Feb 20 – World Day of Social Justice

Here’s the latest news from the Baptist World Alliance:

Washington (BWA)–As we move into the second decade of the 21st Century, a theological question raised in the second half of the 20th century remains a pressing one: how to talk about God in a world increasingly marked by social injustice and oppression?  In spite of all progress in scientific knowledge and technological development, humanity has not been able to deal with its most scandalous paradox.

Professor Richard Falk

In a world with so much wealth there are still 925 million undernourished people in the world, as shown by the most recent statistics released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.  These statistics on hunger and poverty demonstrate that social injustice is still dominant in our contemporary world. Professor Richard Falk reminds us that we live in a world that is one-fifth rich and four-fifths poor… the rich are predominantly lighter skinned and the poor darker skinned. The absolute majority of those in situations of scarcity live in the developing countries, and children are among the most affected victims of social injustice.

The imbalances in the wealth distribution between North and South continue to be scandalous.  In an attempt to draw greater attention to that situation the United Nations, since 2009,  has promoted the World Day of Social Justice, which is celebrated each year on February 20. 

The idea of social justice is not a modern one. It is at the heart of the Biblical narrative. The Hebrew prophets urged their fellow citizens to cease to do evil, learn to do good and seek justice (Is. 1:11-17).  They taught that there is no knowledge of God apart from the practice of justice.  In the New Testament, the followers of Jesus were called to live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, i.e., with the victims of systemic violence.

Christian theology identifies sin as the ultimate root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression.  Sin is a historical reality with individual and social ramifications. It reflects the absence of love in relationships among human beings, and a breach of friendship with God. It is the fundamental alienation of humanity. It implies an interior, personal fracture, which is socially reflected in oppressive structures, in the exploitation of human beings by their neighbors. As a contemporary theologian has noted, sin often builds its dominion upon human passivity.

In the Bible, Christ is presented as the one who brings us liberation from sin, and re-enables us to live in communion with God and with one another.  Those who experience the liberating power of Jesus are called and empowered to resist the structures of sin that perpetrate social injustices. Great disproportion of power leads to injustice. We have a task to implement justice by seeking to equalize or correct the injustices that occur in human transactions.

The 1998 Nobel Economic Sciences prize winner Amartya Sen has affirmed that “what moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just-which few of us would expect-but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate.”  

Baptist preacher and theologian Walter Rauschenbusch affirmed that in history there is no case of complete Christian transformation of society. However, he saw in the gospel the hopeful message that even in some germinal and rudimentary form salvation can turn us from a life centered on ourselves to a life going toward God and other human beings. In line with that, Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a revolution of values, whose core was a shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” one. Christian theology affirms that love helps to guide justice in a way that it promotes the harmony and right human relationship that the Christian gospel demands.  Also, love helps to direct justice to its responsibility to the marginalized and vulnerable people in society. 

One of the objectives listed in the Constitution of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) is to serve as a channel for expressing Christian social concern and human need. In several of its resolutions and documents, the BWA has renewed its commitment to the dignity and value of every person, and to respond more fully to Jesus’ call to justice, peace and reconciliation. The problem of social injustice remains a great challenge to contemporary Christianity, and the churches cannot avoid engaging this issue seriously. 

Taking advantage of this important day, the BWA exhorts its member conventions, unions, and their local churches “to unmask everything that does violence to human dignity and to seek justice for all peoples, especially those who have no voice, no power, and no friends.”

Posted by email, February 18, 2011.

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