I’m often surprised at how infrequently I hear anyone question why they started caring about justice issues. It seems like if you’re going to be so passionate about something, you’d want to understand the root of it. But we don’t actually need to know the why or the how we got there to have a belief that we are acting on. Still, I wonder if it might help us. What if we asked ourselves why we care about justice?
*Note, like I frequently state, we don’t always perceive “justice” the same way–check out What is Social Justice? and The Spectrum of Belief to go into this idea deeper*
Why I Care About Justice: Global Missions
For me, living justly started because of my faith. But I didn’t start out by valuing justice in my faith.
I started out doing global missions. I loved it. I found the travel exciting, felt good doing humanitarian work, and enjoyed connecting with new people, learning about their culture, language and ways. I also loved teaching others about my faith, too, but only if they were interested. I was often surprised at who was–usually more than I expected. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that guy who backed me into a corner at that club in Fiji was actually just trying to kiss me, despite the fact he had asked me to tell him about Jesus. You’d think that the first time I had to duck away from his close, smoldering intensity should have made this obvious, but what can I say? I was pretty naive.
But despite my love of missions work, I also realized I wasn’t doing much “saving.”
Fast forward a few years, and I applied to university to study anthropology. I thought that maybe I could be a liaison between missions agencies and diverse cultures. I wanted us to avoid bringing in Westernization while giving people the opportunity to learn about Jesus. The trajectory of how that journey went over the last twenty years–from simply missions to justice work–is long and twisting. Much of that transformation can be seen on these pages, at Average Advocate. It influences you too, as I teach, write, and together we learn how to do good better.
Why I care: Doing Justice
Last week on my other blog, Authentically Elisa, I shared about how my faith has changed over the years. Some call this process deconstruction; I call disentangling. Right smack in the middle of that post is a section about how and why I started caring about justice. I’ll share this part with you below:
But the greatest changes in my beliefs began as I slowly shifted from just caring about just missions as “evangelism” to the restoration of goodness through justice work. As I found this idea prevalent in the scriptures, I began going against the grain of the way I’d seen modern missions done. How could I bring “good news” of Jesus without tangibly caring for the very people I wanted to reach? It wasn’t like the resources to come alongside people in need were unavailable. Besides, if felt hypocritical to come in with a “better” ideology without actually valuing the people I was trying to “save.”
As seeking justice became the epicenter of my work, I became angry at the glorification of war and how much my country spent on the military—I had a huge “Death and Taxes” poster on my wall in reminder. I pushed my fellow Americans to care about immigration and human trafficking. I was appalled that racial issues were still a thing. Even while working at a crisis pregnancy center, I had a conversation with another young woman representing Planned Parenthood. We both were shocked that we had more in common than we didn’t.
One day a neighbor told me she wasn’t a liberal, like me. I laughed. Me, a liberal? Nah, surely I was a good Republican, like her. I was just a Christian, too!
You see, I didn’t consider my disentangling to have much to do with politics at all—I had very little hope in government and largely ignored it. I just figured I should leverage it when opportunity arose. Honestly, I was just trying to figure out who I was while trying to follow Jesus.
From: Let’s Disentangle Our Untidy Faith
Why-After-Why for Why You Care About Justice
I’m curious, as you read this, what you’ll relate to and what you won’t. We all care about justice for a reason. We want wrongs to be righted. But why?
A coaching exercise that I use is simply to ask why after already asking why. Then I ask why again. And sometimes another time. Although it might be annoying, it can be surprisingly revealing. Let me show you a fictitious example with Patty. (Patty used to be my “imaginary” frienemy when I was a kid–I would do all sorts of competitions with her, and as she didn’t actually exist, I always won. It was a strange type of confidence booster!)
Patty Hates Abuse
- Why do you care about justice, Patty?
- Because it bothers me that people can abuse kids like that, with no consequences at all.
- But why does it bother you that there are no consequences?
- Because there should be!
- Why should there be?
- Without accountability, those perpetrators will just do it again.
- Why does that matter?
- Because kids shouldn’t be treated that way.
- Why shouldn’t kids be treated that way?
- They’re innocent! Sorta at least. They need to be protected and loved, set up for the future.
- Why do you think that?
- Doesn’t everyone think that? Well, I don’t know now that I think about it. Its just what I had growing up. But my friend didn’t. She ended up having all this trauma and could never really thrive. I don’t think she had the resources available to her.
Patty and I could keep going. But already we’ve revealed a few things. She cares about justice because she wants perpetrators to be held accountable, she doesn’t want repeat offenders, she thinks kids deserve a chance to be loved and valued. She believes it is hard to heal from abuse because there aren’t enough resources. Notably, she filled in what she cares about–abused kids–herself.
Why? I don’t know, but we can keep asking Patty!
Most people will fill in this blank, defining “justice” for things that are most important to them at the time. Only once someone has realized there many various justice issues they do care about do they start calling themselves something more broad, like a justice advocate, changemaker, or activist (this is what I mean by the term average advocate here).
It’s also worth noting that Patty referred to a story. Most people have a story or inciting moment that gets them caring about a justice issue. I call this “It Became Real,” and it is the first Phase or Rising Up (download the guide to work through it and take your next step!). I shared a story above too, but that wasn’t for one specific social issue. Rather, I shared my story from a wider context, after I already identified as a justice advocate. That is why I went straight to my worldview. If you keep asking why, your worldview is always at the root.
*Note: for many people, their worldview is a religion or belief system, like humanism or Marxism. Often it is a mix.*
Through why-after-why exercise, it’s possible Patty’s world opened up a little. She might know more about how to get involved because she can name things that particularly bother her. And she can name a root belief that came out of her worldview that is a driving force. Using the phrase, “Kids deserve a chance to be loved and valued,” might be exactly what she needs to proclaim to find partners in doing good to prevent abuse and help those who suffered through abuse heal.
I have a few other exercises to help you get to the root of why you care about justice, but I have the feeling just asking why-after-why is enough for now!
On that note, tell me in the comments or message me on IG why you care about justice!