“Jerome says, ‘Hi’”… This is what Tina added as I ushered her into the STARS closet to get a Zion sweatshirt. She had not gotten one at Christmas, she said, and her mom wanted one, too. Her mom was short and kind of small so maybe a medium would do...
Zion: Radical Grace not Social Justice
by Grace Kline
I was shocked recently to find that some students I have known for most of their lives and who had been involved in the ministry of Zion had found their way into the Social Justice movement and firmly rooted themselves into it. This was surprising since I thought they would have seen what we had done and realized how at its core it is so very much not Social Justice and that in fact I question whether social justice is really a Christian concept at all. Perhaps therein lies the problem with things as they are. No one really understands what we are doing at Zion and why. Why, as a church, have we killed ourselves in an effort to serve the needy before us, in particular, the refugees in our midst, and yet maintain a high view of Scripture and a conservative theological perspective? How can we be anything other then social justice marchers if we do the things that social justice folks say should be done? The answer seemed obvious to us because it was so simple; its in the Bible. We are simply doing what Jesus said we should do. It is not because God loves the poor more that we do what we do. It is not because the rich are going to hell. It is not because all of life is a Marxist power play and we must subvert the systems around us in order to gain power to be used for the oppressed. It is not because the world is racist and we are returning the balance of power to the women and ethnic minorities. It is because Jesus said it and we simply did it.
You see the perspective is all wrong in social justice. It starts with man and ends with man. Man says all people should be equal and should be treated exactly equally my man’s standards. This should be achieved by any force necessary since all of life is a power struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors. Here enters Marxism as the basis for liberation, feminist and black theology. Power and the will to power are at the core of these movements. God is a condoner of these things since He loves the poor more then the rich. The problem is systemic and thus must be solved systemically. So, what we need is more rallies, laws, marches, sit-ins, government programs, social welfare programs and the like. All of which are designed to fix injustice as if injustice can ever be fully fixed. Enter in the Woodstock Wonderland, a drug hazed dream of the 70s, that all the problems of the world could be solved by education and singing Kumbaya . If we simply educate folks they will choose the good. So, what we need is to educate the world about the social injustices and then people will create programs that fix it all. Social justice begins with man and ends with man with a veneer of God added upon it. God loves everyone so God wants us to make everything right by creating a new law that will make others love one another??
In comes Zion and its approach called Radical Grace. We began in a different place. We began with the God who created us, loves us, and forgave us for our sin. If you start with the realization that all men are sinful by nature and need a Savior, then you’re starting point is miles away from social justice. If we received what we were owed we would all receive immediate death for our sin. The question is do you start with man’s justice or God’s justice? Are we owed something from society, like social justice says, or are we given all that we have from a loving God? Social justice starts in power, anger and subversion. Radical Grace starts with God and the one question that we asked when we began our mission into the neighborhood, “How can we bless you?” Not, what are you owed and who do we need to attack to get what you are owed? But, rather, what small thing can I do here and now to bless you? Radical Grace is the becoming the least of these to serve the least of these. It is not about gaining power but the loss of all things, even one’s own life, in order to become like our Savior who died and was raised for our salvation.
