God’s intention for us is that we live in love and justice with our sisters and brothers all over the world, and in harmony and stewardship with creation, worshipping our God and celebrating our redemption through Jesus Christ. Yet when we try to live out that intention, we run into roadblocks arising from human disobedience, as well as from the political, economic and social structures which we’ve built. These structures are also a part of the brokenness of this world, and we must work to change them as part of our response to God’s law of love and justice.
Citizens for Public Justice is a national Christian political organization dedicated to resolving the structural problems which contribute to injustice and which hinder us from being the kind of people whom God wants us to be. Our Guidelines for Christian Political Service and Charter of Social Rights and Responsibilities reflect our understanding of how we should try to live responsibly.
These documents have been gradually shaped and refined by the staff, board and members of CPJ over the years as we have struggled together to understand the implications of God’s intention for us. The Guidelines and the Charter cannot just be plugged into any given situation to provide a straightforward ruling on what is a “correct” Christian response. In this complex world, no such simple system could exist. The Guidelines and the Charter are not the last word on a Christian vision for political justice. However, they can help us make better decisions.
The Guidelines for Christian Political Service and Charter of Social Rights and Responsibilities belong to all of us. We hope that we can grow together in our ability to see how they apply to our lives and especially to how we are called to act politically.
Guidelines for Christian Political Service
A. The Context of Politics
God created the world and made it good. This world was meant to glorify God and to provide life and health and peace to people and to all creatures. However, human sin has caused separation from God and, hence, separation from one another and from the rest of the creation. As a result the poor and the weak are downtrodden. The resources of the creation are misused. Countries aggrandize themselves and trust their security to military power. Governments seek to arrogate all power to themselves and try to impose their beliefs upon their citizens. Societies and institutions are affected by our disobedience and in turn become sources of injustice.
Through Jesus Christ there is reconciliation between God and humankind and the possibility of reconciliation among people and with the creation. Through Christ’s Spirit all of life can and will be restored and is an area of Christian service. This includes politics.
We live in a time in which humankind continues to turn away from God’s forgiving mercy and renewal in Jesus Christ and turn to idols and secular ideologies. Therefore we do not expect finality or perfection in anything in this world. However, Christ’s reconciling work has begun and will continue. Even if there is still much injustice and oppression in the world, political life can be a means of service, blessing and shalom.
Christ establishes his Kingdom on earth. Its citizens are a new people called by God to proclaim the gospel and to live accordingly. This Kingdom has many manifestations. One of these is the instituted church, people gathered for worship. There are many other manifestations. Among them is also the realm of politics in which God’s people must serve God by doing justice according to God’s Word.
B. Citizens for Public Justice
The instituted church must proclaim the demands of God’s Word for political life, but it is not its task to become a political organization. Nor should Christians act only in an individual way, because we are united in Christ. Rather, Christians acting together, should, through mutual learning, criticism and support seek God’s will for political life and hence contribute to making politics what God has called it to be.
The organization called “Citizens for Public Justice” is one way of acting together. It is a Christian association seeking to hear and obey what God requires politically. It is committed to honouring God and serving our neighbours in responsible cooperation with others through struggling to establish just relations. As we grow in political experience we will be testing and refining these Guidelines to reflect our understanding of God’s call to us.
A. Public Justice
The government in a state has a variety of responsibilities to fulfil. Its laws must be clear and consistent. Its use of resources must be stewardly. Its commitments must be faithfully fulfilled. All responsibilities of the government find their meaning in the overriding responsibility, which is maintaining and promoting public justice.
Public means that the jurisdiction of the government with respect to justice covers all things, persons, communities and organizations within the country, and that each of these has access to the legal protection and resources of the state.
Justice requires that all God’s creatures, and also communities and organizations, should have fair and equitable relations with one another. Each and all within the country must have the freedom and access to resources which are rightfully theirs relative to others.
Public justice characterizes the government’s task. It requires government to use power in an equitable way. Governments must be aware of the different needs of diverse people, communities and organizations and balance and promote their public claims so that each may have the freedom to fulfil their God-given calling and responsibility without oppression either from the authorities or from one another.
The Range of the State’s Responsibility
As government jurisdiction is limited to the mutual relations of things in society, it must recognize the independent calling and responsibility and authority of other bodies. Governments must ensure just relations among people, associations and institutions, but they must not understand themselves to be the centres or leaders of society, but rather as servants with the office of justly interrelating the tasks, goals and interests of others.
