Social Justice, Biblical Shalom, and Gracious Spaces

Too much focus on social justice. Too little focus on the Christian faith. I hear this common refrain, alongside its kindred question: Is SPU committed to a biblical view of diversity and inclusion, or are we pursuing justice as a liberal social agenda?

This question, when paired with a request to be removed from future OIEX mailings, does little to create fertile ground for Christian community. First, there is something about the word “or” that readily pushes us to the poles of division. Second, an unwillingness to remain in communion means that we miss out on the redemptive possibility of bringing healing and understanding into our relationships. On a personal level, the question brings me face to face with some of the tensions around social justice and biblical shalom that have punctuated my faith journey.

Continued from OIEX Connections Volume 3 Issue 2

I accepted the truth of Christ’s salvific work on the cross during my post-graduate studies at Claremont Graduate University. It was there that I completed a doctoral degree in education and graduate certificate in Africana Studies. I am forever grateful for the interdisciplinary training that equipped me to interrogate racism and other systemic forms of violence and exclusion. My studies helped me develop a critical consciousness to think the world apart in necessary ways. Yet, it left me ill-equipped to think it back together in ways that are restorative and lasting. I longed for an education that cultivated hope alongside a critical assessment of social institutions.

Before coming to my faith, I examined issues of justice through a secular paradigm. The past twenty years have shaped my understanding of God’s redemptive plan and deepened my sense of calling to the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion within Christian higher education. Core to that ministry is a desire to bring healing and restoration to areas of brokenness.

Without my social justice training, I don’t know that I would have the same Gospel-centered commitments to this work that I have today. My early training caused me to ask the very questions that brought me into contact with the Christian narrative. What I know is that my secular social justice training is part of my salvation story. What I know is that we each have a story. As the body of Christ, we have an opportunity to listen to and learn from each other’s stories, even the ones we find off-putting and out of sync with our well-formed Christian conscience.

If we believe that God is at work in all things, then the narratives that emerge from our distinct social and cultural locations should not breed derision or a desire to retreat from one another. If we understand the power of unity in Christ, our areas of disagreement should draw us closer together. They should also open up a gracious space to engage with a discerning curiosity that will spur us to more questions – authentic questions that reflect an epistemic humility and invitation of the Holy Spirit.

The truth is that God was at work in my social justice-oriented doctoral program. At the time, I didn’t know the story that was being written. I didn’t know how that story would intersect with the larger Christian narrative. As I share this reflection, I don’t know how my story will continue to unfold or intersect with your own, but I have faith that it will.

As we start the new year, may we be willing to engage one another by asking questions that invite genuine dialogue and critical reflection. May we pause long enough to hear unexpected responses that might be transformative in our lives and help us see God more clearly. May we be diligent in bringing our faith to bear on all things, trusting that the Holy Spirit is present and active and leading us into deeper community and truth.

Lord, may we be instruments of your grace and love.

Sandy Mayo
Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence