I took this book with me on a long train journey. I have to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was going to be a good way of whiling (?!) away the hours. After all, I’ve read an awful lot of books about justice over the years, by an awful lot of different people, and I braced myself for reading some more of the same.
To begin with my suspicions looked like they might be confirmed and I found myself beginning to flick through the pages somewhat instead of reading them properly. There is nothing particularly wrong with the opening chapters; indeed they give a good introduction to the Christian call to justice. If you are just starting to explore this particular dynamic of the Christian faith then these chapters will be helpful. But they weren’t particularly new.
But then I read the chapter by a Native American Christian (by the name of, Taoyate Obnajin, ‘He Stands With His People’) on how the Bible was used to justify the colonisation of the Americas. Next came a chapter by an ‘emergent Jew’ on justice in the Torah, and then came one that gave a new dimension to the social-political context behind Jeremiah’s words, ‘I know the plans I have for you…’, and I began to think, ‘Wow, there’s some interesting stuff going on here’.
The Justice Project is based around the concept of justice as being about practicing ‘the right use of power in our relationships with others’ (p.22). It comes from the ‘emerging church’ stable in the USA and is designed to be ‘for professional and lay leaders like you who are meeting the challenges of a changing culture with vision and hope for the future’. Its aim is ‘to encourage you and your community to live into God’s kingdom here and now’ (taken from front pages).
The book as a whole is a collection of thirty-five chapters covering different aspects of Christian social justice. Section One looks at The God of Justice; Section Two at The Book of Justice (ie the Bible); Section Three at Justice in the USA (looking at things such as racial justice, immigration, family values and party politics); Section Four at A Just World (business, ecology, working out justice in the cities, slums, suburbs and country areas), and Section Five at A Just Church. Each chapter is just a few pages long, so acts more as a vignette on the topic under consideration, rather than a comprehensive discussion. The result was that each one left me with lots of questions and things that I wanted to talk about with the relevant author – but that’s no bad thing.
The authors themselves come overwhelmingly from America, both North and South (with a few exceptions). The editors are keen to point out, however, that this is not a paternalistic oversight, but a recognition that, ‘because of our military and economic dominance, we have the capacity to cause more injustice than any other nation, and with that capacity goes a corresponding responsibility’ (p.19). As such, it left me wondering what a similar book would look like written from a UK/European perspective. Nonetheless I found the American bias actually made fascinating reading.
The Justice Project is not a book for someone wanting ‘justice-lite’, but it is a book for those of us who feel we’ve ‘heard it all before’ and need some deeper stimulation. It would be hard, and somewhat unfair, to choose a highlight as there are so many good chapters, but the piece on ‘Suffering for Justice’ by Annemie Bosch was superb and immensely challenging. This book is the most interesting thing on social justice that I have read for a long time, but more than that, it was humbling, provoking and inspiring and made me ask myself, ‘what am I doing to play my part in seeing God’s justice in this world?’