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 Dr Selina Stone, Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology, about the subject of justice.
Dr Selina Stone is a Tutor and Lecturer in Theology at St Mellitus College in London and completed her PhD thesis ‘Holy Spirit, Holy Bodies?: Pentecostalism, Pneumatology and the Politics of Embodiment’ at the University of Birmingham in 2021. Dr Stone’s research and teaching focus on the themes of politics, power and social justice, which she began exploring as a practitioner while working as a community organiser and programme director at the Centre for Theology and Community from 2013-2017.
Exodus 2: 23-25
After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned
under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry
for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God
remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
Exodus 3: 7-8
Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people
who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their
taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come
down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them
up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing
with milk and honey.
In the book of Exodus, God hears the cries of His people living in oppression and intervenes by sending Moses. This is a great encouragement for justice today and it gives us an example of God’s providence. God hears the cries of injustice today, just as He did back then, and can act! There are many parallels between the story of the exodus and Jesus, but sometimes these are the different side of the same coin. Moses was sent to liberate the Israelites, Jesus was sent to liberate humanity. Moses was born a slave but elevated to the palace. Jesus, the King of Kings, empties himself of His status and is born a human.
People create and uphold structure – we can, therefore, challenge the status quo and expose injustice. Just because something has always been done one way does not mean it cannot change or be influenced. The point is to start somewhere, perhaps by looking inwards, and asking the question, how can I change to bring about a wider change?
We are taught to see each other by our value; how much are we worth in terms of what money can we earn – in our society today, this defines us. By seeing each other in this way we can undermine different values and gifts people can bring. It means that people who can’t contribute in this way can feel useless and marginalised, for example, the elderly, the young and the disabled. Have we forgotten to value someone simply because they are?
From then on, things break down, and the pattern initiated in Genesis 3 picks up speed as conflict, injustice and violence spread, and human beings struggle to walk with God and to live well in a broken world. The shape of brokenness evolves and varies in the many stories of Genesis. Finally, at end of the book, the people of Israel (the Hebrews) have settled in Egypt, displaced by famine, and rely on the protection of a high-placed relative, Joseph, right-hand man to Pharaoh. The story paves the way for Exodus, a book that shapes the rest of Scripture, and has fired religious and political imagination ever since. It is a book written on a broad canvas, a cosmic story of the battle of good against evil, and a classic story of dramatic liberation of an oppressed people. The people of Israel, once their protector had died and years had passed so their privileged status diminished and was forgotten, find themselves as aliens in a strange land, vulnerable and despised, reduced to slavery and dehumanizing conditions. The story of their liberation captures the imagination, as God musters the whole of creation through plagues on Egypt to convince evil Pharaoh to ‘let my people go’, then dramatically parts the Sea, and reveals himself spectacularly at Sinai. No wonder Exodus has inspired graphic representations in Hollywood, excited Sunday school retellings, and formed the backbone of entire theological movements that sought to recapture the centrality of justice and liberation so obvious in Exodus.
Take some time to give thanks to God for all that He has given to you personally and corporately.
Pray for current affairs (Brexit, Post-Pandemic society, division). Pray that God gives us strategy to care well for people at this time. Pray for unity.