Culture At Large

Justice and Charity


I know, I know - Bono has gotten a little too much press in recent months. There are plenty of other activists addressing global poverty out there but - let's be honest - they're just not as cool as Bono.

I wanted to look at an excerpt from Bono's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday (link via the Slacktivist):

From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There’s is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

Bono's comments are infused with talk of God and references to scripture - especially the fact that poverty is mentioned in the Bible more than 2,100 times. His notion of justice being more important than charity strikes me as something that many American Christians are missing. I've written and read about poverty a lot, and it seems to me that the poor are too often considered "other." They are judged by different standards than we judge ourselves or our wealthier brothers and sisters. Christians think about doing things "to" or "for" the poor - this would be the charity that we're so good at - but there isn't solidarity with those who are less fortunate, there's seldom talk of being "with" the poor. Charity puts us above the poor - we are in a position of power when we have something they need. Justice puts us on equal footing with the poor - that's where we need to be.

When we see the poor - whether in Africa, America, or anywhere - as equals, as Bono suggests, it becomes harder to blame them for their own predicaments, to make excuses for why they don't deserve our help, to sit out on the sidelines. Justice is no longer about us giving handouts from our abundance; suddenly, it's about loving the poor the way God does, loving them as we love ourselves.

Yeah, we've got charity all figured out. Now let's think about what justice would look like.

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, World, Justice