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Social Justice Needs Personal Righteousness
January 18, 2016
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“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We live in the day and age of the social justice warrior — the young man or woman committed the ideas of making the world “out there” more just. Conveniently, you can qualify for this job without any concern for your personal righteousness — a grave injustice itself. But, since today is MLK day, I feel it’s important to remember that King (and Paul, and Jesus, and all the prophets) didn’t share this rather modern (rather ridiculous) view.

When Dr. King wrote his now famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, it included the oft-repeated phrase, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And, that’s true. But before you ride your noble steed off into the unjust world to “fix it,” it would be helpful to remember the rest of the idea. “We are caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

In other words, it’s not just morals “out there” that matter — what we often call social justice. It’s also our personal righteousness “in here” that counts — what we call morality. If we’re really serious about pushing back racism, sexism, classism, and the many other ills from which our culture suffers, we must also be serious about personal righteousness. They are all connected — we are all connected. If I’m struggling morally, somehow that will affect society. Conversely, if society is riddled with injustice it will affect me. It sounds counterintuitive to us, but it’s true.

Scripture declares that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne. That explains why God connected the ideas in Jesus’ great commandment — to love God and other people. Because, they are connected.

All this means that I’m personally very grateful for Dr. King. His struggle for justice is connected to even my personal righteousness. I can’t be who I’m called to be without his efforts to make the world better. In response, let’s commit to grow more personally righteous through Christ. Only then will this work look more like Heaven. As righteousness and justice meet in our lives, they’ll meet in our world.

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