This series is a six part journey exploring the themes of the book Embracing Justice – The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2022. Specifically looking at the question, ‘What might a spirituality shaped by biblical portrayals of justice look like for the church of the 21st century?’
In this session Isabelle Hamley interviews Bishop Anthony Poggo about the subject of justice.
Bishop Anthony Poggo is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser on Anglican Communion Affairs. Previously he spent nine years as diocesan Bishop of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan, serving as both teacher and pastor. He worked for nine years with Scripture Union in Sudan and Uganda, and obtained his Masters in Theology in 1994, before becoming Executive Director of Christian NGO ‘Across’.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The importance of seeking justice is to find mercy, peace and reconciliation. Knowing the truth is important but getting vengeance is not.
Jesus, without sin, was crucified for us – is that fair? Jesus shows us such justice in His ministry; He did not send anyone away but embraced everyone, whether they ‘deserved it’ or not.
In Luke 4:18 at the start of Jesus’ ministry He is very clear about His purpose on earth, for meeting physical and spiritual needs of the community. This gives us a guide as to how we should live our lives, as followers of Him. The bible teaches us that we shouldn’t just proclaim the good news and then leave someone hungry or in pain. Action is just as important as words.
In South Sudan, as in other parts of the world, tribalism creates barriers to unity. We are invited to recognise that regardless of our tribe, gender, age etc, we are born equal in the eyes of God and in the image of God. To remove a barrier we are sometimes required to make the first step of reconciliation, regardless of the ‘fairness’ of the situation, to move the process forwards. Carrying our own cross is not always an easy task but Jesus keeps and guides us. The Scriptures ask us to rely on Him in everything we do.
Some aspects of South Sudanese culture exacerbate conflict.
One of these is vengeance. Many of our cultures in South
Sudan encourage or even promote revenge. In some tribes, you
are meant to pay back or kill someone from the family, clan
or community of someone who killed your kith and kin. In
the Kuku language, we have sayings that promote paying back
or vengeance for your relatives regardless of whether they are
right or wrong. I have seen this whenever someone is accused
of wrongdoing or corruption: their community will support
them. The thinking is that even if they were a bad person, they
still belong to the community. Such cultural practices are a
hindrance to justice.
The Bible tells us that ‘“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”
says the Lord.’ (Romans 12.19). The reality about vengeance is
that it promotes a cycle of violence which it cannot end. The
Church has an important role in teaching and encouraging
reconciliation and addressing cultural practices that encourage
Peace means different things to different people. I was once
asked how I would define peace in South Sudan. My immediate
response was that peace to me is when I can sit under my
mango tree in Kajo-Keji without any fear of attacks from the
national army or any other group who took up arms. It is
when I can collect food from my own garden as I have had no
interruption to the season of cultivation and no cattle or goats
are roaming around being herded by herders with AK-47 guns,
perhaps with the owner of these cattle sitting somewhere in
Juba or other parts of South Sudan.
At the time of writing, what I have described above is still
a long way off. Peace and justice are still a long way off. Many
people do not have the confidence to settle back in their
villages as some of the issues that led them to flee from their
homes of origin have not been settled.
Take some time to give thanks to God for all that He has given to you personally and corporately.
Pray for peace in South Sundan and that the people who have been displaced can return home safely.
Pray for people in leadership positions that they might speak a prophetic message so they are true to their calling.