Why The Salvation Army is Partnering with The Justice Conference.
I remember when it started. God invited me to a western world virtual slum in Vancouver called the downtown eastside. I had done my best to be friends with the friendless. To really listen and love without judgment or fear. It was hard to hear the stories of rejection and pain day after day. And right in the middle of listening to one friend’s drunken ramble about his painful childhood abuse it occurred to me. I had heard this story before. Not from him. From another friend. And as I thought about the similarities of their stories it hit me again. I had heard a form of this story over and over and over again. Actually, if I compared the stories I had heard from my ‘addicted friends’ in the downtown eastside they made up one big story. Their stories were connected.
The connection was not just by the pain and brokenness of their lives but by the events. Removed or fleeing from their abusive homes they were placed in a government system that was supposed to protect them but didn’t. Their abuse continued with no intervention until they couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, with no other recourse, they took off, in one form or another, and found themselves in this drug addicted neighborhood with the only version of a family they had ever known.
Every story had a similar trajectory. You could replace the details of the abuse, the way the system worked; the specifics were always a bit different along with the severity of the abuse but the story was identical. Rejection, abandonment, abuse, addiction. When I finally took a look at the data collected from a study done in my neighborhood, it became clear. They were the same story.
See, the addiction problem in my neighborhood was not a causal one – it was a reactive one. The pain was shared. The problem was not drugs. It was not rebellion. It was injustice. It was a deeply systemic injustice that ran right through the pain. In order to stop the pain and the flow of people in its wake from being forgotten one more time - we needed to address the systemic injustice of their shared story and get to the root problem. That’s when my journey into justice began. And it just wouldn’t stop.
Fighting for justice is inevitable when you make friends with the poor. In The Salvation Army’s history, close proximity with the poor led them to justice and justice became part of our fabric. Establishing the Cab Horse Charter in London for the rights of the ‘submerged 10th’ in the East end of the city, raising the age of consent to stop child prostitution, demonstrating to industry a better practice in the making of matches, women’s rights, fighting for children to be released from work houses, brothel invasions in Japan, tribal transformations and community ‘pardons’ in India, fair-trade tea plantations in Sri Lanka, trade unions in America - our movement has justice woven into its very DNA.
This is what the gospel journey does. Jesus invites us into friendship with the poor, in order to awaken us to the deep end of His Kingdom strategy. See the prayer He taught His disciples to pray was not some pie in the sky idea to keep hope alive – Jesus really believed that His Kingdom would come on earth as in heaven. He unleashed a force on the earth through the love, kindness, freedom and hope that this new way of living would bring. And it continues to this day.
Sometimes movements like ours forget our deep roots in justice. We get easily overwhelmed trying to help people through our social mercy work. This is understandable, as the need is so great and the resources often so small. We are not alone in this almost inevitable redemption lift. As our people get more and more removed from proximity with the poor we can lose sight of the real story. We hear individual pain but don’t connect the narratives to understand the systemic fight necessary to challenge the deeper injustice behind the pain we see.
That’s why we are partnering with The Justice Conference. We need people of faith to remind us of our own heritage. We need brothers and sisters who have journeyed deep into the pain of the world to help us find our way back to our own story. We need the insights of the rest of the body of Christ, and the beautiful diversity of the Church to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we learn, feel and respond to the Biblical call to act justly in our world. We need help to close the proximity gap and learn afresh the stories that will break our hearts and move heaven and earth.
The Salvation Army is partnering with The Justice Conference because in order for this fight to advance we need each other. We are partnering because we are part of the church and the church is called to stand with the poor. We are standing together because the time is now for the entire faith community to be what it was always called to bring – God’s Kingdom come. We are joining forces because we hear the prophetic warning in Micah that we already know what the Lord requires – to love mercy, walk humbly and act justly, and the words that made William Booth’s heart beat faster are still beating in Isaiah 58 – to give the Lord the worship He desires.
The world’s fastest growing crime is human trafficking, war and rumors of war abound, children are forced to become killing machines, the global refugee crisis rages, the commodification of human beings is a scourge on our own humanity. We stand at one of the darkest corners in human history and we are determined to let our light shine. And we believe that as we stand together the darkness won’t stand a chance, not even the gates of hell will prevent the advance of God’s Kingdom come. We are partnering to do what we were always meant to – fight for justice. And we are thrilled to be doing it together.