Radical Grace is not about equality. This is very confusing for most good people. I have seen women reduced to tears in the midst of some event in which we were seeking to bless the refugee kids we serve, over fairness. Some children behaved badly or took more then their share of candy, or some got coats and others did not and this was not fair. How do you tell them if equity is what we are seeking then we would never do any of this? It is too great a task, too impossible to control some 400 kids with 30 volunteers at an Easter egg hunt. We give what we have to those before us. So the kids not there that week might not get coats or God may bring other coats the next week. What we learned is it is like manna. You can’t hold on it things, clothes, money, furniture and dishes or they will deteriorate in our hands. They come and they go and we believe in God’s radical grace to supply what is truly needed. That He will bring the people who need something to us and He will provide what they need through us. Some folks get money for utility bills and for others we have no money when they ask. It is all pure Grace. Social justice would require an accounting that a particular woman should only get money once every 6 months and another one should never get money because she has a job. This is the equality of man. But at Zion we try to give at least a loaf a bread to all who ask, even for the one who continually steals our food from the fridge and anything that is not nailed down. Radical Grace says that Jesus loves you so much He died for your sin and He longs to love you and I, as Christ’s follower, will seek to show His love in whatever small way I can. Even if it means I go to Walgreens for a gift card for your prescriptions or pay your bill at a hotel for one night because the bed bugs at the shelters have driven you from them. To be all things to all people not because they are owed something and some government entity should pay you back, but because He loves you and I love you, broken and failing as you are. In this there is no illusion of the nobely pristine poor or person or village native. There is no sense that the people we serve are somehow less broken then we are. To our shock and amazement even the Mosque has its Church Ladies, that archetype of judgment and pride. There is no greater nobility in people because they are from the third world. There is only a sinner in need of a Savior, pure and simple. So when you read the parables you find not social justice but a radical grace. Like the story of the workers sent out in the vineyard at different times in the day but they are paid equally at the end of the day. The ones that went out first complained that they had worked longer for the same amount of money, but the vineyard owner said I paid you what we agreed on and its not for you to decide what I pay the others. Equality is only in God’s hands and to think that we can legislate it through social justice by taking from others and giving to the poor through programs is not Biblical. Over and over again Jesus calls us to feed the poor, to take care of the sheep. He does not say lobby congress and then march on Washington to feed the poor. Grace happens here and now in the moment in the hands that reach out to the person right in front of us. Radical Grace happens when you let a boy come to church whom you know will start a fight in the first 20 minutes and will most likely steal a few phones while he is there and you have kicked out of the program before, but you know if you don’t give him just one more chance there is danger that no one else will and you will most certainly see him on the news being convicted of armed robbery. But for the Grace of God where would we be? Social Justice would say we gave him 3 chances and now he is banished, Radical Grace would say, “Today I will give you as many tools as I can to succeed and I believe in you but you must choose life and not death and until you are dead I will continue to give you that choice. Please choose life today and live.” This choice can only be made by the help of God. It requires a heart change. Radical grace changes hearts. Social Justice incites anger. It’s as simple as that, and you know it’s true. Social Justice’s focus on power leads one to seek power as an ends in itself. Radical Grace becomes the servant to all and seeks the lowest place. Social Justice prides itself in using power to do so much good but is the good good any more once it has passed through the maze of self entitlements? Does the ends justify the means? In high school I found myself face to face with my best friend over her use of presidential power in a club that was tasked to do good. My friend confessed that she had been reading Machiavelli and had employed these concepts to manipulate her board to do what she wanted and that was a good thing. The board was made up of our closest friends and by doing it this way she had alienated them forever. I told her all the good she professed to do was of no value in light of her use of the these subverting means to get her way. The ends does not justify the means. Social Justice is not God’s Justice and can never be so. Why as Christians are we drawn to such deception? The world is not fair. Jesus has said, “In this world you will have suffering, but take heart I have overcome the world.” Equality is not something that we should aspire to but radical Grace given by a loving God who knows us by name and gives us what we need in the season we need, that is what I long for. For we are not all the same. I learned this upon the advent of my Seminary experience were I was promptly denigrated by a female professor who said that I was fundamentally wrong for wanting to study a theology of creativity and not devote myself to her feminist agenda. Women are not all the same even though the feminists have continually tried to make me so. We are not the same and for that I am thankful to God that He sees all uniquely made with great gifts and beauty rather then a Socialist vision of the lowest common denominator. We are not all the same and thus Radical Grace through prayerful discernment is the only thing that can heal the ills of poverty, rage, fear, despair, racism, sexism and hatred. Here at Zion we are not Social Justice folks for we begin with God and end with God. By His Grace do we take each breath. Anything else, any other system of Justice is only humanism, man seeking to solve his own problems by his own means. How far has that gotten us? Sin is sin, we are all sinners in need of Savior who is Christ our Lord.