Implementing such public justice requires that we must be aware of the nature of the different entities in society, so that governments may act justly in relation to them and establish just relations among them.
We understand the nature and calling of some important entities in society to be as follows:
In the present world, people are often valued only on the basis of their usefulness to others. But all persons, male and female, of whatever religion, conviction or race, at all stages of life, are created in the image of God. Without discrimination they must have both legal freedom and the necessary goods and opportunities to live creatively and responsibly in relation to God, to themselves, to others and to the whole creation.
Religion is not limited to one area of human life. All of life is religion, whether it concerns education, economics, labour relations, politics or any other activity. Human activities always have a religious character, an underlying world view and commitment. Therefore, freedom of religion means that, subject to the restraints of public justice, people, communities and organizations should have the right to live out and express their different beliefs in society, whether those beliefs are described as religious, secular, political or conscientious.
Marriages and Families
Marriages and families are often treated as economic units, or are made subservient to political goals, or are neglected because of an exclusive focus on individuals. But they are institutions provided by God for mutual fidelity, love, intimacy, procreation and nurture. The law ought to respect and promote and guard their safety and well-being.
The primary responsibility for the education of children before they come of age lies with their parents and not with the state or the church. Governments must protect and assure the right of children to an adequate education, the right of parents to choose the type of education their children require, and give parents the opportunity to form schools to provide such education.
Governments must not only protect the rights of individuals, but also those of communities, whether they are faith related, geographical, occupational, cultural or lingual. Governments must protect and promote the ability of such communities to exercise their own responsibility and prevent oppression by others.
People must have the freedom to form associations to achieve their goals and exercise their responsibility in cultural life, in economic affairs, in political life, in education, in science and research. Governments must not monopolize such activities, nor allow others to monopolize them, but encourage and protect an equitable diversity of responses and approaches to life in society.
b. Economic Enterprises
Although economic enterprises may seek reasonable profits and responsible returns to shareholders, they may never forget that their task is not to maximize such profits and returns. Enterprises are called by God to provide needed goods and services in a stewardly way, by means of creative, responsible and rewarding work, respecting the social and natural environment. Governments should by means of legislation, taxation, regulation and advice guide and encourage economic enterprises to behave this way and protect their freedom and ability to do so.
Unions should not only be concerned with their own members and the interests of their own groups, but also with the economic well-being of the community of which they are a part. They are called to promote the development of stewardly enterprise. Freedom of association in unions must be protected, along with the freedom not to associate.
The Natural Environment
The natural environment should not be treated, as it often is now, as a collection of raw materials which are just objects for human domination or indiscriminate use. We so not possess the world, but are appointed by God to be its steward. Animals, plants and geographic areas have their own integrity. Governments must ensure that nature is protected from undue exploitation or pollution, so that this integrity is respected when development is needed.
III. THE TASK OF GOVERNMENT
Citizenship is a right and responsibility which requires us to promote justice and correct injustice. All people are under the God-given commandment to do justice. The responsibilities of politics are not to be left to an elite but are to be exercised by the population at large in their role as citizens. Citizens must support the government in the proper execution of its task, and call government back to that task when it goes astray.
God is the only and ultimate sovereign Ruler but gives collective political responsibility to citizens to choose a representative government, whereby the most important office holders and policies are accountable to the citizenry at large. This responsibility should be reflected in a democratic form of government.
There are a variety of possible representative systems, but the one that is chosen should ensure that real differences of views among the citizens are represented when public policy is made. Special care must be taken so that the rights of minorities are recognized and regarded.
C. Office of government
The state is a community of citizens within a specific geographic area. Within the state there are a variety of offices, of positions of authority, which have particular responsibility. The most important of these offices constitute the government. The responsibility and authority of a government is given by God. As God’s servant a government must promote and preserve public justice. It should have sufficient power to discharge its obligations.
D. Rights of government
Governments may acquire the resources needed to carry out their tasks via compulsory taxation. Such taxation, being itself subject to the mandate of public justice, must to proportionate to the relative ability of people, associations and institutions to bear those taxes.
In a sinful world, governments may use coercion to compel adherence to just laws and punish those who violate such laws. Such coercion, too, is subject to the mandate of public justice.
IV. PARTICULAR ASPECTS OF PUBLIC JUSTICE
In the light of our work so far we identify the following issues as areas of particular concern.
