Justice Here as it is in Heaven

Is the best show to binge-watch “The Office” or “Friends”? Which pair of sandals are superior: Chacos or Teva’s? Are the lyrics to “How He Loves” “sloppy wet” or “unforeseen kiss”? These are just a few of the topics that have created divisions in my friend group. If there is disagreement, we wage a war of words, citing examples and statistics like we’re in debate club. The conversation is fiery, the feelings are passionate, and the struggle is very much alive and real. All of these debates though, like many others that we have with our friends, are ones of low stakes. At the end of the day, our opinions are ones that don’t affect former TV shows, shoe brands, and The David Crowder Band respectively.

Where the stakes get higher though, is when we discuss topics that contrast values and morals (or positions that have a lack thereof). Maybe it’s debating why one should be pro-life with someone who is pro-choice. It could be answering the question, “do the ends ever justify the means?” These types of topics, the ones that we know so much about but hope nobody asks us our opinion on while in public, are the ones that our culture desperately needs us to address. One issue that we must continue to address is the issue — and present reality — of racial injustice.

For a large majority of us, I’m sure that when we hear the words “civil rights,” we tend to think of African-American heroes of the past: Harriet Tubman, MLK Jr., Jackie Robinson, etc. Those people, and what they’ve made possible through their actions, are undoubtedly worthy of praise. That being said though, the fight for racial justice is not over, and for many, the fight is increasing in difficulty. If you are reading this, thinking, “oh this isn’t my fight” or “I’m not affected by this,” let’s view this through a spiritual lens.

Back to the Beginning

When talking about racial injustice, we need to go back to the beginning. Like, beginning of creation as we know it, beginning. In Genesis, as the grand finale to creating everything good, He created us. “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). In just one verse, we read that (1) God created all of mankind in the image of Himself, which in turn means that (2) God is in all of us, and (3) Gender, race, education, or any other factor that would differentiate people, does not affect the reality that God exists in every person by nature of their existence.

This particular verse in Genesis is one of the many parts in sacred Scripture that comprise what is commonly known as “Catholic social teaching.” In short, it is a culmination of several Church documents and excerpts from Scripture that form a framework for how we should approach redeeming our own culture. For our purposes, we’ll focus on two elements of Catholic social teaching: (1) life and dignity of the human person and (2) rights and responsibilities.

What the USCCB calls the most important theme of Catholic social teaching — life and dignity of the human person — calls us to remember that “the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching” (USCCB). It does not say “the dignity of some people” or include any exceptions or qualifications. Every person. Everybody deserves to be treated with respect because of that identity given to us in creation. Yes, that includes the people that are different than us, the people that disagree with us, and especially the people who have something to say about those differences we share. The bishops continue, “the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person” (USCCB). Are we children of God if we do not help out our brothers and sisters? What, or who, are we if we fail to recognize when the dignity of others is under attack? And how do our societies, institutions, communities, and relationships suffer if we don’t? Racial inequality needs to be fought not only by those affected but those who are able to help as well.

The second theme of Catholic social teaching that we will be citing is rights and responsibilities. In this teaching, we learn that “every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities” (USCCB). Whenever we choose to ignore or overlook or even belittle any person or group’s right to life or the things required for human decency, we have failed to live according to the duty and responsibility that our very right to those things has afforded us. The book of Malachi has a verse that speaks of this same truth: “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why, then, do we break faith with each other…?” (Malachi 2:10). Every human life comes from the Father, and it is our responsibility to uphold the dignity of all in order to make His Kingdom manifest here on Earth.

We Are All Obligated

With these two tenets in mind, we can see that working towards racial equality in every realm is not just something that we should do, but something we are obligated to do for the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God here on Earth is not true to the one in Heaven if, in our construction and building of said Kingdom, people are left out, ignored, or continually marginalized. Inequality or injustice, in any aspect, cannot be ignored by Christians if we are aiming to achieve heaven on Earth. Ultimately, we are chasing justice on Earth, as it is in heaven.

It is this same desire for justice that leads us to pursue justice and what it means for each group’s struggle to achieve that. In this letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” a letter by the United States Catholic Bishops confronting racism, they write that the original meaning of justice is “where we are in right relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of God’s creation.” These statements, that speak of relationships with others as a reflection of justice in a particular way, paint a picture that is grim when those relationships are not maintained. So what can we do, in a practical sense? By validating the fight for racial equality and taking small steps, we can begin to make an effort to make small changes that will add up to societal, institutional, communal, and relational change.

We can begin by listening to others and their experiences/feelings with racism. In “Open Wide our Hearts,” the bishops explain that “As Christians, we are called to listen and know the stories of our brothers and sisters. We must create opportunities to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply imprinted on the lives of our brothers and sisters, if we are to be moved with empathy to promote justice.” We should also (calmly, charitably, and boldly) call out racism when we see it. You don’t need to present a thesis on the subject in response; you just need to let it be known that saying or doing something racist isn’t okay and that you as a representative of the Kingdom of God won’t stand for it.

The fight for racial equality is not one that only those affected by it should fight. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The fight for equality, regardless of your own race, is one bigger than yourself; it’s an obligation for all in the Kingdom. And you are not alone.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.