The summer before my senior year in college, I had the opportunity to travel to Jamaica for a six—week mission trip providing a structure for VBS and camp. In those days, my theology was still forming, and hopefully still is, but I am a bit embarrassed to admit how excited I was to save hearts for Jesus. It was one the most stressful & transformative experience in my life, as well as the most rewarding-the most humbling.  I quickly realized that I was not there to save hearts for Jesus, for God was already present – it was my heart that needed to be transformed in the midst of relationship.

Gena Thomas, who served as a missionary in northern Mexico, writes about justice vs. charity.

“Charity, as we know it today, is not found in the Bible. Charity is a handout – where the haves give something to the have-nots. A power play can develop in the transaction. Those giving are on a pedestal saying, “we have what you need.” It’s easy to feel that we know what justice is. There are two different words meaning justice in the Bible. One means to give something to someone that is owed and the other means living in right relationship with others. It’s hard to give someone what they are due without having a relationship with them. These two types of justice are very much connected.  Mission from a justice standpoint begin and end with relationship. While it might look like good intentions from one side, the other side can experience harm.”

Bishop Robert Schnase- Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations-Risk-taking mission & service: The earliest written Scriptures record a consistent emphasis upon justice & compassion. Scripture inextricably links love of God to love of neighbor and calls people to charity, justice & mercy.  Churches need to recognize their responsibility to bear witness to wider social change – tending to legislative policies, changes in public funding, legal proposals, business practices with an eye for protecting the most vulnerable; and advocating for policies that improve the lives and conditions of those who struggle. Even at the risk of disapproval, they need to mobilize against racism, injustice & abuse.  They need to help members stay informed about issues that affect people and encourage civic and political participation amount their members.

Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God”.  Question: “Charity or justice?” answer is, “Yes.” Charity & justice are not mutually exclusive. We are called to both tasks: work for justice and to extend charity.

Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr.,  Credo.

I wish for people of faith t0 understand the difference between charity & justice. Charity seeks to eliminate the effects of injustice; justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it and create public policy. Charity does not affect the status quo, while justice leads inevitably to political confrontation.”

It’s more convenient AND more socially acceptable to offer charity than work for justice. And some say the church & pastors should stay out of justice work because it is too political. In South America, Don Helder Camara observed, “When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist.” When people offer charity, society applauds. When people challenge structures of systemic oppression, society fights back.

Martin Luther King, Jr:

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” 

Many things have been considered legal in various nations, but it did not necessarily make them just laws.  Apartheid was legal. The holocaust was legal. Slavery was legal. Colonialism was legal. Legailty is a matter of power, not justice.  The work of justice addresses systems, laws & legislation which cause poverty & human suffering.

Because the work of Peace & Justice is so important in the ministry at UCUP, I have asked people who serve on the Peace & Justice team to offer reflections about their passions.  O Come – O Come, sweet Justice come…. Marilyn, Ruth (spoken), Ardie & Judy (written)

Ardie: When I was looking for a new church, the first thing that drew me to U.C.U.P. was your Open and Welcoming policy, then the friendly people, then the emphasis and actual action on Peace and Justice .  When I think of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I can think of no better place to put what energy and resources I have in  support of things like Faith Action Network, My Sisters Pantry etc.  I am so proud of my church because this IS my faith in action even when it gets harder for me to physically participate.

Judy: “There is so much to do, so much need, so much suffering and things seem to be happening at a faster and faster pace. I joined Peace and Justice about four years ago because it called to me. I remember the Tuesday mid day meetings and the quiet gentle voices discerning our concerns and tasks. I would say they were conducted in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Remember our benevolences as they are the manifestation of our good thoughts and fruits in this community. Always remember that a little can go a long way, and it may start with a smile or calling somebody by their first name.

Gandhi said, “There is no path to peace, peace is the path.”  I pray for Justice and Truth everyday.

Jesus was committed to both charity & justice. When he met the hungry, he fed them. When he spoke with authorities who contributed to the injustice of his society, he rebuked them.  Being on the side of the poor or excluded isn’t about having progressive values, or voting the right way. It’s about the decision to leverage any power, privilege, abilities and resources we have to transform the economic, social and cultural systems that perpetuate inequality, poverty, exclusion and exploitation. Laws matter, national budgets matter, political policies matter because they not only reflect what we as a society say is just, but also provide the framework on which structural inequality – or social equity – is built.

“Do you promise… to be Christ’s disciple, to follow the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Christ?” – UCC Book of Worship

Micah 6:8- What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 10:18He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.