So here goes.
Before the first chapter even begins, Clawson opens the book with a reassuring (kind-of) disclaimer:
When we encounter new truths about the needs in the world, and the ways we can change our lifestyles in order to make a difference, the problems and choices can feel so overwhelming that we are left feeling shaken and vaguely guilty. Our feelings of inadequacy paralyze us.
But if we seek to live justly, Clawson writes, we can rest in God’s grace and begin with the smallest of changes. The purpose of the book, then, is “(1) so we can see how our Christian faith should inform our response to those issues and (2) so we can discover practical ways we can start working for justice in our day-to-day lives”.
In the Introduction, Clawson sets out a biblical framework for pursuing justice. Jesus came at a time of great oppression for his people and he introduced himself as the one who would bring freedom for the captives and the oppressed. Yet he didn’t offer the kind of revolution that the Israelites might have expected from their Messiah. “In his typical upside-down fashion, he proposed a revolution more radical than any violent uprising, more subversive than any secret army: a revolution of justice guided by his principles of compassion and love.”
The gospel of Jesus isn’t just about an internal change in individuals, however. “By setting people free from the oppression of sin within us, Jesus enables us to live differently from the oppressive and unjust systems of the world around us as well.” How, then, do we “do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God” in the modern world?
Clawson writes about the first time she realized that living justly was part of the mission Jesus gives to his followers. At chapel during her freshman year at Wheaton College, a speaker detailed the ways that major soft drink companies contributed to the genocide in Darfur as they sought to protect their trade sources about all else. Clawson began to realize that simple choices, even the choice to fill her cup with soda in the campus dining hall, had consequences that reverberated around the world.
Acting justly, Clawson argues, means to “represent God’s love to each other and thereby honor the image of God in the other person”. In common American usage, we associate justice with punishment, as in “let’s make sure justice is served.” But in the biblical usage, justice is closely aligned with righteousness, and involves healing the brokenness that marred our relationships when sin entered the world. The true practice of justice, then “moves away from retribution and toward restoration.” Acting justly means restoring shalom to a world broken by sin.
But that’s all theoretical. What does this look like? Clawson encourages us to examine our decisions: are we acting out of love, or denying the image of God in others? For example, she says:
Or how about my T-shirt? If a fourteen-year-old girl, who is forced to work in a factory because her parents owe money to the owner (money they borrowed to pay for medical bills), made my T-shirt, and she is paid, maybe, five cents a shirt (that I paid $19.99 for) by the owner who also forces her to sleep with him in order to keep her job, then I am supporting her exploitation and rape.... We effectively deny the image of God in those workers by telling them that our shopping habits and consumer needs are more important than their dignity of life.
Justice is something for every Christian to pursue.
When my book club gathered to discuss this chapter last week, we pushed back at some of Clawson’s ideas, and we didn’t necessarily resolve our questions:
- Isn’t the idea that “voting with our dollars” is the best solution to structural inequities in other countries a particularly American solution? We disliked the idea that consuming (even better consuming) was the solution. Perhaps opting out (for example, by shopping at the Goodwill, or gardening) is another solution...but even that is not always possible.
-We’d like to hear more global, non-western perspectives on the best ways to fight structural injustice.
-We also felt that this was a very white, upper-middle class approach to the solution. It’s written to the people who buy a latte every morning and drive an SUV to Whole Foods. Are Clawson's solutions ones that are possible at any socio-economic level?
-How do we balance the cares of budget, health, and justice when making consumer choices? Which do we prioritize?
I’d love to know: what are your thoughts? Can you help resolve any of our issues?
Next week the book club will be discussing Clawson’s chapter on coffee. Do you have a favorite source for coffee? I’m hoping to watch the documentary “Black Gold” this week, too.