See Amos chapter 5 verse 24: let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! There are many different facets to the Biblical concept of Justice. Justice and mercy are key themes of the writings of the Old Testament prophets.
Biblical justice is more than fairness and equality, it is a strong bias towards the weak, the poor and the socially disadvantaged who are cared for, whether they ‘deserve’ it or not. All have a right to life, freedom and dignity. In God’s eyes every person is precious and oppression or discrimination, on any grounds, has no place (Exodus chapter 23 verses 2,6).
God’s justice is gracious and an integral part of His personality —He always acts justly and He calls on people to do the same.
Justice is often interpreted in terms of seeking rights for oneself or one’s own group (‘we demand justice’) when Biblically it is really an action on behalf of others. This does not mean that one has to ignore injustices to oneself, but it does shift the focus. ‘Justice’ is not ‘just for me’. This means that Christians will be more keen to protect others than themselves and will always wish to see right prevail. A commitment to justice is a fierce opposition of injustice.
When thinking about ‘justice’, some people will think first about giving wrongdoers the punishment they deserve. ‘Justice’ evokes ideas of ‘just deserts’, ’the punishment fitting the crime’ or ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. (This oft quoted expression was actually an advance in its time as it was a demand that people should not embark upon a vendetta or feuding—once the original crime had been dealt with, that was the end). However, that would be a one-sided picture of justice. Justice builds a community where everyone’s well-being is bound up with that of everyone else. Without true Justice there cannot be true Peace.
Matthew 23:23 (Jesus criticising the religious leaders of his day) ‘You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.’
Justice in School
In the school situation this Christian value relates to the call to take responsibility for one another, and is anti-discrimination. Pupils should also be inspired to recognise injustice in the world and to think about their own potential role in fighting it. In whole school terms this may include such things as becoming a Fair Trade school.
- Do pupils and adults show respect for each other e.g. in respecting each other’s property and that of the school?
- How are pupils encouraged to support each other e.g. buddy benches or the use of “family” groupings?
- Is peer mentoring used to support pupils who behave badly?
- Do pupils clearly understand the school’s behaviour or rewards and sanctions policy and appreciate the reasons for it?
- Are sanctions always followed by reconciliation?
- In what ways is a concern for fairness demonstrated in your school? To what extent are pupils encouraged to debate what is fair or just in different circumstances?
- How are pupils encouraged to reflect upon Jesus’ teaching on justice and compassion for the poor and oppressed, and perhaps to follow this with positive action e.g. supporting Christian Aid?
- How does worship help people to come to an understanding of what is fair and just?
- Is a concern for fairness and justice reflected in the prayer life of the school?
- Where in the curriculum are issues such as Fair Trade discussed?
- In RE and History do pupils have the opportunity to learn how the Church plays, and has played, a role in supporting the poor and oppressed?
- How are pupils helped to understand that with rights comes responsibility?
- How is the school budget used creatively to provide experiences for pupils (and staff?) which they might otherwise be unable to afford such as trips, artists in residence, music tuition?
- How is everyone included in an open and fair decision making process (staff, governors, pupils, families, church?)
- How do you ensure that the sanctions and procedures that you have in place are fair?
- How are school rules (and class rules) / behaviour policies decided and reviewed?
- Have you thought of becoming a Fair Trade school?
- Do you believe that schools can make a difference to issues of justice in local or global communities? How will your pupils be equipped to make a difference when they leave school?
- How do you ensure that yours is a school where weightier matters are not sometimes neglected because of the accumulation of circumstantial and relatively trivial issues?