A social justice discussion that unites, not divides
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
A discussion about social justice could go in any number of directions these days. But what made this discussion work was the direction it was coming from and the way they talked to each other.
It was the first Ministry Forum of the new academic year at Grand Canyon University, a 75-minute session Monday designed to spark dialogue between College of Theology students and faculty and give the students insights into their instructors’ philosophies in a relaxed setting.
But the title — “God’s Concern for the Poor: What’s Missing in Social Justice?” — was anything but relaxing. It’s a key issue facing the church in America today as most Christians have gotten on board with helping the poor, needy and oppressed.
The four panelists came at it from a Biblical and Christ-centered perspective that focused on what God’s justice is and how it can best be applied to the social order. The discussion centered around one important idea: We’re all in this together.
“Unless you’re Tom Hanks on a desert island with a volleyball named Wilson,” said Dr. Shawn Bawulski, referring to the movie “Cast Away,” “you’re interrelated with everyone else.”
Andre Mooney drew the analogy of a hand that has a broken pinkie finger. To work properly, the hand needs all five fingers to be functional.
“No matter how you parse the question, it takes all of us to make the one whole,” he said.
Dr. Mark Kreitzer, the moderator of the panel, said justice is impartial and based on Scripture. “Justice is essential for a society,” he said.
The fourth member of the panel, Dr. Toby Jennings, is new to the college and teaches classes in Christian Worldview and Contemporary Theology. His passion is Biblical theology, so his perspective started there.
“When I saw that the title of the forum was social justice, I thought, ‘That should not be our starting point,’” he said afterward. “Biblical theology is my focus, and I wanted to bring some of that directed thinking into a panel on social justice.
“I think, by and large, American culture has a number of different perspectives on it, and I think those perspectives need to be formed by Scripture rather than by culture or anybody’s ethnic affinity or social/cultural affinity.”
Jennings, who is African American, also brought an interesting perspective to the topic that dominated the final 15 minutes of the forum: the Black Lives Matter movement. He emphasized that even people within a particular group can have widely different views, and his experience is that he never has been racially profiled.
“I think the conversation needs to be had, and it needs to be had from a perspective that it’s not a monolith,” he said. “You have a number of different people who come from a number of different perspectives who are articulating different things, some of them helpful and some of them not very helpful.
“To hear people in the Black Lives Matter movement say, ‘Well, this is just what all of us experience, you can identify with that’ — I can’t identify with that. I’m not afraid to walk into a store with my hands in my pockets thinking I’m going to be profiled and somebody’s going to ask me if I need help because I’m a black guy. I have not had that experience, so I’m not fearful of that.”
Mooney, who also is African American, pointed out that the differences exist between groups as well as within them.
“You’ve got to get to the root, you’ve got to get to the heart because there aren’t enough Band-Aids to go around to stop all the bleeding,” he said. “Don’t assume when you say ‘equality’ that we’re going to mean the same thing.”
Bawulski noted the discrepancies in the poverty levels between different ethnic groups and said he has been heartened by the way the church — the entire church — is leading the way in this area.
“History handed us a reality that we didn’t create but we must work to change,” he said. “The white American church failed on this in the 20th century, and now we have a chance to get it right.”
Often, the panelists followed their most passionate points with a hearty “Amen!” It was that kind of session.
“It’s helping one another walk through this with justice and love,” Jennings said.
For once, a discussion of social justice went in the right direction.
● The next Ministry Forum, titled “Religious Liberty and its Current Challenges,” is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3 in Howerton Hall.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.