TEXAS FAITH: Should faithful focus on charity or justice?

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Sep 21, 2010 | Dallas Morning News

Sam Hodges/Reporter

“Had I but one wish for the churches of America I think it would be that they come to see the difference between charity and justice. Charity is a matter of personal attributes; justice, a matter of public policy. Charity seeks to eliminate the effects of injustice; justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it. Charity in no way affects the status quo, while justice leads inevitably to political confrontation.” – The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., from his book Credo.

The quotation above inspired me to pose the question(s) below to Texas Faith panelists:

In these hard times, religious groups in America are joining other nonprofits in answering the much greater need for charitable assistance. But was Coffin right that people of faith tend to favor charity work over justice work, because the latter leads to conflict? Should churches, synagogues and mosques rely less on their parent religious organizations for policy pronouncements and demand that local clergy preach on, say, whether Dallas should raise property taxes to keep parks and libraries open, or whether Texas should have gone after the potential millions for public education through federal Race to the Top funds?

Charity or justice. Which should be foremost in the minds of religious folk as they live out their faith?

And here’s what I heard back:

MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas:

Charity or justice reminds me of the chicken or egg example.
Charity comes alive in response to social and economic injustices that happen in a given society. If the societies operate on the principles of justice in every aspect of life, then charity may remain a dormant element. However, there is something beyond all this that operates within all of us.

I have learned about the “grace” aspect of Christianity from the Rev. George Mason of Dallas’Wilshire Baptist Church. He explained that our actions alone will not bring peace of mind (or a place in heaven). There is an inexplicable element of grace from God that operates beyond visibility. I have gradually absorbed that thought and have also learned to relate it with Prophet Muhammad’s advice to his associates not to be judgmental about others. He said only God knows and sees the goodness of a person in its entirety, beyond what is apparent to the society. The invisible grace also overwhelms the laws of Karma.

As an American, charity remains foremost in my mind, as justice is the bottom line of our society and ultimately triumphs. However, in other nations justice may be foremost – for the absence of it.
Other opinions at – http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2010/09/texas-faith-should-faithful-fo.html

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About Mike Ghouse

Dr. Mike Ghouse is a public speaker and the Executive Director of the Center for Pluralism in Washington, DC. He is committed to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. More about him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikeghouse/