Yesterday I promised you a treat: today is the first installment of an interview with Bruce Strom. Strom directs the organization Gospel Justice Initiative and is the author of the book Gospel Justice. I met Bruce after writing Grace Sticks and in particular, a chapter on worship (“Honk if you love Jesus. Text if you want to meet Him.”) That chapter includes a story about my very own granddad who for many years has been an avid advocate of legal justice for the poor in this country (and who now sits on the board of Gospel Justice Initiative). It’s exciting to know that the momentum for justice is growing in this country, with more and more advocates joining the cause.
Here is Bruce, and you can catch the rest of this two-part interview tomorrow:
You direct the “Gospel Justice Initiative,” which provides legal assistance to the poor by mobilizing churches and attorneys in cities across America. One component of this initiative are your “justice centers.” What’s a “justice center” and what are some concrete ways that pastors and attorneys might get involved?
A justice center is a place where legal, spiritual and social needs can be met. Some might call it a legal-aid office, but I purposefully use the Biblical term “justice” because the Hebrew word for justice – tzedek means to right relationships and restore what is broken. A justice center seeks to restore people in the midst of their legal, government, social and spiritual challenges. For pastors this is an opportunity for the church to be known for what it is for, rather than what it is against. What a great way to demonstrate love and compassion to a community by providing legal services. For attorneys this is a great opportunity to integrate their faith and practice in a way that no one else can. Gospel Justice Initiative has all the training and tools needed for pastors, lawyers and others to get involved. We even have a special message for pastors and lawyers from other pastors and lawyers. Just visit www.gji.org.
You’ve also written a book titled Gospel Justice to which the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and professor at Eastern, Ron Sider, gave a resounding thumbs-up; and you describe your book as “a call to action to the Christian, the church and the attorney to get involved in justice for the poor.” Tell me more about why you’re calling Christians, the church and lawyers to work on behalf of the poor. Why is this call to action so critically important?
Justice is part of God’s character. Some in the Christian world like to emphasize knowing God, but I don’t think we can know God without doing justice. Christ calls us to an active faith rooted in who He is and how He acts. If we would be Christ followers then we must follow Christ. We must do as He did and serve as He served. That involves many acts of compassion and justice beyond legal aid, BUT it includes meeting legal and spiritual needs. For too long the church has abandoned the law, except in first amendment areas. Christian lawyers have also largely missed the opportunity to serve wounded neighbors in need. Jesus said to the lawyers and church leaders of his day, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Mt. 23:23. My translation – Be careful. It is good that you are involved in worship and other activities of the church but not at the expense of justice, mercy and faithfulness – beginning with justice. Let’s do justice and transform lives and communities for Jesus.
I was also struck by your admission that you felt compelled to write this book in good part because there hadn’t been a book on legal justice for the poor in a very long time…nearly one hundred years as you put it? Say more about this…and, why the disregard for this issue, do you think?
Great question. My friends at Moody wondered the same. Does the church so disdain the law, the poor, and lawyers that they have intentionally avoided this area or has God searched the land and found no one to stand in the gap? While there may be some of the former, I think it is mostly the latter. Your granddad, John Robb, was a leader in this area but mostly a voice crying in the wilderness. Not since Reginald Heber Smith wrote Justice for the Poor in 1919 has there been a widely circulated work demonstrating the life-changing impact legal aid can have on the poor and vulnerable. And that was from a secular perspective demonstrating how helping the poor and vulnerable makes us all stronger by strengthening families, economies, and society as a whole. How much more when we combine that with the eternal value of sharing the hope of a loving God in the midst of dark circumstances.
Got a question to ask Bruce? Leave it below.
Want to learn more about how you can get involved in the work of Gospel Justice Initiative? Send Bruce a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.