Structural Justice (May-Jun 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Kasey S. Pipes
May – June, 2002

To the unsuspecting eye of an inaugural visitor, the gentle green slope is a peculiar site as it sits canvassed by a backdrop of brick and mortar. But it is here, amidst eighteen acres of luscious lawn dotted by trees of oak and a garden of roses, that the most important mansion housing the most important leader in the world can be found. It is here among the din and density of a big city that a quiet home in the country sits by itself, a peaceful calm in the storm. But it is not just a house; it is a shrine, and like all shrines, pilgrims visit it each year to both offer respect and seek inspiration. The place they come to is Washington, D.C. The home they visit is known throughout the land and throughout the world simply and only as the White House.

When the White House and the president act, people respond, and this is why the modern president is such a symbol the world over…his leadership is a ray of light in a world filled with many dark nights. This is why people come from all over the world to see the White House. The aura of the presidency means even more to people who have been oppressed or who have suffered injustice. They take as a given what we sometimes take for granted—that America is great because America is good; and that the American people, led by their president, care about making the world a better place. After all, they remind us, it was Americans who helped save Europe, liberated concentration camps, and played a pivotal part in ending Soviet Communism.

The man who lives and works there is part of an ancient tradition. Forty-one others have gone before him. For better or for worse, each one left his mark.They have all written chapters in the great story of America that is even now still being written. As the President leaves the White House residence each morning, he may think of Lincoln’s pen as it signed the Emancipation Proclamation…as he walks down the Colonnade on his way to the West Wing, he could hear the echoes of FDR’s soft words of firm resolve in liberating Europe and the Pacific…and as he enters the Oval Office, he might feel the moral courage that led Reagan to win the Cold War.

And just as the White House sits apart among the trappings of a modern city, so the American nation serves as an oasis in a desert of despair, doubt, and danger throughout the world. And it is the president who embodies this spirit, who inherits this trust. It is for him to lead the way for America and the world. And no issue requires more attention or greater leadership than that of justice.

America believes in justice. It is a part of the very marrow of Americans. Atop the steps of the Supreme Court a sign says simply yet profoundly, “Equal Justice Under the Law.” These are words some people in some nations cannot even fathom. We have a national holiday to honor a great advocate of this principle. “A threat to justice anywhere,” Dr. Martin Luther King said, “is a threat to justice everywhere.” And our national birth certificate describes our guiding principles as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Yet in today’s world, there are those who never get a chance to live…and many more whose lives are lived in chains, not liberty. And this is injustice. Can government policy really affect justice in this world?

In Washington, D.C., there is a Christian human rights organization called the International Justice Mission working around the clock and around the world to help free children sold into slavery and girls forced to work in brothels. The challenge is enormous. The work is never-ending. This very day, 25,000 children will die worldwide because there is not enough food to eat. This very day, more than a billion and a half people in the world have no access to any health care at all. And this very day, 1800 children will be born with AIDS in the developing world. Much of this could be averted if more governments took seriously their responsibility to provide for the welfare of their people. But they either can’t or they won’t. And the injustice around the world continues. Of course, this is further proof of why we must not only export our products but our ideals. The War on Terrorism is a good place to start. We must remind ourselves and others that we are not only defending America, but American ideals. We are fighting to end terrorism…and to make the world a safer, more just place.

Closer to home, there is much work to be done, as well. In the aftermath of September 11, many Americans are asking what they can do. They need only to look around them. More than one out of six American families live with an income of $17,000 or less. More than two million children have a parent in prison. And in 1997, more than one million babies were born to unwed mothers. Poverty, crime, drugs, and illegitimacy. These are the symptoms of the disease of hopelessness. These are the voices of despair crying out to be heard, reaching out to be helped.

As Christians, we know we have a responsibility to help those who have been left out or left behind. Our God is a God of compassion. Psalm 10 reminds us of this:

You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted. You encourage them, and you listen to their cry, Defending the fatherless and the oppressed, In order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

Many Christians are already in the fight…working at homeless shelters…mentoring children…and helping train single moms. These are programs that warm the cold of life, that change lives, touch hearts, and save souls.

But the injustice faced by a young inner-city child with a parent in prison or by a baby born with AIDS requires the effort of both the private and public sector. Government can promote justice through laws, policies, and officials of character who fight injustice. But duty rests firmly on individuals, non-government organizations, and churches to seek and promote justice as well.

In the summer of 1999, then-Governor George W. Bush delivered an address at the Front Porch Alliance entitled, “The Duty of Hope.” The theme of the speech was the need for government and charities to work together to fight injustice and promote hope for all Americans. After calling faith-based programs a “quiet river of goodness and kindness that cuts through stone,” Governor Bush promised as president to work with these groups, not against them. He promised a government that “serves those who are serving their neighbors.” In this speech and in others that followed, Governor Bush outlined a series of innovative proposals to put government on the side of justice fighters all across America.

Then, in January of last year, George W. Bush was sworn in as the forty-third president of the United States, and he sounded a clarion call for all Americans to do justice:

Where there is suffering, there is duty. Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities. And all of us are diminished when any are hopeless. Government has great responsibilities for public safety and public health, for civil rights and common schools. Yet compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government.

In his first fifteen months in office, President Bush has made good on several major campaign promises to address these issues. He promised to establish an office to encourage the role of faith-based and community initiatives in helping those left behind. And he has. He promised to reduce the increased tax burden on families so that parents have more money to save and spend on their own children. And he has. He promised to sign legislation spending more on schools and asking more from schools. And he has.

And now, in the wake of September 11, President Bush has formed a new office for helping others — the Freedom Corps. And the mission of this effort will be to encourage all Americans to spend two years of their lives in the service of those in need.

After all, anyone can spend his life building a career. But it takes a special person to spend his career building lives. And it is precisely this spirit of service, this notion of responsibility, this value of justice that President Bush is seeking from all Americans. As President Bush said in his Inaugural, “many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen to those who do. And I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.” This administration has decided to not pass by on the other side. Will the church?New Wineskins

Kasey S. Pipes is the Associate Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the White House.

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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