( and say hi to us at Global Trauma Recovery Institute/Biblical Seminary located at #237 in the exhibit hall). At our church, one of the adult Sunday School classes has been considering What God thinks about justice. I had the pleasure of leading it this Sunday as we explored the matter of injustice within our own walls. You see, too often we think about injustice as an “over there” problem. But wherever humans exist, injustice does also.

Gregory of Nyssa says that injustice is rooted in…greed. Greed propels us to take what is not rightfully our own. While outright theft is one form of greed, so also is being unwilling to speak up when others are being mistreated (we don’t want to give up our comfort and power).

Sensitivity to Injustice?

In today’s class, we considered those in our midst that might have less of a voice, thereby being more vulnerable to systemic injustice. Some of the populations named included children, women, ethnic/language/ideological minorities, singles, single parents, technologically dis-advantaged individuals, lower socioeconomic status individuals, same-sex orientation individuals, etc. In small groups, we considered how we might sensitize ourselves to the potential for systemic sin inside the church. Across all groups, the main answer was given that relationships must be formed with “the other” if we are going to learn of latent forms of injustice. There is little that will help us outside of learning through relationship.

Desensitizing ourselves?

However, there are times when we are in proximity to injustice and we turn a blind eye to it. How does this happen? Over time, we lose our sensitivity and begin to accept the dominant paradigm. If you want an excellent description of this process, I encourage you to read The Eye of the Leopard, by Henning Mankell. The main character, Lars Hakansson, arrives in Zambia as a young man. He is shocked and embarrassed by the overt racism by white farm owners who mistreat their “employees” and imagine that Africa would fall apart without their superior work wisdom and work ethic. But over the next 18 years he finds himself owning a farm and being in charge of 200 employees and their families. As the book progresses, he ends up becoming as paranoid as those who have lived their entire lives in Zambia. To be fair, both Black and white Africans help perpetuate the division. Lars tries to shed the “bwana” moniker (akin to “our father” in Swahili). Once he accepts the position, Lars imagines he will be different. He will build schools. He will treat others with dignity. He will raise salaries. Despite keeping these promises, the social fabric continues to fray and Lars starts to sound like the other racist owners.

Only in the end does Lars come to realize the truth,

A White man can never help Africans develop their own country from a superior position, he thinks. From below, from inside, one can contribute to expertise and new working patterns. But never as a bwana. Never as someone who holds all power in his hands.

Being in a system that promotes a dominant group’s power and maintains another group subservient will inevitably rub off on you if you try to work within the current system’s power structures. The challenge is this: if you don’t work in the current system, you probably can’t get much accomplished and will have little voice against “the machine.” If you do try to work within the accepted power structures, you will likely have some positive effect, even as you yourself may become accepting to some of the injustices.


Filed under Africa, Good Books

5 responses to “Desensitized to Justice Matters?

  1. Do Christians have a right to seek justice?

    Growing up in the more conservative branches of fundamentalism, we were taught that it was a sin to seek “justice”. That translated into children being sexually and physically abused and wives often living in abusive situations. Because we had no right to defend ourselves, we just had to endure till we were old enough to leave. Now, it’s hard to sort out what is true and what isn’t. Does God want us to pursue justice? The memories of all I was taught ring loud and clear in my thinking, yet by not seeking justice and exposing crimes, pedophiles had free reign in our churches and christian schools. If they got caught, those they offended were forever branded, but they just had to state that they were repented and could go on to offend again.
    Justice. What is it? Is it absent in Christianity? It is becoming more and more widely known. Look at the situation at BJU for example. Will anyone every speak out or are they too strong, too well known, too intimidating? What is justice and who is it for? Why don’t any Christian leaders speak out?? It’s as if the emperor is standing in the room with no clothes on and everyone is too blind to see it.

    • You mention BJU. You may know, then, that is involved in an ind. investigation there, invited by BJU. If you see what is going on at the Justice Conference, you will see many Christian leaders speaking out.

      Does God want us to pursue justice? I would say the Scriptures are clear. Yes.

      • Do Christians have a right to seek justice?

        I am aware of the investigation by GRACE and am really thankful for them, but they seem to be standing alone. Those of us who are planning to tell GRACE the things that happened are being attacked all over social media by Christians with numerous allegations. It doesn’t seem to matter if what we are saying is true. We are just expected to keep silent.
        GRACE is amazing. The contact I have had with them makes God seem like he could possibly care, but there seems to be no one else in the Greenville community that supports the idea of justice. We, those who were abused, seem to be solely responsible to protect God’s name by keeping silent. IF we participate in the GRACE investigation and people find out, in general, we will be ostracized from the Christian community. To a degree, most of us already have. We have been accused of lying, accused of trying to destroy God, accused of being psycho, etc. We have been accused again and again – all the accusations coming from Christians, sometimes even the pastors coming forward publicly to accuse us. As far as I know, no Christian leaders support the investigation, at least not publicly and definitely not within the Greenville community. Those of us involved stand alone if we go down this path.
        Thank you for your verses on justice. It was helpful to read through them!

  2. D.S.

    There have been some winds of relief lately, but mostly I have been living for months now in a sort of numbness (yet tears spring easily) that no matter what justice I want there is nothing I can do and why bother even praying for it because while I know God CAN do something about it, as far as I can see, He isn’t. — Yes, I know my sight is limited and there very well may be plenty that I don’t see. There is that hope. — Yet another part of me still cries with pain as I feel betrayed by God. I can’t count on Him.

    This I recall to my mind. Therefore I have hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because His compassion fails not.

    That provides a little relief. Nevertheless the unjust continue to reign over the just and I am bowed down with grief. I’ve run out of energy to fight. I’ve run out of hope to fight.

    • Do Christians have a right to seek justice?

      D.S. My heart breaks for you. I echo your fears and questions. I, also, want to believe God cares, but I just don’t know what the truth is. I try to remind myself of the hope you mentioned, but am also living in the confusion of what appears to be happening. For some reason, it seems it would be easier if those who did these horrific things didn’t claim Christianity. It would make it easier to trust and go to God for comfort, but it seems that he is their God. When God’s name was connected to all of the abuse we experienced, it is very hard to separate him from it. One of the hardest things for me is not seeing Christian leaders stand up and say that what happened was wrong. GRACE is doing that, but where are the churches, pastors, etc.? Why are the only pastors that are speaking out, speaking accusations against us? I too, have run out of hope. It’s just too hard.
      I’m glad to see the Justice Conference above and I did look through it. It is encouraging that this is happening. I guess I just don’t see it in my community.

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