SJW. Most people surely know that those letters are mean to describe people, mostly young, who are demanding change in our political, economic and social systems. They are Social Justice Warriors (SJW) And they want that change NOW.
I am one of them—though I don’t fit the usual age profile. I want change and I want it NOW. I see injustices in every direction: Some people get all the breaks and others get none. A very small number of people control up to half of the world’s wealth while clean water, good nutrition, healthcare and good education are beyond the reach of hundreds of millions.
That must change!
So, that begs the question: “How should I go about achieving more social justice?”
The biggest, most effective social justice movement in history began at a worship meeting in a very small town in an insignificant province of a mega-empire. It is a great story, one that has been written about countless times. One of my favourite books about it was written by Tom Wright, The Day the Revolution Began. I highly recommend it.
The original leader of that revolution stood up at a religious meeting and read the following passage from an author who was well known to the congregation:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the broken-hearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
This declaration of revolutionary intent was not lost on the audience. They knew he was referring to the idea of jubilee, which was one of the founding values of their nations, but which had not been practiced. It was meant to be a part of the social justice process commanded by God for the ancient nation of Israel. It heralded a time when there was a complete reset of the national economy. Land had to be returned to the families that had owned it 50 years earlier. Slaves were set free. Prisoners were released. When Jesus went on to say, in Luke 4,
“The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”,
the people knew revolutionary change was being proclaimed!
Jesus of Nazareth went from that meeting and began to gather crowds across the region and the headline of his message was always the same:
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
THE REVOLUTIONARY STRATEGY
It doesn’t take much clever analysis to see that he had more than a revolutionary declaration; he also had a strategy.
I am writing this article after a day and night of violence in Washington DC. Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed Capitol Hill and broke into the Congressional building. As I write it has been reported that one woman, according to her husband, was shot “in her neck” by a policeman and died shortly after. It has been widely reported that three more people died, but no identity or cause of death has been mentioned.
Over the past year, mob violence in the USA has been recorded and broadcast more times than I can count. Some of it has been labelled as “right wing” and some as “left wing”. They each have demonstrated that they have a strategy; left and right are much the same on that count. Their actions state that they want to destroy the current social/political/economic order with disorder, chaos, lawlessness and violence. Whether they are from the left or the right, their aim is the same: undermine and dismantle the current system and then create a fairer, free and just society.
What are their chances of success?
Crowds of violent revolutionaries are not new to human history and their rate of success is not encouraging. When violence is the method, if they are successful then violent people end up with power in the new order and that spells tyranny. Mobs do not attract capable, honest people of integrity and the leaders of mobs are intent upon gaining power for themselves, not for others who are more competent.
History is littered with the stories of violent men gaining power and then imposing tyranny—like Pinochet on the right and Stalin on the left. I guess I could work with a couple of friends and come up with at least 100 illustrations of the point.
A BETTER WAY
Jesus’ method was to target the individual. In his wisdom, he knew that individuals of good character can change political and economic systems, but good systems cannot change lawless individuals.
My generation of young people in the Western World inherited reasonably healthy systems, when viewed in the light of human history. We can point out the weaknesses, as some academics are at pains to do, but we have had opportunities and prosperity that have generally been rare in human history, and that goes for people of all races, ethnicity and religions, though sometimes unequally so. The systems we inherited needed, and still need, improvement and each generation has an obligation to take the good and make it better. In both the United States, where I grew up, and the United Kingdom where I have lived for 5 decades, we have made more strides towards equality of opportunity.
But the best systems ever created will not survive a population that is dishonest, self-centred, hateful, immoral, greedy…. this list can be very long. We are well down the road to destruction now. Our politicians are often corrupt, as are our business leaders, our journalists and editors, and our media magnates. Society has fallen for the oldest lie ever recorded, “You shall be as Gods…”, from Genesis 3. The atheistic philosophers of the 1960s have triumphed. Now most people believe that they can decide truth for themselves and no one can tell them any different.
While we have made systemic improvements, we have lost our grip on objective and universal truth. The result of that is loss of trust in one another. And, low-trust societies do not thrive.
TRUE TRUTH EXISTS
That ultimate revolutionary leader, Jesus, said, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life.” They way he lived, the way he loved, the values he taught are the true path to fair and just and prosperous societies. That’s why I want my message to be the same as the one he declared.
Yes, I am a serious Social Justice Warrior. I want to see change, but I know it must be achieved one individual at a time.
The Biblical narrative demonstrates that God’s order and rule is coming in its fullness, but until that day, we are to do all we can to implement his loving, kind and just ways in our societies, governments, families, economics and arts. His message must be our message, “Repent of your sins and turn to God…”
That approach may seem to be too slow and insignificant, but it works through multiplication. Every life that is truly transformed will act as light to others, so we can start with one and end up with hundreds of millions. May His Method be our method and may the Holy Spirit demonstrate the power of the Gospel to thoroughly change lives! Liberty and Justice for All!