This Quarter’s Sabbath School Companion Book is a Rallying Cry to “Do Justice”

“Jesus lived and taught love, compassion, and the kingdom of heaven. When we live and follow what He taught, that looks like justice.” —Nathan Brown, For the Least of These (p. 75)

For the first time in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Sabbath School Quarterly is on the topic of social justice, specifically “The Least of These: Ministering to Those in Need.” The Sabbath School Department partnered with the Adventist Development & Relief Agency (ADRA) to explore this topic in depth, with ADRA International CEO Jonathan Duffy as the official author of the quarterly.

Nathan Brown, author and Signs Publishing book editor, penned the official companion book, For the Least of These, which is the focus of this review.

The church has had an off-and-on relationship with issues of social justice. The early Adventist pioneers were abolitionists; the first General Conference president, John Byington, was a member of the Underground Railroad. But later generations of church leaders have been less inclined to get involved with the issues of their times. Most recently, GC President Ted Wilson criticized “those who overemphasize social issues while downplaying or neglecting biblical truth and its relevance for today’s society” during his Sabbath sermon at the 2018 Annual Council.

The great thing about Brown’s little book (it is a slim 120 pages, including footnotes), is that he clearly shows that addressing social concerns IS biblical truth.

There are various facets of justice, as Brown explains, but they are all interlaced, and at the core are about care for God’s creation.

In Chapter 1, “The Great Web of Humanity,” Brown quotes Ken Wytsma and D. R. Jacobsen in their book Pursuing Justice who state, “Truth corresponds to what is; justice to what ought to be.” Brown adds to this, “The work of justice is working back toward the ‘oughtness’ of creation — God’s original intention for our world and our creation (11). He continues, “…as environmental exploitation and destruction have grown in our consciousness and in their impact on our planet and its most vulnerable people, we have seen only limited responses from the perspective of faith.” (12).

In chapters two and three, Brown moves the conversation forward, discussing how we undo injustice and make space for justice. His passages on the celebration of jubilee and the spirit of the Sabbath were particularly striking. The biblical “jubilee year was to act as a reset provision for the social and economic systems of the nation…such redistributive economic justice was part of God’s plan to mitigate injustices in society,” while the Sabbath is a spiritual practice that can change both us as individuals and the world community. “The Sabbath gives us a weekly space…in which equality and justice can be practiced….we seek the benefits of the Sabbath for all with whom we may be able to share them. The Sabbath is a day for the good of humanity, for all of us, as we live out God’s love in the world” (31-32).

Brown also calls on Adventists to have a broader understanding of politics and our role in that realm:

“In its simplest form, whatever we do in public is political. Collectively and individually, our voices, votes, influences, choices and actions are political — as are our silences and inactions. Ironically, our all-too-common corporate Seventh-day Adventist silence ‘speaks to a crippling misunderstanding of the church’s mission and the glaring need for clarity of our role in matters of social concern.’ In a world of so much wrong, injustice, and suffering, we must regularly ask whether our silences are complicities” (39).

Another compelling part of the book is Brown’s analysis of the Old Testament prophets and their messages to the people of their day, which seem all too relevant for us as well.

Brown includes Eugene Peterson’s The Message version of Isaiah 1:13-15, which reads in part:

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!

You’ve worn me out!

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

Brown writes, “In these and a number of other places in the writings of the prophets, God explicitly linked worship with the call to do justice and made it clear that it does not make sense to do one without the other” (53).

Brown concludes with the practical ways we can do justice in the world, and challenges us to answer God’s call to care for His creation:

“As a corporate church, we need to find our voice again. In a world of injustice, oppression, and violence, maintaining silence or claiming neutrality are not faithful options. We must speak for those who are not heard and stand with the poor and vulnerable, seeking to be a ‘power under’ those who are being crushed. As good as ADRA and its work are, the broader church cannot afford to outsource its responsibility for doing justice to a single agency. In all that we do as a church, we must be just and generous in how we act in the church and in the world” (116).

For the Least of These is a challenging and moving testament to the need for justice in our world, and our Christian responsibility to lead the charge for change. Everything Brown has written in this slim volume is backed up with a solid foundation of biblical teachings. The fact that it feels revolutionary speaks to how far we’ve drifted from what is plainly written in God’s Word.

Whether you’re someone who faithfully follows the Sabbath School lessons each quarter, or you’re like me and don’t usually pay much attention, For The Least of These is invaluable as both a quarterly companion and a stand-alone book that I encourage everyone to read.

Additional Resources:

For those living in the United States, a free copy of For the Least of These (plus $3 shipping) is available through ADRA. More information here. (The book is also available for purchase on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.)

Adventist Forum board member Alexander Carpenter recently spoke with Brown about this companion book, the current Sabbath School Quarter, and the writing life. Listen here.

