I remember the first time I engaged in a cause. I was in ninth grade and was certain I and my fellow female students at our large public high school faced discrimination. Of all horrors, we had to buy and wear district approved gym suits while male students could wear their own shorts and tees. Fashion (or lack thereof) aside, it just wasn’t fair. [insert foot stomp here]
Slowly, but surely, the word spread among the girls. “Don’t wear the gym suits! Bring your own shorts and tees.”
Gym day came and the 1960s and 70s throwbacks were left at home in favor of clothing like what the boys wore. We got zeroes for the day and got to sit silently on the locker room benches for the class period. The boys got to play.
Then, the authorities got involved. Those of us who were athletes were called into the athletic director’s office. Shortly thereafter the principal showed up. Neither was impressed; nor were they amused. “There are reasons,” they said. “But they aren’t fair,” we countered. “You are leaders in this school and you should know better,” we were told, “and there are more effective ways to change things.”
The consequences for disobedience were potentially significant, such as failure to earn the required gym credit, suspension from our teams, or from school. We were, however, intrigued by these other ways to change things. In the end, we collected signatures of as many students, parents and administrators as we could (including our gym teachers and the AD), and petitioned the school board. The Board invited us to present our case, and after a short deliberation, set us free from the awful gym suits.
A sense of justice ignited by the discovery of a perceived injustice is a powerful force. The willingness to personally risk something to end an injustice is an even more powerful force. We are motivated to help each other by these factors; to act on that urge to do something rather than stand by.
I gained a voice that day, sitting silently on that locker room bench. It wasn’t until years later that I understood why, for what purpose, that voice had been given. It wasn’t until I became aware of sin and redemption, of grace and mercy, of the remedy for the selfish and unjust inclinations of the human heart, that I was able to even begin to understand justice. To speak for those whose voices are ignored, or who have no voice, is an essential part of following Christ and, even more so, of making him known. The two are inseparable, and neither can they be omitted from the life of a Christ follower.
I doubt that God had much worry over the clothes we wore for gym back in the day. In hindsight, however, God was preparing me — even though I did not yet know him — to use my voice to make his ways known. Whether I speak of trafficked children, mistreated youth workers, lack of access to food or housing, discrimination or bullying, or any of the myriad ways man fails to be humane, it is to make Christ known.
Often, when speaking of justice, believers will quote the text of the prophet Micah. In context, Micah recounts the failure of God’s people to follow his ways. A common theme in the bible, and a common theme today. God has given us a choice, always, about following him. The prophet goes on to remind us what God has already said [Micah 6:8, ESV]:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Justice, at its heart, is about what God has said is good. To do justice requires us to unselfishly serve the needs of others on God’s behalf, for his credit and not our own.