This is not about charity in the end, is it?

I know a lot of what I write about lately has centered on this thing called Justice but I suppose that’s a hazard of the job and I honestly find it more worthwhile compared to some of my more trivial ramblings.  Lately I’ve been spending some free time online trying to see what’s out there concerning justice.  What do people think about it? How do they define it? Prevent it? Pursue it?

I’ve been reading some different viewpoints and seeing what other people are doing to pursue a just society.  One of the benefits of this is discovering great thoughts that people have already had in terms of Justice.

One such insight came from Bono, “This is not about charity in the end, is it? It’s about justice…I just want to repeat that: This is not about charity, it’s about justice. And that’s too bad. Because we’re good at charity…We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.  But justice is a higher standard.”

It’s the mindset that Bono is referring too that is part of the real enemy.  There is a quote I came across in John McNight’s The Careless Society (reading is another hazard of the job) and it says, “The enemy isn’t poverty, sickness, and disease. The enemy is a set of institutions and interests that are advantaged by a clienthood of dependency.”

We as a society have created systems of charity that require supply and demand much like any other system.  We need a clientele (i.e. the poor and oppressed) to be in constant need in order to have a person/group on which to focus our product (i.e. charity and services).  This is not necessarily a conscience act on the part of those providing charities; in fact it would probably be an insult to hear their efforts described in this manner.     Unfortunately, after so many generations of providing services to those in need we’ve created a cycle that is hard to break.  There may be a sort of comfort as people of faith in knowing that there is always someone to be charitable to.  Being charitable is something we’re called to do in our faith and as Bono pointed out, we generally feel good about doing it.  It’s a convenient system when it comes to fulfilling that faith mandate.

Charity of this sort can become the enemy because it can prevent justice being done. One issue is people may come to believe that charity is the best and possibly only way to address the problems they see. Also charity can prevent justice when it creates in people the idea that they should be grateful for these extra “gifts” when in reality a just life is their promised inheritance from God.  If people are led to believe that they are stuck with their lot in life and any hand-out beyond that is a blessing they shouldn’t question then they are stripped of the power and authority to demand the justice that is their right.  These are dangerous cycles to create and are the reason why charities should only act as a sort of emergency response and not be looked to as the long-term solution to the issue.

McNight went on to say “…many vulnerable people are primarily disabled by their segregation from community life in institutions, ‘special’ programs, or service ghettos.  Paradoxically, their lives often improve significantly when they leave service systems and become effectively incorporated in community life.”       These are the opportunities we need to provide; an opportunity to restore power and authority in an effort to form a just society.  If the very “victims” that make up the clienthood of dependency are shown that by organizing together they will have the ability to instill some real changes in their communities than things will begin to happen and the need for charities can begin to diminish.  That shouldn’t frighten us but rather excite us.  How incredible would it be to see our communities being restored to what God originally intended? How fantastic would it be to be a part of that?