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Justice, Peace, and the Work of the Church

by Greg Thompson, Director of Research

To speak of justice is to speak of the world as it ought to be. It is to speak of the world for which we were made and for which we long. But what is this world and how do we know what it ought to be?  In the Christian Church, our understanding of justice—of both its substance and its shape—is rooted in what we believe about God and about God’s intentions for creation. And what do we believe?

 We believe that before time, before all things, God was: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, living together in infinite abundance, mutual delight, and endless joy. We believe that as an expression of God’s essential love, God desired to create others—creatures—who could share in this abundance, delight, and joy.  We believe, in other words, that the world is a gift of the love that lies at the very heart of God.  And not only this, we believe that the world was made to be a reflection of that love—to take the shape of God’s own life. Indeed, this is the creational vision found in the early chapters of the Scriptures. In them, we see a world animated by the very goodness of God; a world in which all things—God, human beings, and creatures of the world—live in perfect and mutually delighted wholeness with one another. This wholeness, described by the Scriptures as shalom, is the way the world ought to be.  Justice, then, yields a world at peace.

And yet to speak of justice is also to speak not simply of the world as it ought to be, but of the world as it is. In the Christian Church we believe—and we celebrate—that God loves the world—this world—as it is.  And not only this, we believe that God calls followers of Jesus to do the same.  And how do we find this world?  We find its wholeness broken. Human beings, rather than living in peace with God, now live as strangers, even as enemies to God.  Rather than living at peace with ourselves, we stumble blindly under the twinned darknesses of self-satisfaction and self-hatred.  Rather than living at peace with one another, our relationships are marked by fear, anger, shame, and violence.  And rather than living in loving peace with the created world, we live lives of extraction and exploitation.  What we find, then, is a world of broken peace, a world of wounded justice.   

We believe that the life of the Church is lived between these two spaces: between the world as it ought to be, and the world as we now find it.  And we believe that the vocation of the Church is to seek to renew the world more deeply into the shape of the world that is to come.  Our work, in other words, is to labor toward a just and rightly ordered world, to cultivate the reign of peace.

And yet this is not simply the work of the Church, this is also the need of the moment, the need of our neighbors.  In every weary age, the world has borne the wounds of injustice; ever it bleeds from the jagged edges of broken peace.  And yet, each age bears wounds that take their own distinctive form. In our own age, these wounds take the shape of idolatrous nationalism, cultural tribalism, political violence, racial oppression, gendered inequality, consumerist greed, and ecological exploitation.  Each of these is an enemy to justice; each is a barrier to peace.  The calling of the Church—in its preaching, its liturgy, its sacraments, and its incarnational presence—is to make our lives with those who are wounded by these things, to endeavor alongside them to bind up these wounds, and, together, to bear witness to another way.   

Our work at the Center for Formation, Justice and Peace, is to support the Church in this work, and—in faith, hope, and love—to labor to see the world that is at long last transformed into the world as it ought to be.

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