I prefer Facebook for fun and family photos, but I check Twitter to see what’s trending in society and among Christian writers. On the latter social network, I see some Christians emphasizing the need for “holiness” while many other people (both inside and outside the church) tweet about the need for “justice,” but I rarely see the same people highlighting both needs. Maybe the justice advocates don’t want to be labeled “prudes” for emphasizing holiness, and the holiness advocates fear being labeled “SJWs” (social justice warriors).
I wish these folks would reflect the Free Methodist Church’s longtime recognition that holiness and justice are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they belong together. According to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, “hopeful solutions for injustices are found in the community and character formation of people and institutions pursuing holiness.”
Among this magazine’s readership, “holiness is what I long for” isn’t just a line from a popular song (fmchr.ch/holiness). Light + Life’s June issue on “Holiness + Holy Spirit” struck such a chord with readers that the magazine team had to ask our printer for another print run to accommodate requests for additional copies.
I’d love similar enthusiasm for this month’s issue, which reflects the following observation from the Bible Project: “One of the fundamental characteristics that set human beings apart from other creatures that God created is their need for justice” (fmchr.ch/Justice). My fear, however, is that the word “justice” may drive some readers away. As Bishop David Roller notes, justice “is a big squishy word that means different things to different people.”
As Guillermo Flores reveals in this month’s feature article, the Greek word dikaiosune refers to both righteousness and justice. This word is used nearly 90 times in the New Testament (fmchr.ch/dikaiosune).
Some evangelical Christians’ apprehension of “justice” is primarily limited to instances in which the word is preceded by “social.” That’s understandable because some self-described “social justice advocates” promote views and engage in behaviors that do not reflect righteousness or holiness. However, it’s hard to argue with Flores’ definition of social justice: “to defend the cause of the weak and vulnerable of society.”
As Kalei Swogger Pogue and David Brewer reveal in their articles, the concept of justice can be complicated. Brewer points out that other people’s standards of “just” and “unjust” may not match our standards, and we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us rather than our own consciences. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is leading many Christians to seek justice in a righteous way as demonstrated by the work of Eden’s Glory, which Swogger Pogue highlights.
In his 1991 letter that accompanied checks to survivors of internment camps, President George H.W. Bush recognized “that serious injustices were done to Japanese Americans during World War II” (fmchr.ch/ghwbush). As Richard Williamson reveals in these pages, Iowa Free Methodists demonstrated their righteousness in the 1940s by helping a Japanese American pastor and his wife escape these serious injustices mandated by President Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order that required their internment.
In the words of Ben Wayman, who holds Greenville University’s James F. and Leona N. Andrews Chair in Christian Unity, and Biola University associate professor Kent Dunnington, “By keeping the cause of Christ ― the gospel of a kingdom for the poor and oppressed ― at the forefront of our minds, we set ourselves against any form of injustice or oppression that defaces the image of God in others” (fmchr.ch/bwkd).
The Bible tells us God’s commands are “holy and just” (Romans 7:12 CSB). May the Holy Spirit help us to obey His commands while pursuing both holiness and justice in these polarized times.
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined Light + Life in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media.3