You care—passionately—about justice and the struggle against poverty. Earlier this year you read everything you could find online about George Zimmerman’s trial for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and tweeted frequently in response to what you read. In your junior year of college you carpooled with your best friends to The Justice Conference, and applied for internships at charity: water and the International Justice Mission. You consider justice when you choose what to eat and drink, and you consciously reflect on Micah 6:8 in evaluating and planning your life.
While being passionate about justice has been a fashionable thing in your age set for the past decade or so, you are no dilettante. You first realized that justice is not optional, but an integral part of our grateful response to God’s grace, when you read Gary Haugen’s Good News About Injustice in high school. Admittedly you’ve been troubled by the complexities of struggling against poverty and working for justice because of your experiences on short-term missions trips, and because of reading Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts. But you are intent on staying the course for the remainder of your life: the pursuit of justice is a long obedience in the same direction.
You know that working for justice is not a Lone Ranger activity, but requires making common cause with others. In addition to your small annual gifts to three or four organizations with whose views and approaches you resonate, and volunteering several days every year for events organized by these organizations, you’ve drawn together a justice discipleship group at your local church, using James W. Skillen’s A Covenant to Keep: Meditations on the Biblical Theme of Justice as your group study guide.
Knowing that wisdom requires that you zoom in from the big picture to the issues of the day, you keep up a steady diet of public opinion reading. Your first stop is the Center for Public Justice’s Capital Commentary (capitalcommentary.org) and Shared Justice (sharedjustice.org), as well as Comment’s online presence (cardus.ca/ comment). You also regularly read a few columnists, making sure that your opinion diet includes pundits who call themselves liberal, conservative, and libertarian, as well as one or two voices from outside North America.
So far, so good.
I want to challenge you to take one additional step: join a political party.
If you are reading this as a Canadian citizen, join the Liberals, the Conservatives, or the New Democrats. If you are an American citizen, join the Democrats or the Republicans. And don’t just sign your name on the dotted line for membership and send in your nominal membership fee: get actively involved. Put some sweat behind a candidate in an election campaign. Attend meetings. Get to care about other people in the party, and get to understand their opinions, sentiments, and motivations— especially insofar as these differ from your own.
Doing justice in a democracy demands participating in politics. Participating responsibly in democratic politics inescapably includes participating in the life of a political party. These are the institutions by means of which citizens primarily contribute to public justice in Canada, America, and other constitutional democracies. As Jonathan Chaplin once said, “Just governance cannot be left only to governments. Rather we should assert the principle of the co-responsibility of citizens and government in the discernment and pursuit of justice and the common good. As a member of the political community each citizen shares in the duty to contribute to the divinelyordained purpose of that community.”
Joining a political party is the means by which a raw passion for justice gets tempered into a real instrument for long-term political faithfulness. The primary human office for the doing of justice is that of citizen, and by God’s common grace we who find ourselves in constitutional democracies are able to exercise that office in the company of others, in our parties.
Joining a political party, and getting involved in its inner life, is going to be a dirty business. The more deeply you care about justice, the more thoroughly your party will break your heart. Some days you will agree enthusiastically with your supposed partisan opponents, and be deeply disappointed by the official voices of your own party. Every once in a while your party will make a decision that just does not sit right with you: perhaps pandering to a special interest, perhaps compromising a policy position for the sake of winning needed votes, perhaps selecting an embarrassing candidate for election locally or even nationally. But such is the stuff of proximate justice (as Steven Garber has called it in this magazine), and proximate justice is the justice for which we can work until this earth becomes the renewed earth, as Isaiah 60 promises.