The Ear: The Need to Focus on Justice

(system) #1

If you know an Adventist book editor who has earned degrees in law, literature, English and writing — and written or edited 12 books, including a novel — then you know Nathan Brown. For six years he edited church magazines for the South Pacific Division, and for the past five years has been book editor of the Signs Publishing Company, near Melbourne, Australia. He is also a monthly online columnist for Adventist World.

His several degrees have pushed him, he says, “to read and write in ways I would not necessarily choose or stumble into.” His latest edited volume explores the theme of “justice,” one central to scripture and often neglected in Adventism. Another, released in 2013, bears the title Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity, and reflects his work as co-convener of an annual creative arts festival coordinated by Adventist institutions in the South Pacific. (The next festival, set for March 20 – 22 on the Lake Macquarie campus of Avondale College of Higher Education, will again focus on choral and instrumental music composition, songwriting, creativity in worship, fine arts, photography and writing.)

Here is his perspective on the Adventist publishing scene and his latest book:

Question: Signs Publishing has just come out with Do Justice, a volume of essays by various Adventist authors from the United States, as well as Africa and your own Australia. You're ploughing a new field here, or one that gets little attention in Adventism. Say a little about the project, the writers, and how you hope to serve your readers and the wider church.

Answer: Do Justice followed on from a similar book I co-edited with Joanna Darby — Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity — in our respective roles of co-conveners of the Manifest Creative Arts Festival in Australia, an annual arts event sponsored by Adventist Media Network and Avondale College of Higher Education. We had strong interest in and support for the Manifest book and, in our thinking, doing creativity and justice are theologically conjoined. With the first book in hand, we approached ADRA Australia about their potential interest in a justice-themed collection and they were enthusiastic, contributing to the initial planning of the collection of essays that became Do Justice and supporting the project throughout the development and publishing process.

Do Justice is a collection of 29 chapters by a variety of Adventist writers, leaders, academics, activists and experienced ADRA personnel. We ended up with quite a collection of contributors and felt the privilege of curating this quality of material. In the editing process, we were inspired, educated and humbled.

We wanted to establish the call to do justice as biblical and Adventist, as well as a key attitude toward the world around us and practical action we take to engage with our communities. While there are many who do justice in different ways in and around our church, doing justice has been something of a blind spot in much of our theology, despite being an essential focus of the Bible itself and having a much larger place in the practice of early Adventists. In more recent years, this is certainly something we have struggled to prioritize in our ecclesiological and corporate priorities.

We hope this book can help our church talk, re-prioritize and act. This could change us, change our church and even change our world. Somewhere in the world, we hope a hungry person is fed, voices are raised and some injustice is undone — because of people responding to the ideas in this book. We hope someone’s life will be changed — and with God’s blessing, even more than one.

Question: What about your publishing house? Adventist publishing in the United States seems to be struggling, and I’m sure it’s a struggle for you, too. But what strategies are driving what you and your company are doing?

Answer: The publishing industry as a whole is facing challenges. We are all trying to work out how to make it work. But books still matter: books still change people and change the world. We see significant opportunities. By church policy, we have been limited in the books we publish and markets we have access to, so there is much of the reading world we have not had any contact with. We are working to expand our market reach — with which we have had some small initial success in the past few months — and are working on a number of significant book projects that are intended primarily for mainstream book markets. We also believe that Adventist publishing can and should be broader than it has become, with Do Justice an example of a book with different voices, bigger ideas and even a little more creativity with the format and cover (an original painting by Joanna Darby).

Question: How is the distribution of Do Justice progressing?

Answer: We have been excited to partner with the ADRA network around the world and thousands of copies of Do Justice are being distributed through ADRA’s international and regional offices. We have received some very positive initial feedback and, of course, want to share this as widely as possible. However, our initial approach to a distributor to the Adventist Book Center market in North America has been unsuccessful; the distributor cited limited potential sales. Naturally, every author and publisher thinks their book is the book that everyone should be reading but this seems a sad reflection of where our church is at on these issues — ironically, highlighting the need for such a book and this kind of thinking.

We are exploring on other possibilities in the meantime, supplying some bulk orders directly and making the ebook available at

Question: What does your experience so far tell you about how we are doing as a church in meeting the challenge of educating our members and sharing our perspective with others?

Answer: The Bible’s call to do justice is one of the dominant themes of the Bible (referred to on average at least once in every 15 verses throughout the Bible) but somehow we have missed it, particularly theologically and maybe only a little less so in practice. There are many people within our church community who seek justice for others but not always with the theological understanding to support it. I believe this is something that needs significant biblical education across our church, as well as prioritizing in our practice, planning, budgets and our understanding of mission. This is the gospel practiced and shared, enacted and proclaimed. How can we shift our thinking on this? Some of us are trying. We are writing, preaching, talking and acting. To be honest, it’s often not a popular topic. It’s uncomfortable, difficult and messy. But in a survey of the Bible, it isn’t optional. It’s the definition of what it means to be the people of God (see, for example, Micah 6:8). So we need to keep working on it, despite the challenges and setbacks.

