Social justice: reflecting God’s Kingdom
“The church is the community of God’s people, and it needs to reflect the character of God and the values of His Kingdom,” says Dr. Rupen Das, Research Professor of Social Justice, Compassion and Development. This is why the involvement of churches in social justice issues is vitally important; “being involved […] is really demonstrating the reality of the Kingdom of God, where God reigns.”
Dr. Rupen Das attempts to answer the question “Why does God care about justice and the poor?” He looks at each era of the biblical story to see how the poor are treated. In Deuteronomy and Leviticus, there are laws that protect orphans, widows, aliens and others. In the Prophets, God judges “the nation of Israel for not having been compassionate.” Dr. Das explains that as the monarchy is introduced, we begin to see more wealth, oppression and injustice.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus directs his teaching and parables to an audience that is primarily poor. “He is not against the rich because he is speaking to the poor,” says Dr. Das, “but he is against the rich who are not generous or compassionate.”
Up until the 1800s, the church was known for generosity. The Early Church grew through the evangelism and compassion of Christians who took care of the poor, the refugees and the marginalized. Christians were known for founding schools, hospitals, universities and half-way houses.
With the Enlightenment, there was a feeling amongst churches that “we can change the world.” People believed that they could fix society and achieve a utopian world. This “sense of optimism that the world can be changed” by people morphed into the Social Gospel and was linked with liberal theology. “The conservative Christians reacted and went to the other extreme, focusing on eternal life rather than ‘changing the world,’” says Dr. Das. They turned their focus to evangelism and salvation, and the state took over the institutions they had founded.
Dr. Das offers a different paradigm: “It’s not about me changing society. It’s about God in the process of redeeming and restoring society, and what part He wants me to play.” His hope for students is that they see that the mission of God is about both redemption and the restoration of a fallen world. “God is doing that. He calls us to partner with Him. Some people get the privilege of seeing fruits and transformation, but most of us are called to be faithful. It’s not about results. It’s about being faithful.”