It seems very strange to me, looking back at my now twenty some odd years of experience in the evangelical church that for the large majority of it, I heard about social justice related issues only around holidays (think rice bowls and red kettles) and at Christian concerts presented in conjunction with some sponsor-a-child organization. Somewhere around my sophomore year of college though, justice somehow wormed its way out of the Christmas-and-Rebecca St. James-concert box and into my every day life. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see that Rachel Held Evans had included justice as one of the characteristics of a “Biblical Woman” that she examines in A Year of Biblical Womanhood.
Rachel begins the chapter by recounting an old Jewish folktale about a man who searches the whole world in hopes of finding true justice. The man travels far and wide and yet is unsuccessful in his quest. The moral behind the tale being that one can never truly find justice in the world until it is found within oneself. The idea is similar to Ghandi’s “be the change you want to see in the world” and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” To change the world, we must first change ourselves. Which leads me – as an empowered woman – to think that if we truly desire justice and equality for our gender, if we truly want to be empowered as women, then we must first become perpetrators of justice and empowerment ourselves.
In Biblical Womanhood Rachel sheds some light on the coffee and chocolate industries. If you’ve spent any time in socially concerned circles, it comes as no surprise to you to find out that most coffee farmers do not earn a living wage and almost all of the chocolate produced by big brands such as Nestle and Hershey has been harvested by child slaves. We are not left without choices though. Conscientious consumers can purchase ethically produced coffee and chocolate that is certified Fair Trade almost anywhere these days.
Making just and ethical choices are not just limited to our coffee consumption though. As I’ve continued to delve into issues of justice and equality over the past four years I have been shocked and dismayed to discover that nearly every aspect of our lives as Americans is tainted by injustice -most often in the form of human slavery.
Yes, we all know now about coffee and chocolate. But what about sugar or bananas? What about the clothes we buy that are marked down to practically nothing by the time they reach the clearance rack? What about our shampoos, soaps and lotions? Who makes them? Where do they come from? And how can they possibly be so cheap?
There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today – which is more than there ever were during the pre-Civil War days in America. I would dare to say that no one reading this would ever even dream of owning a slave, but I would also dare to say that every single person reading this supports industry in some form that is equivocal to owning a slave. I consider myself a conscientious consumer. I buy fair trade whenever possible, live simply and have been likened to an episode of Portlandia for the amount of questions I ask before purchasing much of anything. Yet, Made in a Free World’s Slavery Footprint calculator estimates some 35 slaves work for me. They make my hand soap, my laptop, my camera, running shoes, blue jeans the list goes on.
While it’s encouraging to see justice-related topics seeping into church culture more and more, we have so terribly far to go. Rachel discusses the role of justice within the early church, and how even the pagans of the day were awed by the care and concern for the poor demonstrated by the early church. “The godless Galileans [Christians] feed not only their poor but ours also.” she quotes from Julian the Apostate. Yet, our current reputation is not that of our predecessors. Repeated surveys show that outside of the church, Christians are much more likely to be identified for things we are opposed to rather than how we love, serve and empower others.
Like the fabled sojourner at the start of the chapter, we as followers of Jesus may search the world over for justice. We may go on mission trip after mission trip to put on a VBS or paint buildings. We may advocate tirelessly for children needing to be sponsorship in developing nations. We can buy Fair Trade coffee and chocolate with fearsome exclusivity. But until we find a spirit of justice within ourselves, permeating even the darkest, dustiest most unthought of corners within our soul, it will never roll down like a river through our world.
You are reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Read more from this series of articles.
- A Year of Biblical Womanhood [group project]
- Gentleness [Biblical Womanhood]
- Defiant Domesticity [Biblical Womanhood]
- Valor [Biblical Womanhood]
- Eye of the Beholder [Biblical Womanhood]
- Modesty [Biblical Womanhood]
- The Power of Touch [Biblical Womanhood]
- Submission [Biblical Womanhood]
- Justice [Biblical Womanhood]
- Grace [Biblical Womanhood]