ST: Hi Julie, I’ve run into you online at your blog, on other websites and on Twitter, but I honestly don’t know much about you. If I had just met you at a gathering or event of some kind, how would you introduce yourself and at what event would I most likely run into you?
Julie: Well, first, nice to meet you. For the basic introduction – I am a mom, a blogger, and a former pastor. I grew up in the evangelical church and so have been a Christian for as long as I can remember. I’ve served in churches as both a Children’s Pastor and as Co-Pastor, but these days I spend the majority of my time chasing around my toddlers. When I have a few spare moments, I find time to write. I enjoy the opportunities for conversation the online world offers and blog often on topics like theology, gender equality, and social justice. I spend a lot of my time in the emerging church conversation, and can often be found at Emergent events or discussing faith at a local pub with an emerging cohort.
ST: So, I wanted to feature you and your book on Sustainable Traditions because we love how the dynamic concept of social justice springs forth from JESUS’ call to “love GOD with all your heart mind, soul, and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Is social justice JESUS’ other ‘great commission’?
Julie: I don’t see it so much as Jesus telling us to go and do social justice as much as I see social justice as simply the inevitable outcome of loving our neighbor. If we truly care about loving God and others we are going to be out there demonstrating that love. In this modern world many of our day to day activities force us to decide whether we will participate in the oppression of others or seek to show them love. When we make the choice to pursue the way of love, we are doing social justice. Whether that is to choose to pay more for our coffee so that the workers who produce it are paid a fair wage or to only buy chocolate from companies that refuse to enslave children to pick the cocoa beans we are demonstrating love as we seek justice for the oppressed.
ST: I never connected social justice and my Christian faith in a real profound way until recently. At what point in your walk of faith did you make that connection?
Julie: I grew up in a faith tradition that focused solely on what would happen to us after we die, so not much was said about the faith connection to seeking justice. But during my time in college and grad school, as I started to examine my faith and make it truly my own, I stumbled across the passages in the Bible that deal with justice. It was a shock to read that God loves justice and that he even despises our worship if we are failing to seek justice for others. I realized that I couldn’t claim to follow Jesus and believe in the Bible unless I integrated justice into my Christian faith. So over the course of the last decade, I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to worship a God who tells us that true worship involves feeding the hungry and releasing the oppressed.
ST: Out of what experiences and inspiration was the book born?
Julie: As I tried to figure out how I could live a life of faith that included social justice, I had to educate myself about the injustices in the world. In the beginning I didn’t go out and try to find stories of injustice, I simply started taking notice when those stories were put before me. So when a chapel speaker at Wheaton College mentioned the injustices in Sudan or a magazine article profiled the struggles of coffee farmers who weren’t paid fair wages, I paid attention. I made the decision to not just hear those stories and feel sorry for the people involved, but to ask myself how I was contributing to their oppression and what I could do show them love instead. Sometimes I couldn’t find answers to those questions, but at other times I found simple concrete actions I could take (like buying fair trade coffee) to seek justice. It was a slow process of encountering these stories of injustice and changing my everyday habits in order to seek justice where I could. But as I leaned more and more, I wanted to share what I had learned with others. I know it can be overwhelming to look at the mess in the world and not have any idea how to make it better. But, as I’ve discovered, even our simple day to day actions can make a difference for others. So this book is a guide to help others discover those everyday ways we can all demonstrate love for our neighbor.
ST: I’ve noticed that certain streams of the church have focused more attention on issues of economic and social justice than others, but this seems to be changing. Do you think more American Christians are waking up to how an unexamined, hyper-consuming lifestyle has far reaching negative consequences on people and the environment?
Julie: I think it is hard for anyone in our technological globalized age to ignore those negative consequences. We are all neighbors in a world where satellites and the internet give us real time images of pain and suffering. It is getting harder and harder to hide environmental destruction, or sweatshops, or human trafficking, or genocide, and as the truth about those issues emerges so does our connection with them. These are no longer things happening to strangers half a world away. We can’t ignore that our cheap t-shirt was made by a 12 year old girl whose owner repeatedly abused and raped her when her story is on the nightly news. Technology has made the world smaller and is forcing us to choose whether or not we will take responsibility for our choices and show love to our neighbor. And as more people gain awareness, these issues are going to be addressed even in areas of the church where they were previously ignored.
