'Doing' justice in today's world... | The Salvation Army

'Doing' justice in today's world...

Our vocation as human beings benefits from regular thought, reflection, and community; Just Action gathers us together to learn, to dream, and be inspired. As The Salvation Army’s co-founder, Catherine Booth said:

‘There is no improving the future, without disturbing the present,’ and the difficulty is to get people to be willing to be disturbed! We are so conservative by nature—especially some of us. We have such a rooted dislike to have anything rooted up, disturbed, or knocked down. It is as much the work of God, however, to ‘root out, and to pull down, and to destroy,’ as ‘to build and to plant’; and God's real ambassadors frequently have to do as much of the one kind of work as of the other. This is not pleasant work; but what is necessary to be done? Is it not manifestly necessary that we should go back to the simplicity and SPIRITUALITY of the Gospel, and to the early modes of propagating it amongst men?[1]

At his inauguration earlier this year, The Salvation Army leader, Brian Peddle called us to be, ‘the Salvation Army that God needs us to be in this 21st century’.[2] As Jesus asked Peter, ‘who do you say I am’ (Matt 16:15)[3], so we are called to respond, to discern what is asked of us in this twenty-first century. Exploring this mandate, we recall that, in the assessment of a previous leader, Shaw Clifton, the twenty-first century is one ‘of ever-increasing ethical complexity and challenge’[4] and, therefore, the role of faith-based and value-oriented perspective becomes all the more urgent.

This is particularly so given the relentless march of an economic-instrumental approach to public policy that has resulted in a consumer-focused and investor- prioritised economic model, austerity-driven public welfare, war-mongering between nations, and trade wars resulting in increasing poverty, widening inequality and, alarmingly, the return of the political far right. The call of Jesus to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31) which has rung down the centuries has never seemed more cogent, alongside the question, ‘who is my neighbour’ (Luke 10:29).

Our founders, William and Catherine Booth, framed The Salvation Army in terms of salvation which they understood holistically in spiritual, physical, psychological, and social terms. By implication, Strickland (1986) argues, the Christian is one who is transformed in their relationships to seek, in turn, the holistic wellbeing of their neighbour.[5] Such therefore is the social dimension of the Christian vocation: a Spirit-filled life turns the Christian outward towards their neighbour by:

Living incarnationally;

Proclaiming the Gospel;

Personal evangelisation;

Giving evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power to transform lives;

Identifying with and serving the poor and disadvantaged; and

Working for justice and liberty.[6]

This deeply biblical structure promotes a holistic conception of life: ‘[Jesus] addressed the immediate need within the context of the total needs of the individual. His response to human need was comprehensive’ for the human person is ‘integrated yet multifaceted’.[7] Hence, Clifton was acutely aware, as has been the Army throughout its history, that ‘we have an obligation to speak and act for justice, being a voice of the voiceless’.[8] The Bible is replete with God’s summons to justice.[9] Isaiah demands of us (58:3-12):

Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

The prophet’s words are intensely applicable today. The last four decades have witnessed a neoliberal policy framework alongside an environment of monetarist public finances and a shift towards a finance-based economy. This has been located within a longer period of efficiency and resource-based attitudes to public policy, causing a shrinking of public welfare programmes producing deepening poverty and widening inequality. As Clifton predicted, the 21st century demands a great deal of us. The neoliberal model has given rise to a new order of social problems such as the breakdown of communities, mental health concerns (including alarming suicide rates), expanding prison populations, substance dependence, household poverty, and demographic polarisation. The model has failed to deliver but policy approaches continue to be framed within its fundamentals.[10] The promise of Jesus: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10) bears renewed hope for the world and a renewed mandate for Christians, standing in radical opposition to instrumental models of social organisation.

The Salvation Army, which works at the intersection of social and spiritual dimensions within the public and private space, joins the wider human community in advocating a reorientation of societal values towards more holistic frameworks that encourage individuals, families, and communities to flourish across time and space. These faith-based approaches to public policy and community development draw on spiritual values grounded in an understanding of the dignity of the human person made in the image of God, the holiness of community, and the sacredness of the natural world as the site and symbol of God’s love and action in the world.

Such an approach underscores the meaningfulness of public action geared towards human flourishing and offers a viable alternative to current policy attitudes grounded in efficiency, capital accumulation, marked-oriented public welfare and market-driven personality formation. Faith-based approaches propose value principles designed to enable human beings and the natural world to live up to the potential of the divine inheritance promised in the Bible. Members of the faith community, whether as individuals or members of families, communities, agencies, or organisations, drawing on their prayer lives, have an obligation to work towards the Kingdom of God through the thoughtful application of their value frameworks to public policy and community development in both the private and public spaces.

