Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Justice and the Privilege of Grace

Jeremy Chen


by Jeremy Chen

Manna Christian Fellowship hosts an annual public lecture series dedicated to affirming Princeton University’s mission of building a vibrant community of scholarship and learning for the common good of society and to promoting critical reflection through the lens of a worldview centered on the biblical gospel. The 2011-12 lecture series explores the theme Perspectives on Justice from a Gospel Worldview, featuring three speakers associated with the Center for Public Justice.  Dr. Gideon Strauss, a senior fellow with the Center for Public Justice, delivered the first lecture, “Weeping and Working for Justice: The intersection of robust spirituality and responsible citizenship for American Christians,” on September 27, 2011.

In a recent incident at a local bar in Princeton, NJ, an undergraduate student from the university taunted protestors passing through the town as a part of the “Occupy the Highway” march from New York to D.C., yelling out at them, “We are the 1 percent!” His friends chimed in, mockingly telling the marchers to “get a job.”

Few Princeton students would disagree that their admissions letters guaranteed them a place among the privileged elite. Some students have already made up their minds to embrace their position of privilege as a feature to flaunt. “Princeton students are benefiting from this system, so why would they protest?” commented one Princeton student who attended the march. Others recognize a certain level of responsibility that comes with the great blessings they have received, yet struggle with feelings of powerlessness as they face the demands of their busy schedules. As Christians, we know that attending to such cries of injustice is a part of our call to citizenship, but how can we work for justice with grace and civility? And for Princeton students, what does responsible citizenship look like?

The 2011-12 Manna Public Lectures are presenting Princeton students with conceptual categories for examining the Christian calling to seek justice with a worldview shaped by the Biblical narrative and with practical advice for encountering the inevitable hardship with grace and hope.

In the first lecture of the series, Gideon Strauss situated his discussion of justice in light of the Christian interpretation of the world.  This sweeping grand-narrative, outlined by the storyline of Creation (evoking a response of wonder), Fall (heartbreak), and Redemption (hope), and centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ in his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, provided a basis for a vocabulary which Strauss used to describe the Christian’s way of living and working towards justice in this world.

Strauss provided a refreshingly succinct definition of justice as grace-filled neighbor love expressed in the context of political life– “in our common life, the word for love is justice.” For Princetonians, Strauss’s words recalled the words of our well-known professor Cornel West, who said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Strauss presented a vision of justice as the condition of all “individual human persons being given the room to be who they were created to be” as what Christians are called to work towards “as one element of our worship of God.”

Given such a grand vision of justice, Strauss acknowledged the difficulty of working towards public justice amidst heartbreaking encounters with the reality of injustice – “as we work for justice, we will find ourselves inevitably weeping.” In facing such injustice, Strauss turned to the Christian narrative and maintained the necessity of cultivating a robust spirituality that incorporates wonder, heartbreak, and hope and that reflects the breadth and depth of the Psalms (c.f. Ps 137). Against the obstacle of cynicism, he pointed to the Christian hope that justice will be done, a hope that bears Christians up in the midst of their “slow, hard, subtle work” towards restoring the possibilities of a good creation.

Instead of simply a sense of guilt or duty, Strauss located the enduring motivation for Christians to weep and work for justice in their positions of privilege as recipients of God’s grace. For those of us who have acknowledged a heightened sense of our privilege in light of the OWS phenomenon, Strauss’s lecture was both humbling and ennobling--reminding us that our greatest privilege is found in our experience of God’s grace and moving us to embrace the calling of practicing graceful citizenship. On a campus that most Princetonians will admit “isn’t the most politically active,” Strauss’s message about the necessity and privilege of working for justice and his emphasis on the spiritual resources within the Christian narrative that counter indifference and cynicism were fitting and much needed.

--Jeremy Chen is a graduate of Princeton University and an intern with Manna Christian Fellowship.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”