Circle of hands
Practice Justice

A Systemic Approach to Justice and Equity Work

What is needed for the longterm work of justice
by Faith+Lead | August 18, 2021

By The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson

We read books, made donations, signed petitions and contacted or met with legislators. Maybe we even marched in the street or provided mutual aid to those suffering the effects of injustice and inequity in our community. The most committed and healthily resourced of us have turned to our activist siblings and learned the best practices of advocate self-care. Through mindfulness, continued learning, and spiritual disciplines that include Sabbath and creative expression we work to shield ourselves from the worst effects of burnout, despair, and isolation. 

It has been an intense year and a half of justice crisis plus a global pandemic. Our shared learning affirms the need for justice is not a quest that can be accomplished by one group of affected individuals or a single congregation or regional body. We clearly need a systemic approach for systemic and long-standing challenges. How do we, as Church, find our place in the greater healing-focused conversation around Jesus’ call for justice? 

We begin with context analysis. What is the breadth of our trusted communication? Who can we reach where they are, in ways they will understand? This requires deep levels of honesty and self-critique

  • Church bodies or judicatories will need to look at who opens and responds to their emails, as opposed to who receives them
  • Congregations will need to set aside roll books and look at regular participation. 
  • If your “sphere of influence” doesn’t contain the people or communities you want to be in dialogue with, this is a powerful opportunity to ask them why or to adjust your communication and relationship / shared learning practices to be more responsive to the people you are missing.

We continue with diversifying our styles of storytelling. Once we have identified the community interested in engaging with us, the time arrives to make our case for shared commitment to, and investment in, diversity-equity-inclusion work. How we preach, teach, praise, and pray the stories of Jesus, God’s people, and the church’s calling in the world will determine who continues to be drawn to share in the work with us. This will and must evolve over time because it is determined by our circle. 

As the circle evolves, so does the storytelling that educates, promotes personal investment, and centers in theology meets the Bible meets practical, present day application. The Methodist “Rethink Church” campaign, the Episcopalian “Way of Love”, and the Moral Monday movement that inspired the new Poor People’s Campaign led by Rev. Drs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis are great examples of creatively visioned storytelling with a focus.

Finally, we enter into the process of discernment. What justice efforts are we called to in this season? Like Jesus, and the disciples in his stead, we are called to a living and responsive Gospel. Equity and a justice mindset are consistent Biblical themes but Jesus was an intersectional leader. 

  • One parable addresses oppressive leadership then another speaks to faithful stewardship of resources. 
  • Support of disabled individuals follows feeding hungry crowds or affirming the leadership of an immigrant faith leader. 
  • Jesus responds and accompanies those who are present in his community, who have active need, and who God calls him into a relationship with. 

Similarly, we can cultivate a discernment process of data gathering and analysis through active listening partnerships with ecumenical and community partners. After we gather data, we asset map—what time, talent, or treasure do we have that God is calling us to use in service to the Beloved Community? What leaders or champions have emerged with a passion or inspiration for particular efforts? What do we need to put in place to empower those leaders and healthily sustain them?

Our justice efforts must be held gently, with an openness to the Spirit’s movement. Be it empathetic cloud or passionate flame, we are forever following a moving path toward justice until the return of Jesus to heal our broken world. There is manna to sustain us for the journey. Our baptismal vows, our vocational calling, our shared humanity and faith summon us to travel together.

Your Turn

Start a conversation in your own local congregation about your larger church body—synod, diocese, district, or denomination—and justice work. How might your congregation contribute to the impact the larger church body is positioned to make?  

About the Author
The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson serves as Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA. She is also a Diversity and Cultural Competency Educator and a former Poet Laureate of York, Pennsylvania who regularly engages in art-based activism and storytelling. More about Carla can be found at carlachristopher.com.

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