Social justice—it’s a buzzword, but what does it mean? Amanda Hart, a social justice coordinator with the Salvos, shares her viewpoint in the lead-up to World Day of Social Justice on 20 February.
The Australian Government Health Department states that the basic principles of social justice are: access (greater equality of access to goods and services); equity (overcoming unfairness caused by unequal access to economic resources and power); rights (equal effective legal, industrial and political rights); and participation (expanded opportunities for people to participate in the decisions that govern their lives).
Do you think these principles cover the concept of social justice?
While it is difficult to define social justice, at its heart is the simple fact that all human beings are to be treated with dignity and respect. These principles certainly provide a framework for social justice, applying to all people regardless of gender, race, age, class, language, religion or occupation.
Social justice is a huge issue—what is your understanding of it?
First of all, I don’t think social justice should be labelled as an issue. I think we try to make it far too simple by labelling specific issues as social justice-related. God created this world with an ideal in mind and we have strayed far from that ideal. The issues we talk about being ‘social justice issues’ are exactly those things that were not included in God’s ideal plan. Homelessness, poverty, discrimination, hunger, oppression, racism, the list goes on and on. A world based on God’s justice would not include any of these. So, I would see social justice as partnering with God to restore our world to his ideal.
What are some of the social justice issues we Aussies should think about?
The ‘issues’ in Australia vary from place to place. The best way to identify them is to go for a walk around your community and find those things that limit or impede access, equity, rights and participation.
Social justice is at the very core of who we are...not simply a convenient add-on.
Bringing about justice can seem overwhelming. How can we build social justice into our thinking?
It can certainly feel overwhelming, but when we see that social justice is more about a lifestyle than issues, I think it becomes less overwhelming and more just a part of who we are. When we stop focusing on specific issues (which often say more about our preferences) and start looking at how we live, then our choices, actions, interactions and words will naturally present as living justly.
How does The Salvation Army approach social justice?
I think Salvation Army General André Cox (retired) put it best when he said, “Social justice is at the very core of who we are and not simply a convenient add-on or additional aspect of some of our programs.” The Salvation Army’s intention should always be to see the world restored to the way God intended it to be, so everything we do as a movement should have that goal in mind.
How can people become involved in working for social justice in their communities and/or globally?
While we should be working towards justice for all people, I think the first thing we need to do is look on our own front doorstep. Discover what concerns there are locally and partner with others in our community to work together to fight them. But, more importantly, get to know those who are affected by the issues—everyone has a story and every story is different.
How does your faith shape the way you see social justice?
Social justice is the outpouring of my faith. As a follower of Jesus, I must follow his example and live a life that seeks to bring about change for the good of my community. For me, social justice is about seeing God’s kingdom come here on Earth. I think we tend to rattle off the words “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer without really thinking about what we’re asking. We’re actually praying that Earth will look like God’s kingdom. We’re praying that the world will be restored to God’s ideal and I want to be part of bringing that about.