Social Justice as a Spiritual Practice

spiritual social justice

The concept of “peace” is at the heart of most of the world’s religions. Christianity tells us “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The Muslim greeting, “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” literally means, “peace be with you.” In Judaism, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom, which is derived from one of the names of God. One of the purposes of the four tenets of Buddhism is to find peace. If there is one defining characteristic of all religions it is peace. Peace is the conceptual duct tape that holds religions together.

One of the key ingredients in the pursuit of peace is social justice. The lack of justice breeds discontent, non-cooperation, conflict, civil unrest, and at its worst, war. Being that peace is the conceptual duct tape that holds religions together, it’s not surprising then, that social justice is also a theme of all major religions.

However, few individual religious communities spend time talking about social justice, not to mention actually getting out and DOING the work of social justice.

It’s informative to talk to those groups and point out the centrality of peace and social justice in their belief system, and then to ask them why they lack such things in their corporate practices. Frequently, the answers are things like, “we just are unsure how to do it,” or “we are just too busy.”

Interestingly, these are the same responses you get when you ask certain communities about their prayer life, or meditation life, or their spiritual studies – depending on their particular spiritual outlook. Knowing how difficult these kinds of things can be for people and knowing how important they can be to healthy spiritual development, many religions promote the concept of spiritual disciplines.

Whether it is prayer or study or meditation or any number of things, the concept is to practice these things on a consistent basis in order to both improve our ability to do them and to establish their importance in our lives and in our spiritual journeys.

There have also been studies that suggest that spiritual disciplines (spiritual practices) have a direct and positive impact on our mental and emotional health. Some, in the case of things like yoga, can have a direct and positive impact our physical health as well.

Putting all of this together, I find it very surprising and somewhat disappointing that so few religions teach the active pursuit of social justice as a spiritual practice.

As I’ve noted, many folks who recognize the centrality of social justice in their religion do not spend much time doing acts of social justice. It may be because they aren’t sure what to do or are uncomfortable with what a “boots on the ground” pursuit of social justice looks like or any number of things. And, that’s the beauty of making social justice a spiritual practice.

As I said, the concept of spiritual discipline is to practice something on a consistent basis in order to both improve your ability to do it and to establish its importance in your life and in your spiritual journey. It seems to me that is exactly the answer to some of the hesitation folks have in doing the work of social justice.

I recently wrote an article that approached this idea from a more political point of view, but at its heart was the concept of making the work of social justice a spiritual practice. I have to say, it seems to be a concept that has a lot of interest. At this point, the article has more than 22,000 social media shares. And while that’s certainly not a scientific measurement, it does seem to suggest people are exceptionally interested in the idea.

In the article I said, “I believe that we must start seeing resistance as a spiritual practice. It must be a daily practice. It is our spiritual responsibility to stay informed. It is our faithful duty to stay vigilant. It is our moral obligation to make our voices heard and to share with those most in need of the access that our places of privilege offer.

We must stand up not only for our own rights and interests, but for the rights and interests of others. We must promote equality, justice, and love in our every action, but not fall victim to the false perspective that to do so means we do so timidly and with trepidation. From the immigration rights of Muslims to the reproductive rights of women we must come together and insist that our voices be heard – at all costs, because the cost of not doing so is unthinkable.

“Resistance must become our spiritual practice.”

“Resistance must become our spiritual practice.”

Repeat that to yourself. On a daily basis.

“Resistance must become our spiritual practice.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made resistance, made social justice, a spiritual practice in his life. As a result, his Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a political and social protest, eventually led to the Supreme Court ruling that said segregation on busses was unconstitutional. The dream he told us about at the March on Washington was firmly rooted in his spiritual pursuit of social justice. We all know well the achievements of Dr. King – let us not forget that he reached those goals not only with the underpinning of his own consistent practice of social justice, but with the massive support of people like you and me who were willing to make social justice in the world a personal pursuit as well.

Social justice must become our spiritual practice.

Social justice as a spiritual practice seems to have been part of the lives of many of those who most successfully worked toward equality and the rights of individuals. From Gandhi’s Salt March to Dorothea Dix’s constant lobbying on behalf of the mentally ill, social justice as a spiritual practice has been at the core of many of our most important advances in human rights.

So, I repeat, social justice must become our spiritual practice. We must stand up not only for our own rights and interests but for the rights and interests of others. We must promote equality, justice, and love in our every action, but not fall victim to the false perspective that to do so means we do so timidly and with trepidation. From the immigration rights of Muslims to the reproductive rights of women we must come together and insist that our voices be heard – at all costs, because the cost of not doing so is unthinkable.

Resistance must become our spiritual practice.

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