Justice vs. Charity
Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses the distinction between justice and charity. He also elaborates on the concept of shalom, or peace, as it relates to issues of justice and suffering in the world.
The picture you get in the Hebrew Scriptures of shalom is that it’s a full-orbed, communal sort of wellbeing.
And so you can imagine someone who wants her scholarship to contribute to shalom in some way. Do you think there’s any sort of pressure or any reason for one who wanted one’s scholarship to be shalomic in this way to aim it in the direction of justice or suffering? Because you can imagine someone who says, “Well, I don’t really care too much about that. “I’m interested in other aspects of shalom, “the light and so forth.” Is there something about the call of a Christian scholar, or maybe the community of Christian scholars, whereby we ought to be focusing a bit more on issues of justice in our scholarly endeavors? How do you…
Seems to me the inescapable picture of Scripture, the Old Testament, but it carries over into the New Testament, the inescapable picture is that an intrinsic component of shalom is justice. It goes beyond justice. It may be that people are treating each other justly, but a terrible drought has descended, and so they’re impoverished and so forth. That’s not truly flourishing. So it’s more than justice, but it’s always at least justice. So Christian organizations, in good measure, steer away– prefer to be development organizations or charity organizations to being justice organizations. And I don’t fully understand that, except that I think that justice tends to be more conflictual. Nobody’s going to be against establishing an orphanage in Honduras, nobody whatsoever. Nobody’s going to be against some well project in Honduras. You know, the villagers don’t have adequate water, and so digging wells. But there’s just a terrific organization based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Association for a More Just Society. And their explicit concern is justice, and not to run an end run around the government, to hold the government responsible for securing justice. And it’s dangerous work. One of their attorneys was shot at point blank range on a main street in Tegucigalpa. The get under people’s skins. I was visiting them once, and members of the organization were challenging a head of a security organization. Honduras has all kinds of private security organizations. The guy just blew his stack. He just became furious. Basically he said, “I’ll do what I want to do, “and I challenge you to try to stop me.” Shalom just, there cannot be human flourishing, as the biblical writers understand it, shalom without justice in the interactions of people. [upbeat music]
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