Justice is a step beyond compassion

“The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love.” – Psalm 33:5

Later this month, I’ll be at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia. (If you’ll be there too, see my note at the end of this post about our pastors luncheon.) Hundreds of thought leaders, church representatives, and practitioners from all over the world will join together to learn, pray and act. I can’t wait.

Preparing for the Justice Conference has me thinking about social justice. It’s the heartbeat of what we do at Food for the Hungry. In The Social Justice Handbook, author Mae Elise Cannon points out the difference between compassion and justice. It’s an important distinction, because we need both.

Justice and compassion

The word compassion means “to suffer with.” Compassion is found in acts of service, like giving food to a neighbor or sheltering the homeless.

The word justice has to do with the correct use of power. Justice is found in ensuring that everyone has equal access to a resource. When we remove barriers that keep people at a disadvantage, we are bringing justice.

Cannon challenges the church to do both.

The church must learn to move beyond acts of compassion and ask, ‘Why are so many people homeless?’ … Compassion responds to the effects of these problems. Social justice seeks to address their systemic causes. When we work to solve the roots of these problems, a Band-Aid is no longer being put over the wound. Instead, the emphasis is on getting rid of the disease that caused the wound in the first place. When the disease is eradicated, social justice is being lived out.

In emergency settings, there is a place for distributing food and goods. That’s compassion, appropriately placed. However, in most settings where we find poverty, the greater need is to solve the causes of poverty, not its symptoms. Justice is done when communities build gardens to feed their families, and when villages learn how to prevent AIDS. When I wrote about Mayra going to school and dreaming about her future, that was a story of justice. It’s about identifying the roots of poverty, and addressing those causes from the start.

Join us for lunch

When I go to the Justice Conference, I’ll be looking for believers who will link arms with Food for the Hungry to bring justice to the most vulnerable places around the world.

Are you one of them? If you’re a church leader attending the Justice Conference or living in the Philadelphia area, I’d like to personally invite you to lunch on Saturday, February 23. More details and registration can be found here. Along with our friends at Trade as One, we’re hosting this pastors luncheon to share how churches are bringing justice around the world. We’ll hear from special guest speaker Lynne Hybels and multiple GRAMMY-nominated band Leeland.

I can’t wait to be in a room with so many others who are seeking justice. I hope you’ll join us.


About Wendy McMahan

Wendy McMahan is grateful for her front row seat in watching God “reconcile all things to Himself.” (Colossians 1:20) She still can’t believe that she gets to participate in His story every day. Wendy and her husband are proud parents to two daughters and have been foster parents to children of all ages. Wendy serves as Director of Church Engagement at Food for the Hungry. She hosts the Poverty Unlocked podcast.

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