Adventist Peace Radio, the podcast of the Adventist Peace Fellowship, has a special series of episodes for this Sabbath School Quarter. Co-hosts Nathan Brown and Lisa Diller join Jeff Boyd in leading the series in weekly conversation with a number of guests. For more information and to listen click here.

For an article by Linda Edorsson on the Adventist Record website about how the South Pacific Division is leading the Church on this quarter’s conversation, click here.

For information about this quarter’s lessons, including suggested Bible readings, discussion questions, 13 videos produced by ADRA South Pacific and more, visit their website by clicking here.

Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org

Cover image courtesy of Pacific Press Publishing.

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9732
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There is an out and out battle between good and evil in our country right now. So far, evil (injustice) is winning. I am glad to see that the point is being made that our inaction is just as bad as if we were supportive of the racist, sexist, bigoted position. The sentence that stood out and is so dead on right, is that everything we do in public is political. If we actually thought that way, we might be more responsive to injustice.

Amen to this article.

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We cannot do biblical living apart from doing justice. It’s simply impossible. Yet somehow church people get scared off from being “too political,” not recognizing the drastic difference between political and partisan.

Adventist churches ought to be vitally immersed in political issues–first, because Jesus was and is. In fact, His final exam is all about our gracious involvement with issues of hunger, drinkable water, homelessness, health care, and prison reform (see Matthew 25:31-46). The gospel life is our response-ability to God’s grace.

Thanks to ADRA and Nathan for moving a recalcitrant vehicle (the Sabbath School quarterly) forward.

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Finally we have a Sabbath School Quarterly that speaks to real people at the point of their real needs. When there are children being kept in cages and children abused by wealthy political “friends” in high places, we need a beacon of truth.

We need to have a come to Jesus realization about social justice, and how Christians should live out justice in the world. And we should recognize that if we want a fair balance of Christian justice practice, we have to be willing to think outside the box. We have to be willing to talk about issues that are not just sanctioned by the culture, but also issues that political correctness tell us we can’t talk about: Yes, like abortion. Yes, like biblical marriage. Yes, like human trafficking. And yes, like racial reconciliation.

We need to stop for a moment and ask ourselves: Are these Christian practices we see in the realm of social justice? Or are they something else? Are they really biblical, based in humility, love, kindness, and truthfulness?

This quarterly has started a relevant conversation to “do justice”.

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Can you demonstrate where Christ sought the help of Rome to enforce His personal “social program” of poverty, healthcare, hunger. Can you show where He said that was the function and priority of later “church” generations in unity with governments? Can you demonstrate the appropriate mix and how you pay for it if not from voluntary giving? Is it immoral to take from another for your “spiritual/moral” ideas of what “economic social justice is?”
@Lindy
@chris_blake24

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“In its simplest form, whatever we do in public is political." That is powerful!! Those few words speak so loud, that we must consider if our words are producing the desired results or creating a confused image of who God is.
For me, this lesson words highlights the hypocrisy of the church, when dealing with social justice, because social justice is not a secular concept, it is a fundamental principle which God gave us, on how we treat our fellow human being. But as we read from history, what God has formulated, humans have corrupted, and have oppressed there fellow Christians in the Name of God. Now this is not about women’s ordination, but about women’s rights in the works place, when the church still permits the abuse of its female staff/workers, then preaches about helping the poor, sick and destitute, that makes no sense to me, because all social justice starts at home, and it grows and expand into the world we come into contact with. “The regulations that God established were designed to promote social equality.” Ellen White.
I am happy that maybe our eyes can be opened to see that issues of social justice or equility is not a far away country, but maybe found in our own church.

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Patrick, first of all we are not called to live exactly as Jesus lived. If we were we would never marry, never travel across the seas, never drive a car, never vote in free and public elections, and never respond to blog posts. But fortunately God asks us to thrive and create and liberate wherever we’re planted using the means we have at hand.

Jesus lived in an occupied country under an oppressive regime. At present most readers of this blog live in places where people have access and ability to nonviolently change systemic structures of inadequacy, inequity, and depradation, including in the areas Jesus mentioned. The choice not to act is itself a choice. Certainly we can be overwhelmed with opportunities to help, yet that is what it means to do our balanced best and to work out (not for) our own salvation.

One major area where God did institute a governmental edict to provide a social program to alleviate poverty, healthcare, and hunger is in the jubilee sabbatical of Leviticus 25, where debts are canceled and slaves set free and the earth itself is given a break. When Jesus in Luke 4 announces His mission, He quotes Isaiah 61: “to bring good tidings to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

God asks us each to do the same in our own ways, in our own places, dealing within our own systems according to our consciences and governments (Romans 13). Life is complicated. My taxes are right now funding unconscionable activities at home and abroad, yet I continue paying. I’m also donating money to fight against those activities and to support doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, especially for people on the margins of life. Anyway, this is how I see living today as a follower of Jesus.

