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Justice is Not Love at a Distance: Presentation to Reconciliation Symposium

Social Justice Panel 5-Minute Presentation at Reconciliation Symposium Tulsa, Fri. May 27
Rev. Ron Robinson

When I think justice I think right relationship. For When I hear the word justice, because of my seminary training in biblical Greek and my first career as a newspaper journalist, I hear and think about justification, from where we get the use of the word justifying, as in justifying lines of type on a page, justify left or right or center, how is something brought into alignment, into right relationship, into reconciliation. 

We might think of justice, justification, alignment, right relationship, reconciliation then as acts of being in solidarity with others, being an ally, in an alignment with them.

And because of my faith, when I think about justice I don't think just about "any old them" to be in alignment or right relationship with; not those who look or think or have the resources and blessings I do, but I think about aligning myself with God who aligns or justifies or is in right relationship particularly in and with those who are we might say "out of alignment" as the world treats them, those who have been cast out of right relationship for a variety of causes and reasons but particularly as part of social and economic and political and even sometimes,  especially even sometimes, religious oppressions, and from the sufferings of body, mind and spirit. If I want to be in right relationship with the loving and liberating spirit of life I know as God then I need to be in right relationship also with those for whom God seeks to be in alignment with, the Sacredness identifying with them, and that is not the winners but the losers in our cultures, not the greatest and most prosperous and strongest but the least, the poor, the vulnerable, not the smartest and the most resourced, but the struggling and those alone, not those who hang out in cool trendy places or safe convenient spaces, but those who have been on the wronged end of the truth that so much of one's quality of life depends on what zipcode you live in. 

I live and work in the zipcode with now an 11 year life expectancy gap between us and the zipcodes on the southside of Tulsa. It has improved in the past nine years from 14 years difference, but is still outrageously high.  Social justice to me and my neighbors is a life and death thing then at its core, and those in our zipcode are poorer and more African American than the other zipcodes so this injustice of basic life and health is felt primarily by them, and not me except as how I am related to them, so it is rooted in the intersections of racism and classism, and because we have more women as sole or major breadwinners, and more women incarcerated, this injustice of life and death itself is rooted also in sexism.  

But what if we completely erase that life expectancy gap, Will we have arrived at social justice? No, because Social Justice is not something we arrive at, can declare is over, victory won, USA USA, but is a process we keep working to make a habit out of, a spiritual habit I would say. And that is itself one reason for its difficulty to engage more people in; there is no easy quick fix, no red pill you can take and the world becomes right. Instead, because we are the way we are, the universe is the way it is,  we will always be in the process of needing to be in deeper and truer relationships with those suffering, and more mindful of our own sufferings so we can be with others. We will keep getting out of justification, and as a result need to keep justice-making. 

As a friend in my Lead North class said about racial reconciliation, we can't be re-conciled if we were never conciled to begin with. Reconciliation is a way of life then too, though it itself has gotten a bad name in recent years as we have seen groups of people try to have a false sense of justification, justice, alignment, to have reconciliation without its requisites of repentance and reparations. Being in true relationship with the suffering means not letting words like social justice or reconciliation be used too lightly and loosely and cheaply, especially by those who have benefited from the misalignment of the world. 

Our justice task then in society is to focus on being rightly related, in justification with one another, especially those who are different from us in the many ways of our diverse world; it is about who we hang out with, who we live with, who we eat with, who we shop with, ride the bus with, who we get out of our comfort zone with. Only when we do that, then should we offer up solutions, legislation. When I hear people and especially elected officials denigrating those on food stamps, or who are too poor to qualify for Obamacare, or who struggle to find one part time job let alone the three that are needed for a middle class wage, or schools on the low end of testing scores, or seek to shame and ostracize gay, lesbian, transgender people and others, I want to interrupt and ask them first before they say anything to tell me about the poor, sick, unemployed, parent teacher student in a school in a low income area, or gay, lesbian, transgender person that they know, who they have spoken to about their life let alone who they have lived with.

Sometimes it is said Justice is love at a distance.  I would maintain you can't have justice or love at a distance, removed from the daily life of those to which you seek to be rightly related. Not by writing checks, sending letters, maybe not even by marching, though maybe each of those is a foot in the door to right relationship and justice. 

The guide I use is the 3Rs of social justice community forming work; the first R is for relocating, or returning, or remaining to be with those who are especially in need of relationships and the resiliency that comes from being in right relationships. Social justice is about being someone who sees those from whom others turn away from, who hears them into their own speech, who gets them, who learns from them. The second R is for the ongoing process of authentic reconciliation that is founded upon a constant state of repentance and reparations. It is the thing that keeps relocation returning remaining from turning into gentrification and injustice. And the third R is for the way to get real about reconciliation and what relocation teaches you and that is Redistribution, the realignment or justification if you will, the Redistribution, of goods, yes, and of the common good. 

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