ST: I’ve read that faith-based non profits such as Ten Thousand Villages and others have helped pioneer the FAIR TRADE movement. As followers of JESUS do you think we are called to champion economic models that promote equity on a global scale or should we stick to only humanitarian aid (going in as mission organizations to provide basic needs but not empowering the local economy)?
Julie: The scriptures tell us that God will judge harshly those who cheat workers of their wages. The way our current economic system has developed, it regularly cheats workers of their wages. Children in sweatshops often work 20 hour shifts for no pay. Coffee farmers regularly are forced to sell their crops below the cost of production. We the consumers then benefit from getting a low cost product. What we often fail to see is that we are cheating those workers of their wages by not paying them for the work they are doing. If we as Christians seek to show love to these people, I believe we should stop cheating them and start demanding that they receive fair compensation for their labor. There are of course many places in this world where humanitarian aid is needed to help people survive and that aid shouldn’t be abandoned, but I strongly support the Fair Trade movement that seeks to make sure hard working people are not cheated of their wages as well.
ST: Our American lifestyle is fueled largely by international manufacturing and production. Does the ‘Buy Local’ trend play a part in redeeming our buying habits?
Julie: Yes and no. When you buy local, you help reduce pollution from having to transport products vast distances and often when you buy local you get to form a relationship with the people you are buying from. Having that relationship allows you to care for them, and be responsible for making sure they as producers are treated with respect and love. Buying from some corporate big-box retailer makes it difficult to know the people who are making our clothing or growing our food. But at the same time, there are people laboring all over the world who desperately need their jobs. I have a hard time saying we should put them out of a job as we only purchase things grown or produced within a hundred mile radius of where we live. So while I like the idea of “Buy Local,” I think a better term would be “Buy Wisely.” It may at times be the best choice to buy locally, but we should also think carefully about everything we buy – considering whether we are over-consuming, wasting resources (of all types), and whether we are treating all workers with respect wherever in the world they may live.
ST: Is ‘everyday justice’ doable? Or are there just too many factors to consider in enacting personal change? What are some excuses you’ve heard to pursuing justice on a personal scale?
Julie: It all depends on what we mean by doable. Will one person make the world perfect all of a sudden just by changing her daily habits? Of course not. But she will be part of a movement that starts us in the right direction. And her choices can make a real difference in the lives of individual people around the world. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues out there or by thinking we have to change the world singlehandedly, but in truth it is just about each of us simply doing what we can – and that is doable. As far as excuses go, I’ve heard all sorts. On one hand, there are those who claim that protecting the bottom line of a corporation is more important than loving people. So they say that we shouldn’t work to improve wages or workplaces if that might mean less profit for corporations. Others though have bought into the clever lie that to shop ethically, eat sustainably, or be a conscious consumer is only for the rich and the elite. I fully admit that often food or clothing that is fairly made will cost more. As consumers we will have to assume the full cost of the stuff we buy instead of making the producers pay so we can have lower prices. In my mind, making the choice to be responsible and respectful isn’t elitist, but simply part of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. It may mean we will have to make sacrifices and consume less so that we can afford fairly produced goods, but even that (with a little effort) is doable for most people. I understand the excuses, and that seeking justice is daunting or even scary at times, but with a little creativity and a heart set on loving others, it is within anyone’s reach.
ST: When does your book come out? Where do you recommend we purchase your book?
Julie: Everyday Justice comes out at the end of October. You can find the book at your favorite online bookstore, or visit a local bookstore in your area (they can always order a copy if it is not in stock). Or (and I probably shouldn’t say this, but oh well) if you’d like to share resources, request that your local library carry the book. And please feel free to share what you thought of the book by posting a review at amazon.com.
ST: What other resources can you recommend in pursuing a life of ‘everyday justice’?
I would first suggest taking time to understand the connection between faith and justice. Spend time reading what the Bible has to say about justice, and then observe how others have integrated justice into their Christian life. I find writers like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, and Will Samson helpful in exploring the ways faith intersects with justice. I also recommend seeking out ways to be informed about justice issues in the world today. Alternative news sources like Democracy Now!, NPR, and even the BBC regularly report on justice issues. Magazines like Sojourners or Ode Magazine are also good resources for discovering ways others are working to seek justice. For those who are interested in finding out more about the issues discussed in Everyday Justice and hearing the stories of everyday people seeking justice, I invite you to head over to EverydayJustice.net and join the conversation there.
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