A. Public justice and the poor
Public justice requires that governments must pay special attention to the poor. The poor include the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the weak, the prisoner, the sick, the aged, the distressed and all who have low incomes. The poor are those persons, communities, associations and countries which, in relation to others are deprived of their freedom or of the resources needed for a responsible life in relation to God and to others. Governments should ensure that societal institutions allow needy people to be free of poverty so that they may be capable of responsible living. They are to encourage businesses, unions and other organizations to act in such a way that these people have access to necessary goods and services
When people are bound in economic poverty, governments must see to it that they have opportunities of meaningful work (or of alternative resources) to be able to support themselves and fulfil their life’s responsibilities.
B. Public justice and economic life
As economic affairs have assumed such importance in our societies, governments must be careful to prevent economic entities from using economic or technological power to determine priorities and exercise control in other areas of life – such as policies, sciences, communications, cultural life and family life. The governments’ own attitude toward economic life should not be as it is at present, one of promoting the increase of the total amount of saleable commodities produced and services provided. Instead, it should encourage the growth of genuinely needed goods and services, and determine its own economic policies in terms of their effect throughout the whole society, rather than in narrower terms of financial profitability and growth in commodity production The world is not ours, but we are co-responsible to God for its care and use. It should be treated in a stewardly way. Resources should, as much as possible, be conserved and increased for the welfare of our and others’ children and of other creatures.
C. Public justice and relations with other countries
Government determination of legitimate national interest must recognize that relations between itself and other countries and the population of other countries must be just. Governments have the responsibility to secure peaceable, just international political order, to ensure that people have freedom of emigration and travel and to regulate trade so that countries are not exploited but co-operate with one another in an interdependent way. In securing such an order, governments have the responsibility to defend, by force of arms if absolutely necessary, their people and territories from aggression. Such defence is itself subject to public justice and so must respect the rights of all parties involved. No such defence can be considered just if it scorches the earth, destroys all of a major part of the technical, cultural and spiritual treasures of humankind or annihilates the human race or leaves alive only a small and wounded fragment of it. This would rule out the use of modern weapons of mass destruction.
D. Public justice and structural pluralism
Justice, reflecting the Word of God, demands that governments must recognize and deal justly with the diversity of beliefs, convictions, cultures and lifestyles that actually exist in its jurisdiction. Government may not be an agent for enforcing adherence to particular religious beliefs, whether Christian or otherwise. It must protect the ability of different groups especially minorities, to live in conformity with their own convictions. It must allow for the expression of diversity of such convictions in churches and other confessional bodies, in economics, politics, education, cultural and personal life.
Citizens for Public Justice Charter of Social Rights & Responsibilities
Humankind as a community called love
All of humankind is created by God. We are created together as a race,as a community, as a body. All of us are given gifts and needs by God sothat we can serve and be served by each other. We are called to be help-matesfor one another. Hence caring for our neighbours is not a voluntary matter,something we can take or leave. It is an obligation and a joyful opportunitygiven to us as children and image-bearers of God, as stewards of the creationwho are called to share with and build up one another.
Through our sin we have failed and we continue to fail, both personally and corporately, at building up and being responsible for one another. In many ways we do not support those whom the Bible calls, “the widow, the orphan and the stranger”. Often we blame those in poverty, such as mothers on welfare, the unemployed or the aged, for their own situation as if the structures in society, government policies or the opportunities they are given did not shape their lives. At other times we blame government, as if it alone bore all the responsibility and as if it were foreign and external to the choices we make ourselves. Sometimes we blame “society” in nebulous terms, and so imply that no one is really responsible.
All of us, including governments and those in need, are responsible for tackling social problems. In each area of our lives, in each organization and institution of which we are members, we must concretely manifest love for our neighbours. In what follows we try to outline some of our specific responsibilities and attendant rights. We call on all people, but especially Christians, as those who have accepted the call to new life in Jesus Christ, to lead the way in taking up these responsibilities and defending these rights in each area of life.
All of us are responsible to God and our neighbours for the lives we lead. We are called to care for our neighbours, not to pass by any in need and to build up one another in each area of our lives.
We are called to exercise our responsibility in many ways, and in particular forms in the different aspects of our lives–personal, communal, corporate, institutional and so forth. Our families, schools, churches, unions, corporations and governments should work toward a society in which the needy are cared for and enabled to exercise their responsibilities.
Our society tends to emphasize rights but says comparatively little about responsibilities. If this tendency is unchecked we may end up in a situation where people feel that they can, regardless of consequence, do what they like, as long as it is legal, and expect the government to do the impossible task of correcting all the injustices that result. Each of us is given gifts by God with which we can meet the needs of our neighbours, and we should understand our rights as foundations for us to exercise such responsibility.
