Christian Unity & Christian Justice: Maybe It Is Both

With all the craziness that is in the world these days, there are two cries I want us to repeatedly hear as a church: fight for justice, and fight for unity. My own cynicism, weariness, and busyness sometimes lead me to pursue one at the expense of the other. I get provoked and want to shout about justice with no regard for unity. Or I get tired and want everyone just to agree already. But neither of these is love. Neither of these is the way of Jesus. We must pursue both unity and justice or we’ve forfeited both.

The way of Jesus is to love our neighbors as ourselves—and this love extends to all of our neighbors, regardless of who they are. Are they unworthy of our love? They’re still neighbors to be loved. Are they unlikeable or in any way off-putting? They’re still neighbors to be loved. Are they our enemies who wish us only evil? They’re still neighbors to be loved.

This is the unmistakable way of Jesus. It’s the way of His Father. And if we want to be Christians, it must be our way as well. Here’s what Jesus says:

But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you. 

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
— Jesus, in Luke 6:27-36 (New English Translation)

This love that Jesus commands comes without qualification or boundary. It comes without guardrails and without limits of wisdom. It is a self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-neglecting love that resulted in Jesus Himself being defeated, mocked, shamefully exposed, and nailed to a couple planks of wood on a hillside to suffocate to death. It also resulted in resurrection, redemption, and the eventual restoration of all things in Jesus.

As costly as this love is, it’s the kind of love that redeems. It is powerful. It destroys all boundaries and divisions. It turns enemies into family. It turns “them” into “us”.

Unity without a concern for justice prioritizes the comfort of “us” over the lived experience of “them”. It perpetuates the status quo, and tends to benefit those who are already in power. It tends toward escapism and a devaluation of the physical world and present reality that Jesus came to redeem. It patronizes the downtrodden and tells them their concerns don’t really matter. It is an empty “love” for our neighbor, who might as well remain our enemy. This is not unity in any meaningful sense, and it is not the way of Jesus.

Justice without a concern for unity severs “them” from “us”. It results in flipped power structures that will eventually repeat our status quo, merely with different people in the seats of power. It repays violence for violence. It excludes the core Jesus-virtues of patience and forgiveness. It is a love for our neighbor, as long as we get to choose who our neighbor is. This is not justice in any meaningful way, and it is not the way of Jesus.

But I’m convinced, as tiring and painful and scary as it may be, clinging to both unity and justice, refusing to let go of either one, is the way of Jesus. It is the way of love. It’s the way of the Old Testament prophets. It’s the way of the New Testament apostles. It’s a way fraught with difficulty, that very well may cost every ounce of energy we have, every drop of patience, and every shred of pride. But it’s a way that leads to life, that leads to healing, and leads to a world where there is no “them” but only “us”.

Note: we've preached about each of these themes several times. To hear more about the biblical emphasis on unity, click here. To hear more about justice, click here.

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