Social justice must start with grace— grace in bringing justice to imperfect people. Grace for all the people who have confused or messed up your mission under the guise of helping [ why you should consider canceling your short-term mission trip ] and grace for yourself when your goals are just too big and you feel like a failure.
This is the first of a series of posts exploring the issues of social justice. I don't claim to be an expert, and this isn't really an academic resource, but rather a collection of stories-- a few beating hearts and faces to the flat and emotionless statistics we are all sick of.
Because before we ever even begin to help, we have to accept that we will never fix the problem or save the world and thankfully we aren't called to that.
We need grace as our plans go awry; when we plan to save a hundred people and end up helping just one. There is grace for us.
The Bible says to love, to sacrifice, to give, and to pray, but says nothing about obliterating problems of justice in the entire world. Poverty will never end. Abuse and bondage will continue. People will believe false doctrines of legalism and personal justification. All of that is heartbreaking, but that isn't the battle we’re fighting. We have to fight on a personal level. One person at a time.
Here's what I mean.
For example, the education system in our country is in a bit of a mess (which is another issue for another time). In my city, gifted and passionate teachers complain about a system that doesn't meet the needs of their students, their demographic or their culture. Very simply stated, the government creates an education system that looks pretty great on paper. It covers all the bases and supposedly no one is left behind— on paper.
The problem? People. Real people, stuck in a whole lot of different realities. These systems, regardless of such good intentions can't possibly account for the plethora of learning disabilities, learning styles, and complicated home lives.
A system doesn't know how to help a little girl who was born in Chicago but moved back to Mexico for 8 years and shows back up in middle school only half literate in each language.
All this to say, helping people is messy. Any type of justice is complicated and unfortunately never really follows a system. Plans look great on paper, but often crumble to the ground when they meet people. If you live only by numbers and checklists you will burn out in frustration, but if we start with love, accept grace over our inabilities and imperfections, and focus first on the real needs of real people-- it sure won't be easy, but it might just be a place to start.