In order to exercise our responsibilities we require rights. God gives us rights, our own areas of freedom and decision, which must be recognized. These rights entitle us to protection from interference and domination so that we can live freely and happily. They are the foundations for us to exercise our responsibility; they give us room and resources so that we can support one another. We are called to exercise these rights to work for a responsible society and a responsible human community.
Political rights safeguard the ability of citizens to take part in and be responsible for the political direction of the country. Civil rights protect freedoms, such as freedom of speech, religion, association and so forth from interference and control by the state or by other bodies in society. Social rights ensure access to such essentials as adequate food, housing, employment, income, health care and education.
In this Charter we address our social rights and responsibilities. We believe that such rights and responsibilities should be expressed in law, but what follows is not intended to be a legal document. Rather, it is a framework which tries to lay out both the particular social responsibilities that we and others have throughout society, and the particular freedoms and protections which we should have to enable us to live our lives properly and to fulfil those responsibilities. Then, in terms of this overall social framework, we outline the task of government.
B. PARTICULAR RIGHTS & REPONSIBILITIES
We have the responsibility to provide for our needs when we can, to live in a way that enhances our neighbours, strengthens our communities and provides for those in need, including those abroad. Our own needs must be seen in the context of stewardship of resources, and national and international responsibility.
We have the rights to the political, religious and cultural freedom to live out our beliefs and commitments, to be treated equally before the law, to economic resources sufficient to live responsibly, and to participate in the life of particular communities.
Some of us do not take up the opportunities that exist to provide for ourselves, and many of us do not respect the needs and rights of others. Often we put individual rights before individual and communal responsibility. Some of us, through unemployment, handicap, age or marriage breakdown, are unable to provide for ourselves.
We call on all people, especially Christians, to consider how they, through their lifestyles and career choices, ignore or contribute to the problems of others. We must re-orient our lives and use our time and resources so that we may actively benefit the whole human community.
Family members are mutually responsible for one another’s social and economic needs. Families are also called to care for and share with their neighbours. Parents should encourage this in their children.
Families have the right to the economic resources necessary to fulfil these responsibilities, to the freedom to raise their children according to their beliefs, and to a legal and social environment which protects and enhances the family’s ability to be a place of nurture and direction.
Some families do not exercise their responsibilities because of selfishness or lack of commitment or cannot do so because of unemployment or other disabling conditions. Economic poverty has also resulted in many broken or weak homes. This can lead to the abuse of children and to delinquency, which may repeat itself in the children’s families. In cases of broken families, economic poverty often results because of the failure of men to meet their financial or other commitments.
As marriage partners we must heed our vows to love and care for one another. As parents we must take our responsibility for the nurture of our children. As children we must remember our responsibility to our parents, particularly elderly parents. As families we must reach out to and support one another.
By proclaiming and live the Gospel, churches must call us to care for one another and our neighbours, and to work for social justice. Churches must concretely serve their members and neighbours and speak prophetically against injustice. Churches should stimulate us to help provide for the needs of others, and not heap burdens on them.
Churches and other communities of faith have a right to the freedom necessary to carry out their tasks, and the right to not have their services discriminated against or supplanted by governments or other agencies.
Churches often fail to express the Gospel through active service to our neighbours. As a result, churches and we the members, often ignore or condone injustices and, in so doing, marginalize the poor.
Churches must proclaim and practice the Gospel in ways that speak to every area of human life. It must manifest the transforming love of Christ in all these areas. We call on churches to develop love and justice ministries which are sources of comfort and help to our neighbours.
People have the responsibility to form associations through which they can contribute to a responsible society. These associations must be accountable to their members, be politically tolerant of other associations, and not seek to monopolize any religious, cultural, professional, educational, social or political activities.
Within the limits of public justice for all, associations should be protected by the right of free association according to their members’ beliefs. Associations formed to provide social services according to their beliefs should have access to government funding on a basis at least equal to that of the government’s own services.
Presently many associations are devoted only to meeting the self-interest of their own members, with little regard for the effect this has on others. Other associations, which do try to help others are hampered or denied the right to do so.
We call on people to form associations, especially neighbourhood associations, to meet the needs of those about them. We call on all associations to exercise their tasks in the context of contributing to their neighbours’ well-being and building a responsible society. We call for equitable funding of different types of associations as they provide their services.
