When I explain to people that I work in the inner city and have a call to social justice ministries, I always get stories back about how they know someone who runs a clothing closet, or about how they served in a soup kitchen one time or give money to people on the street. I have nothing against acts of charity. Charity is a good thing. But charity is not the same as justice.
Several years ago the director of an urban retreat center clarified this for me, he said “Christian social teaching has two feet. One is the foot of charity or kindness and the other is the foot of justice. Charity says “That man is hungry.”, and feeds him. Justice asks, “Why is that man hungry?”, and works to insure that he will not go hungry in the future. We need both feet moving alongside one another if we want to get anywhere.”
Somewhere along the way, modern Christians got the two mixed up and began to think they were the same thing. Everywhere I go, I see churches that spend a tremendous amount of energy and resources on charitable acts like feeding programs, short term missions trips, and the collection of material items for those in need. What these churches don’t see is that without someone addressing the justice side of the equation real change rarely happens. I have yet to meet a church that invests as much energy in social justice ministries as it does in charitable ministries.