Compassion and Justice

When we were at DC this past week, we stopped by the General Board of Church and Society building.

Our “tour guide” was a friend of mine from seminary and church.
He touched on the topic about the difference of compassion and justice.

I’ve never really thought about the difference of compassion and justice.
And I’m thinking on my feet as I blog this (or more like, thinking while I’m typing) which means that I may not even make sense. So bear with me. Please.

Compassion is important.
But after our conversation, but in the end, perhaps compassion doesn’t really solve anything.
It seems like, for the most part, that compassion just fixes an immediate problem.

I feel like most of our mission/work team trips in youth ministry are compassion ministries. We go somewhere, we provide them with what they need for a week or so, and exchange letters here and there throughout the year.

But. It doesn’t solve anything. The people we help will still be in need.

When we go feed the homeless, compassion-focused actions will solve the temporary dilemma of their hunger for the day. But, come the next meal, they’ll still be hungry. They’re still on the streets.
If the social justice issue was an iceberg, compassion seems to only touch the part that sticks out of the water.

Justice, on the other hand, tries to focus on the cause of the situation. Why are they hungry? Why are they homeless? Why do we go every year to help build homes? What are things we can do to “solve” the problems? Justice, in this new line of thinking for me, seems to address the 90% of the iceberg that we don’t see.

The other pastor that was with me at the General Board of Church and Society shared that for him, “Compassion is incomplete without justice.”
I can’t agree more.

I believe that acts of compassions are thoroughly important. We shouldn’t over look doing things for people, like ministry/programs for the poor. We need to feed them. We need to let them know that they are cared for and love. We need to provide for them. We need to teach our entitled youth the importance of compassion and giving.

But, wouldn’t absolute compassion be freeing them from the chains of hunger and homelessness? Wouldn’t finding the reasons why there are homeless people in our communities, and fighting for their rights to end poverty, wouldn’t that be more compassionate than feeding someone for a day?

Compassion is incomplete without justice.

Or I could be totally wrong. But I’m okay with that.

3 thoughts on “Compassion and Justice

  1. It reminds me of the conversation between charity and mercy. Sometimes churches [and people] are great at giving money away but when it comes to being in relationship with those we say we want to help, you’ll find the number of people raising their hands to be much smaller.

    I would hope that we start with compassion and maybe even charity and find that we are led to work for justice in addressing systemic issues.

    Thanks for your reflection 🙂

  2. I agree. Each year many UM churches send mission teams to poverty areas in our own country and overseas. While they are big hearted in their intentions, these trips are more about well-off Americans getting a feel-good fix….sort of a mission-tourism. But, really nothing is changed. Great blog! Thanks.

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