Justice and Mission: Some Challenging Particulars

by Gary Corwin

There are challenging particulars that must be addressed for our practice of justice and mission to faithfully reflect our calling in Christ.

Our discussion of justice and mission in the July 2010 issue of EMQ suggested that there are common threads that unite justice and mission as mutual reflections of who God is and what he requires of his people. In conclusion we also pointed out that there are challenging particulars that must be addressed for our practice of justice and mission to faithfully reflect our calling in Christ. While there are undoubtedly many more than we can address here, those challenging particulars would certainly include the following.

1. Finding the appropriate balance between the extremes of cultural imperialism on the one hand and passivity toward exploitation on the other. This issue is complicated because the cultural mores of one society may rise to the level of exploitation in the eyes of another. Are arranged marriages, for example, a curtailment of basic human rights (particularly for women who may end up as pawns in such transactions)—or is it a time-honored and effective way cultures have used to promote family cohesion and stability in society and to protect young people from themselves? Are Western aversions to this practice a reflection of biblical mores (chapter and verse please), or simply a reflection of our more individualistic cultural ways? The problem in addressing such matters is that more questions are usually raised than answered. Many other questions related to things like child-rearing, appropriate use of money, and issues of authority fall into this same category of cultural relativity. That is not to say, however, that clear issues of biblical import do not exist—things like genocide and overt persecution of people of conscience—but it does argue for caution, humility, and being careful in choosing our battles.

2. Navigating the gulf that exists in many circumstances regarding appropriate means, since brothers and sisters in Christ may bring profoundly different political and economic orientations to the table. It is possible to agree on the nature of the problem and still be poles apart regarding the best solution. I think one of the watershed divides that exists is between those who see the primary answer to poverty as government largesse and those who believe private enterprise and philanthropy are the more effective agents to alter the landscape of poverty. Another prime area of division pits those who believe democratic structures are always the best means to attain justice for the oppressed and those who believe that in some cultures promoting benign authoritarian rule is the quickest and best means to achieve higher levels of justice. Looked at in another way, the difference often boils down to idealism versus pragmatism, and it is doubtful that either approach is always right.

3. As cross-cultural workers, balancing the legal and ethical role that goes with being guests in a society with the moral obligation to promote the welfare of indigenous believers and others who often live under unjust and even persecuting power structures. A place to start in sorting this one out is to hear the views and desires of those one would like to help. Sometimes this leads to no consensus, leaving the cross-cultural workers no clearer about what to do than when they started.

In other cases they discover that the last thing the local people need or desire is activist outsiders bringing down additional wrath of the governing authorities on their heads. But even in those cases where there is a consensus regarding what they should do, and clarity about the particulars of how to go about it, there still remains the necessity of a realistic cost-benefit analysis. That is to say, will outsider activism by cross-cultural workers be a greater help or hindrance in the long run to the goals they are seeking to achieve? And will the likelihood of their expulsion from the country (the gentle “martyrdom” that foreign workers often face) really be a help to the cause, or just a dramatic but meaningless exercise that only serves to ease the conscience of the expelled? These are the kinds of questions that genuine commitment to justice must face.

4. Maintaining the priority of the eternal in a context of overwhelming temporal need. This is a challenge that has faced the Church since its inception, but is one the Church has found particularly troublesome over the last century or so. The reason is that the internal and external assaults on the Church by both modernism and post-modernism have succeeded in weakening the Church, muddying the waters of its focus and purpose, and often reducing its eternal compass to a this-worldly orientation. Unfortunately, the Church has too often responded with one of two unbiblical extremes: total capitulation or total rejection. For some reason, we seem to find it extremely difficult to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” engaging energetically with ever-present human need, without making an idol of that task, or ignoring that command altogether. The key it would seem is to recognize the full authority of the risen Savior (Matt. 28:18) and obeying all his commands.


Gary Corwin  is associate editor of EMQ and staff missiologist with the international office of Serving in Mission (SIM).

EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 4, pp. 390-391. Copyright © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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