Paul understood the kingdom of God in terms of human flourishing: ‘For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ (Romans 14:17). The concept of human flourishing, which may be understood as ‘liv[ing] within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience’,[11] goes to the heart of distributional justice whereby public policy and behaviour are oriented towards resource allocation which facilitate human wellbeing. Drawing on the Hebrew word, shalom, expands our understanding of flourishing. Shalom is rooted in the notion of a peace that derives from wellbeing, wholeness, and participation in social life as well as in terms of expressing the desire for, and commitment to, wholeness, in a world that is broken.[12] Circling back to the thinking of our founders, we discern a comprehensiveness and inclusivity in their vision of the Kingdom of God as being the domain of human flourishing in all of its dimensions, spiritual, physical, psychological, social, and relational, in order to return us to the Kingdom that God desires.[13]

This, then, is the foundation of social justice. An oft-cited quotation provides some parameters for understanding this concept:

Social justice is what faces you in the morning. It is awakening in a house with adequate water supply, cooking facilities and sanitation. It is the ability to nourish your children and send them to school where their education not only equips them for employment but reinforces their knowledge and understanding of their cultural inheritance. It is the prospect of genuine employment and good health: a life of choices and opportunity, free from discrimination.[14]

We understand the call to social justice as a moral imperative and a natural outpouring of the Spirit in our lives. Just Action 2019 will explore what this means in Aotearoa New Zealand today.



[1] Catherine  Booth. Papers on Aggressive Christianity (Salvationist Publishing and Supplies, London, 1880, p.48).

[2] https://www.salvationarmy.org.nz/news/general-calls-salvation-army-action

[3] All Bible verses are taken from the New Oxford Annotated Bible (5th edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 2018).

[4] Who are These Salvationists?: An Analysis for the 21st Century (Crest Books, Virginia, 1999, p.160).

[5] Social service: The divine imperative. In Waldron, J. D. (Ed.). Creed and Deed: Towards a Christian Theology of Social Services in the Salvation Army. Ontario, Canada: The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda, pp. 235-255.

[6] Handbook of Doctrine, p. 253.

[7] Strickland: Social service: The divine imperative, p. 241, 240.

[8] Who are These Salvationists?, p. 147.

[9] For example, Jeremiah 7: 5-7; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:9; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 4:18-21 and 10:25-37. (The Poverty and Justice Bible identifies 2,000 poverty and justice verses. (Minto, NSW: The Bible Society of Australia, 2008.).)

[10] In the West, neoliberalism tends to be traced from the Great Depression through the social democratic policies of the post-war period to the Oil Crisis of 1973 (See, for example, Jones, D. S. Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2012.). For the peoples of the colonised global south (South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania), neoliberalism may be seen as an inevitable development from mercantilist economic approaches that propelled European merchants (usually with the connivance of their governments) to seek raw materials and consumer markets outside Europe. Once entrenched (by the late 1880s), European political-economic models gave rise to colonialism which, in turn, generated integrated processes of communications, markets, and political structures which came to be called globalisation. Globalisation gave rise, in the post-war, to the Bretton Woods system of global financial institutions which, together with phenomenal power wielded in stock exchanges, multinational companies and, later, control of indigenous farming knowledges, to a neo-colonial environment supported by the advertising industry. The last days of the Cold War threw up strongly anti-collectivist and -socialist global leaders who eagerly embraced the liberal ideas of Hayek and Friedman to reverse the gains made by socialist, anticolonial, and nationalist struggles in the postcolonial period. Total market solutions were proposed and, in many parts of public policy, achieved, to the phenomenal cost of working class peoples throughout the world. For indigenous peoples both at home in Aotearoa and abroad, the neoliberal model has been experienced as a negation of their ways of being and knowing and as a further means of dismantling their social structures and expropriating their wealth. As Maria Burgh suggests, neoliberalism is colonialism writ anew. (Resistance: An Indigenous Response to Neoliberalism. Wellington, Huia Publishers, 2007.).   

[11] Fredrickson, B. L. & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive affect and complex dynamics of human flourishing". American Psychologist. 60(7), pp. 678–686, p. 678.

[12] Suisted, J. (2018). The problem with peace. Retrieved on 15 October 2018 from https://www.studio.festival.one/blog/post/31125/THE-PROBLEM-WITH-PEACE/. (This article was also reprinted in War Cry, 22 September 2018, available at https://issuu.com/salvationarmynzftwarcry/docs/22_september_2018_warcry_....)

[13] Roberts & Strickland: Just: Imagine the World for God, p. 16.

[14] Mick Dodson: Annual Report of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 1993, cited in Roberts, C. & Strickland, D. (2008). Just Imagine. Victoria, Australia: Salvo Publishing, p. 16.