Editor’s book a reminder: engaging with the marginalised brings faith back to the centre
Bringing faith to justice enhances the latter and brings relevancy to the former but requires repentance, humility and a willingness to engage with the community.
So says Signs Publishing Book Editor Nathan Brown, whose presentation as part of Sydney Adventist Forum’s Talks series this past Saturday (March 10) launched Engage: Faith That Matters, his new collection of essays.
Brown first wrote the essays for an online column published by Adventist World between 2013 and 2017. Most also appear on the Avondale news blog.
From a Christian perspective, said Brown, bringing faith to justice offers three benefits: a greater depth to and understanding of justice; spiritual resources for more sustainable justice; and a different understanding and practice of evangelism.
An example Brown shared illustrates the necessity. Invited to speak at a prayer breakfast during the annual Australian Council for International Development National Conference, Brown was asked to address the topic, “How can faith-based agencies assist diverse staff and volunteers to develop a strong grasp of the faith roots in our work?” As a student of the Bible’s call to do justice, he explained he has “often been surprised at the limited and sometimes superficial understanding of and engagement with the faith roots of their work.”
The first step in bringing faith to justice? To insist on the faith roots of justice. “This is not to co-opt justice work for ourselves, as the sole domain of the faithful,” said Brown. “Justice concerns and human rights must be recognised to transcend religion and culture.” But, he added, we must not forget Judaism, particularly in the form of the Hebrew scriptures, gave us the concept of human rights. “Historically, both the abuse and neglect of the Bible have fuelled injustice. But both ignorance of the Bible and ignoring the Bible silence a strong voice for the causes of justice in our world.”
Brown did call, though, for “a better, broader and deeper” theology of justice and better expressions of this theology. Given the claimed 2103 biblical references to justice, “it is remarkable that so much of Christian teaching on justice focuses on only a few of these verses.”
The second step? To offer resources for long-term sustainability, particularly in response to “two equally pernicious forms of burnout: one that has come to be known as compassion fatigue; the other of acclimatisation, becoming accustomed and even accepting of the injustice with which we are surrounded and that seem so stubbornly intransigent.”
Brown noted that “seeking justice must begin with seeking the God of justice.” When we do, we can offer “spiritual resources of strength, courage and insight to support others who face the seemingly overwhelming and interminable struggles for justice and are so often discouraged by regressions in the work of justice.” Rather than establishing their own entities, Brown says Christians should engage more with existing entities. “Christians do not always have to be in charge of the work of justice or the agencies that work for justice; instead, we can serve and support those who are already doing this work.”
To illustrate the third step, Brown reminded those attending the launch that the roots of what has come to be regarded as core evangelical evangelism are linked closely to justice. A revival evangelist of the early 19th century, Charles Finney, is credited with developing the “altar call,” inviting repentant sinners to come forward, accept Jesus as their Saviour and to commit to the work of abolishing slavery. “This is evangelism as recruitment for the kingdom work of enacting justice in our world, but also offers justice as a way into understanding and embracing the priorities—and realities—of the kingdom of God,” said Brown. “When we offer faith as a resource for the work of justice that offers depth, understanding and motivation to those who already seek justice, we might also discover an opportunity to invite these activists to engage more deeply with the heart of this faith.” Rather than causing guilt, offense or confusion, as evangelism too easily does, he added, “this offers the possibility of redeeming evangelism.”
Do not cynically adopt this as a new form of evangelism, warned Brown, but use it as a new way to engage with those in our community who see faith, and religion, as having contributed to and perpetuated injustice.
Brown ended with a call for repentance and humility and a renewed appreciation of the resources we have for the work of justice. “A faith-inspired work for justice should have a depth, sustainability and longer-term focus that gives greater courage, strength and hope—even creative language and forms—for responding to the many injustices of today,” he said. “As such, it will also offer an old-fashioned but still relevant form of recruitment to the causes of justice coming as an invitation to follow Jesus—as the source of justice—in the work of justice.”
Engage: Faith that Matters
Engage: Faith that Matters is available from Seventh-day Adventist bookstores in Australia and New Zealand or from hopeshop.com.PURCHASE