Schools have a responsibility to educate students to be aware of their responsibilities in the world, and to exercise these responsibilities, particularly in relation to the poor. Access to good schooling should not be determined by wealth, race, creed or social status.
Within the framework of public justice for all, parents and guardians should be free to have their children educated in a school that reflects their commitment. Schools should be free from ideological, political or commercial pressure or discrimination.
Presently most schools veer between an ethic of training for society, which emphasizes career enhancement, or of training for self-realization, which emphasizes personal fulfilment. Schools which depart from these models are often discriminated against and denied adequate protection and public funding.
We call on all schools to realize that they and those they educate are called to meet the needs of others, and to so teach that they are equipped and willing to be true servants.
Media should be a means of developing a critical, informed awareness of the lives of others, particularly those in need. They have a particular responsibility to inform us of how our lives affect others. Access to the media should be not dictated by financial means or majority views, but should reflect the actual diversity in society.
To ensure diversity, media organizations should be protected from monopoly and oligopoly and from government control.
The media primarily present programs and give viewpoints that reflect hedonistic and materialistic values. This tends to exclude wholesome entertainment and minority views and to focus on immediate “events” rather than ongoing concerns. This in turn results in adequate attention to the needs of the poor and minorities.
We call on the media to present critical analyses of the situation of others, particularly the poor and minorities, to reflect the interdependence of our lives, and to present a wide range of viewpoints.
As associations of people concerned with economic life, unions have the responsibility to ensure that their members and others have access to work that reflects their human character, gives them responsibility, provides adequate remuneration for individual and family life and has the continuity and stability necessary for healthy life. Unions should have special concern for all working poor, and seek to ensure that their work and income are suitable to a decent life.
Unions must be protected by the right of free association, by the right to bargain collectively and by their members’ right to strike.
Unions have played the major part in improving the work environment, wages and working conditions, but their concern often does not extend beyond their members, or include the wider ramifications of economic activities, environmental effects and the nature of the products produced. They often focus narrowly on income levels without regard to the need to restructure the business enterprise and work itself.
We call on unions to accept and insist on their co-responsibility for the direction of the economy and the enterprise, including responsibility for work, production and the environment. We call on them to consider the needs and defend the rights of those who are not their members, especially the working poor and the unemployed.
Economic enterprises should be work communities in which people responsibly pool their talents, work and resources to provide needed goods and services. The work environment should help promote social harmony in the work place and in the lives of those who work there or live nearby. No one should be treated as a factor of production. Wages should be enough to provide a basis for a responsible individual, family and community life.
Within the limits of working towards a responsible society, enterprises have the right to decide what and where to produce, how to produce it, and how to market it, and to make profits. They should be protected from unfair competition and state domination.
Presently businesses often care only for the interests of their shareholders, and they are supported by the law in doing so. They seek to maximize profits, and only take up other responsibilities if it is profitable. Large corporations often play such a dominant role in our society that they set the pattern for, and encroach on, other areas of life.
We call for businesses which are responsible to those who work in them, live near them, and buy from them, as well as to those who own shares in them. We call for businesses in which profits are used to continue and improve the service the enterprise provides. We call for internal restructuring so that resource and environmental stewardship, care for neighbours and consumers, adequate wages and a healthy and rewarding work environment become an integral company goal.
Governments should focus on public justice for all. That means recognizing, protecting and enhancing the rights of persons, peoples, families, institutions, associations and communities within their jurisdiction, and ensuring the just exercise of these various rights. Governments should not see themselves as the provider of economic, social and cultural resources, but through the just protection of rights, should enhance people’s ability to meet their own and their neighbours’ needs.
When people cannot meet their needs, or when others refuse to help meet their needs, governments should help do so. This should not supplant associations and communities within society, but wherever possible, should allow and enable non-government structures to provide for people’s needs. In carrying out these responsibilities, governments have the right to acquire the resources they need via taxation and the right to compel adherence to just laws.
Government protection and enhancement of rights has focussed on establishing economic infrastructure to increase material growth. Those of us who suffer due to this focus have been left to private or government “charity”. There has been little attempt to build up “social infrastructure” – patterns of life and community in which people, especially the disadvantaged, can find a responsible, mutually supportive place. Welfare support is inadequate.
We call on governments to realize that a responsible society is one in which people can and do care for one another in all ways. Governments should seek to enhance this ability by protecting and building up social infrastructure, recognizing it in the tax structure, providing incentives for responsible business, protecting healthy family and community life. Income supports should enable people to live responsibly.