I have had the opportunity to work with ADRA on a few projects on these topics, one of which is a Sabbath school quarterly that has been scheduled for publication in a couple of years’ time. But it’s something we need many of us working on, speaking about and putting into practice in our churches and communities. The theology is important; the careful, faithful practice is vital.

With the increased interest in justice issues in the wider Christian community, I also believe we should have the opportunity to share aspects of our theology as a valuable contribution to the understanding and practice of biblical justice. Adventist beliefs offer valuable and sometimes unique insights and motivation to justice doing. But we will be unheard if this is not how we understand our beliefs, we are not able to express them in these terms or our limited focus on justice-doing undermines our credibility to speak on this issues.

Question: You are a relatively youthful church leader. What keeps you passionate about your Adventism? In terms of keeping younger Adventists engaged in their church's life, what, do you think, matters most?

Answer: Hope — perhaps a stubborn kind of hope. My passion for the church is what the church can be, more than what the church is. Adventism at its best is re-creative and transformational, life-changing and world-changing. We must find better ways to explain this to ourselves and to others — and find ways to enact this in all our lives.

One of the critiques of faith is that it is too often un-lived. Doing justice is one way to live it, to experiment with it in the world, and to see that it does matter and make a difference. It will also connect us with our community and the wider world in new ways, which will change us, our church and our faith — for the better with the blessing and leading of God.

This is a vision and practice that young people can believe in. Many of them have an impulse to try to make a difference somehow. We need to support this impulse in practical ways but also offer them a theology that will make their impulse sustainable and help them recognize this as core to their faith and identity as people of God.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


Great article.

This has been one subject which has made me wonder at times. It really didnt hit me, I think, till I read Isaiah 1:10-17

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching[b] of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

In the ESV the word “justice” is used 23 times. But as I wrote above, this bit of text right here is one I keep coming back to. And I don’t know why.

I guess, I thought, well, Israel was a theocracy, so this doesn’t apply to us in the same way. We live in a secular society and things are different. So why doesn’t this reasoning resonate well with me, then? Again, I don’t know. Nathan said it well…

As for our publishing house’s, I know very little. But as far as some of our ABC’s are concerned, I ask this question: What are they doing way out there, in some backstreet, which no one has ever heard of, where no, none Adventist, will ever come? I may have made it a little too obvious lol, that I’m talking about a specific ABC, but wont say which. I’m sure there’s more.

I’m going to get into so much trouble one day with my pictures lol, but anywhooo!..

(Steve Mga) #3

Great response. Great picture illustrating the location of the SDA church in the world. Thanks.
Also. TOO MUCH the SDA church has discussed THE SIN of Sodom and Gomorrah as being Homosexual behavior.
But in this set of verses you presented and in New Testament verses about those Twin Cities it was the evils of vs 17 that required intervention by God.
On the other hand, for 10 righteous persons in the Cities, God told Abraham he would not destroy the cities.
Righteousness [right doing] and Justice go hand in hand.

(Ellen Brodersen) #4

What a amazing article - Justice appears to me to be love in action - so proud of what Nathan is doing - thanks for sharing

(Elaine Nelson) #6

Before commenting, everyone should read, or reread Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” Simply Google the writing in parentheses. It is one of the finest essays ever written on Justice.

This a theme the church has relegated almost to oblivion. If justice was ever needed to be revisited by the Adventist church it is today. Until reading the Northeastern Union President’s letter (Spectrum today) the church has been silent. Where is the outrage that innocent, unarmed black people are gunned down by the very police forces that have been hired to help them?

What about WO? Is that not an issue of justice in our own church? For some, it is a theological issue, but justice IS a major theological doctrine; but has seldom, if ever, been connected with doing justice. There is no justice when one group of people, whether black or women, are denied equality as God’s children. God doesn’t have favorites or step-children.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #7

Why is injustice such a burning issue? As a child, I was disciplined for serious misbehavior. yet I can remember only the one time I received an undeserved spanking. oh yes there was one time That I deserved a spanking and had to go get a paddle from the woodshed. I could only find a slat with a nail in it. I cried as I gave the slat to my dad, Please don’t use the nail end. I felt I deserved to be punished, but that nail loomed very forbidding. Tom Z

(George Tichy) #8

“Our own church” is much less interested in justice than in power & control.
The main motivation that fuels the discriminators’ anti-WO crusade is not justice, or fairness, not even spirituality. It’s just power & control.

(Rohan Charlton) #9

Wow such a vivid description of child abuse. I’m so sorry that you had to endure such sadistic cruelty Tom.

Children should never be put through experiences like that.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #10

years later as dad and I recounted the incident, he said, Tom I was laughing in side so hard I could hardly give you a lick. we both had a good laugh. My dad was one of the kindest men on earth. I was not an abused child, sorry the story carried that tone. tomZ