The Innovate Series showcases true innovators. At The Borough, we thrive on innovation. This is us showing you some of the interesting things other brothers and sisters are doing in the name of Christ. They are finding new application for Scriptural principles. The pioneering is extremely exciting!
And if you can, let us know what you all are doing in your community.
At the end of last summer I met Ben MacConnell, a local community organizer with Justice Matters, that had just partnered with my church. This organization is working towards solving the issues of housing, mental health, and childhood trauma in Lawrence, Kansas.
Justice Matters is part of a growing network of ministries established throughout the country by The Direct Action and Resource Training Center (DART). Since 1982 DART has established 20 congregation based justice ministries.
Biblical Mandate to Do Justice
DART ministries operate on scriptural mandates to do justice, namely Micah 6:8 and Matthew 23:23. Micah says, “But what does the Lord require of you to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?”
There is a distinction between mercy, justice, and faithfulness. Faithfulness ministry is what happens in congregations all over the world 52 times a year. Faithfulness ministry is anything that fosters a closer relationship with God through worship, bible studies, small groups, prayer meetings and the like. Mercy is seeking to alleviate an immediate need. This is what soup kitchens, clothing drives and homeless shelters do. Justice on the other hand, is holding community decision makers and authority figures accountable to the equitable treatment of all people.
The story of Nehemiah illustrates what DART ministries strive to do. Nehemiah was cup bearer to the king of Persia and was a man of great influence and power.
Nehemiah chapter five tells the story of his fellow Jewish brothers and sisters crying out for help amid injustice. There had been a drought and in order to buy food and pay taxes they had to take out loans. When the drought continued for another year they were unable to pay back what was borrowed from the previous year so the moneylender seized their crops and land, and forced parents to sell their children into slavery.#Justice is holding authority figures accountable to the equitable treatment of all people. Click To Tweet
Nehemiah heard what was happening and left Persia to see what he could do. After some thought, Nehemiah organized a great assembly and brought the moneylenders before the people. In front of all of the citizens he asked the moneylenders to return what they had taken and after being pressed, they agreed to do just that.
DART ministries adopt a similar approach to doing justice in communities across the United States. Generally speaking, congregations do a great job of faithfulness and mercy ministry, but when it comes to justice there is not much being done. This is because individual congregations do not have the power necessary to hold powerful individuals accountable.
Building Power Through Networks
The DART organization sees power as coming from two distinct sources – organized money and organized people. Most of the world runs on the power of organized money and in order to hold that kind of power accountable, congregations need to be able to build the power of organized people.
This is where the individual congregation based ministries like Justice Matters comes in. Justice Matters is led by a lead organizer like Ben, who begins building relationships with local churches.
As churches partner with Justice Matters, Ben meets with individual members of a given congregation and forms a core group of Justice Matters team members. Each team member is in charge of building their own group of 10 – 12 network members.
As more churches partner with the ministry, the network grows, and then every fall, each team member leads a house meeting with their respective team members.
Listen, Define Problems, Research Solutions, Take Action
These house meetings are a crucial part of the annual “listening process”. It is at these house meetings that stories are shared of injustices in the local community.
After countless house meetings across the city, the stories are gathered and the most widespread injustices are revealed. Then, after selecting the top two or three issues to be tackled, Team Members and Network Members are given the opportunity to be a part of research committees. During the research process information is gathered in order to better understand the issue.
The goal of this process is not to find answers, but to actually gain a clear picture of what is actually happening in the city.
After researching the problem, it’s time to find a solution. Committees work to find justice oriented solutions that speak to the root cause of the issue rather than simply treating the symptoms of a broken system.
When all the research has been done and solution proposals have been written up, a massive assembly is organized. The goal is to have every congregation in the network turn out their average weekly worship attendance to this assembly.
It is at these Nehemiah Action Assemblies that key city officials are invited to address the issues at hand. Then in front of this large group of people, the officials are asked to commit to the proposed solutions.
It is an incredible thing to see an effectively organized group of people who have thoroughly researched issues of injustice come together and hold city leaders accountable for the decisions being made. After the assembly, there is a Jubilee Celebration where justice is celebrated and vision is cast for the next cycle of listening, research, and action. DART ministries have made incredible impacts in cities across the nation.#DART ministries helps put names and faces on #injustices. #faith #love #Christ Click To Tweet
In Florida, students in middle schools and high schools were being arrested for minor disturbances which, in turn, affected their ability to finish their education and get jobs later in life. A DART ministry successfully proposed a program that incentivized good behavior instead of simply punishing bad behavior. As a result, arrests plummeted and graduation rates soared.
DART has been able to effectively promote job training and opportunities for ex-felons, provide affordable housing options for low-income families, improve public transportation, as well as implement many other initiatives. DART ministries give people of faith the opportunity to fulfill the requirement of doing justice and help put names and faces on these injustices.
As I have worked alongside Ben for the past year it has been incredible to see not only injustices conquered, but congregations with vast theological and traditional differences join hand in hand for the greater good, to see justice roll like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.