Love or justice? It isn’t really a choice, says Richard Reddie, as churches across Britain and Ireland mark Racial Justice Sunday by praying and taking action to address inequality and discrimination
Racial Justice Sunday (RJS) takes place annually on the second Sunday in February. While it falls on 11 February this year, it has, in previous years, coincided with Valentine’s Day, presenting clergy and pastors with something of a quandary over what they should focus on. Should they preach about love, in a nod to St Valentine, or should they focus on justice?
On such occasions, I often receive emails or phone calls from church leaders in which they say something like: “I was going to have a RJS service but, seeing as it was Valentine’s Day, I felt I had to talk about love”.
Even for a die-hard justice seeker like me, it is hard to complain about this choice. God is love. The Bible is full of verses about love. The first two of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are about loving God and loving one another.
A false binary
Many Christians find it easier to talk about love than racial justice. But I would argue that they apply a false binary (one that does not exist in scripture) when they suggest the two are mutually exclusive. Christians often confuse justice with vengeance or retribution - especially regarding racial justice - and see it as being at odds with mercy, compassion and love.
If you love someone, you want to ensure they are free, equal, treated with respect and dignity
This became apparent to me recently as I hosted a racial justice training session for church leaders. One participant suggested that “we need to have ‘mercy’ alongside ‘justice’ because, without it, justice can be self-righteous and coldhearted”.
I would contend that real, God-inspired justice always consists of mercy, compassion and, most of all, love. Justice and love are two sides of the same coin.
For me, justice is love in action; if you really love someone, you want to ensure that they are free, equal, treated with respect and dignity. In short, you want to ensure they have all that you have, which is tantamount to “loving your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
The justice of Jesus
There are 130 references to justice in the Bible, 115 in the Old Testament. Of the 15 mentions in the New Testament, five occur in the Gospel of Luke, which also presents us with Jesus’ clear focus on justice.
In Luke 4:18-19, he reads from the book of Isaiah that: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”.
Theologians have argued that being, doing and saying truth and justice were central to the life of Jesus. If that is the case, what is Jesus saying to us right now?
On the move
This year’s RJS resource is entitled: Exodus! Justice for God’s people on the move. It explores why over 100 million people globally have been forced to leave their homes and seek sanctuary elsewhere. The question is: do they receive hospitality or hostility when they arrive?
Real God-inspired justice always consists of mercy, compassion and love
Micah 6:8 is one passage of scripture that is often quoted when speaking about justice. It begs the question: What does it look like “to do justice” when it comes to asylum seekers and refugees? Does it mean sending them to Rwanda or opening our hearts and homes to them - which is what we did for so many Ukrainian refugees?
Doing the right thing means showing compassion, mercy and love to those in need. That is what justice demands, and that is what scripture calls us to do!