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Why don’t we get off our pews and start advocating/ marching and demonstrating against persons being locked up in cages as animals? Why isn’t the Adventist church calling out the persons who exploit children?

The big problem for some Adventists, particularly in the US, we somehow have substituted love as the highest calling and we often think that justice isn’t important for Christians any more. We’ve gotten that from the New Testament, as the English translation of the Bible so often uses the word righteousness where it could use justice, and righteousness is often taken to mean personal piety. But without justice, how can you love? If you love a person, you will want them to live in a just society.So we see this command to love, and we think that this somehow supersedes justice. People will dismiss justice as Old Testament, and focus on love as being New Testament.

That has been conveniently forgotten by a lot of conservative Christians. It’s all about love. Evangelicalism gave a big contribution to this, so often talking about agape as the highest form of love. And that self-sacrificial love is important, but it is all underpinned by this great sense of justice that is a deep part of God’s plan for us.

You can’t have one without the other.

Too often what some Adventists have done is abdicate responsibility and just brushed it aside saying “well, my personal responsibility is just to love so I’ll get on with that” - whatever that means! As far as I’m concerned, love and justice must go together.

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Hi Chris,
Yes, Jesus lived under Roman rule while at the same time fillfilling OT Covenant law.
As to Jubilee, God said the land was owned by Him and it would go back to the tribes divisions at Jubilee. And, yes the 7yr. Release was known ahead of time by covenant and was to forgive debts. Most western bankruptcy laws were originally based on the 7 yr. Principle.
I have no problem with different peoples and nations creating economic systems its citizens live under.
My point is they are economic theories/views not biblical absolutes as to how to best deal with poverty, health etc.
The US has a “social” safety net for the poor that people of the Phillipines would love to have. To demand “justice” is equal protection under law that applies to all. It does not guarantee equal outcomes for all
That is what grace and charity are for. Those unable to provide for themselves.
Regards

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Raul’s Distributive Justice is an excellent starting point. Simply it says if an issue arises the parties involved don’r Know which role is theirs. Now they have to decide on the proper discipline if any.

Question? - In reading the passage referred to in this weeks lesson on tithe - how is this considered a second tithe? Verses 27 and 29 in Duet. 14 make no sense if this is a second tithe. If the Levites are already receiving the tithe (first), they have been provided for. Perhaps in Numbers 18 God states that the Levites will be taken care of through the tithe and this is a further explanation of how this will work - also providing for the poor. Would greatly appreciate any thoughts on this. Thanks!

Deut 12 :17, 18 was a festival tithe to one’s family for festival attendance at a place of the Lord’s choosing.
Deut.14:27-29 was a poor tithe q3y to entertain/ feed the poor, etc. within their gates.

In the 70’s some conferences tried the 10 + 10 + tithes to be sent in for which there is no biblical basis as to obligation. Strangely/ surprisigly enough that was about the time of some church conference money scandals.
@grace231

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Patrick,
The word would use is “copout”. When someone feels that someone else is reaching into their wallet, even for a worthy cause, they get upset. I pay taxes just like everyone else, I don’t like the tax breaks given to the 1% but it doesn’t allow me to stop paying my taxes. I deplore the notion that an unfeeling, uncaring, heartless entity we call a corporation is now considered a “person”. Yet, I am not suppose to voice my opinion when our government is splitting families apart in prison like cages. I am suppose to keep quiet while the pittance we were sending some of these Central American countries was completely shut down, even though the money was to be spent on helping them deal with the drug lords and pimps who were terrorizing their own countryman? This is why there is a 10 fold increase at our borders. And a wall is not the solution, but my tax dollars are helping pay for that stupidity as well. If we were to spend 1/10th of the money for this moronic wall on helping Honduras and Nicaragua and Guatemalans to defend and protect their own citizens, we would not be in the mess we are in. Your ---- right we need to speak up. We, as Christians, need to speak JUSTICE to power. It is the Christian thing to do.

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Well, no one for 20+ years+ has tried to fix the problem. Remember 2-3 mos. Back Dems said it was a manufactured crisis.
The US has the right to choose who enters this country. Last week, I visited Mexico. I was surprised they wanted my passport at the airport.
Until recently when threatened with tariffs did Mexico require passports on their southern border or block passage?.
The “cop out” Lindy is playing on the affections of children instead of a responsible immigration that includes a wall and other customary and usual immigration principle used in many countries.
Then the “crisis” will cease. Or, does it exist this week among Dems.? If there is none why are we discussing it?
Or, is your “Christian” view only open borders are acceptable?

Patrick,
The crisis is real. If you’ve heard the news, the increase at the border is about 10 times what it was three or four years ago. They are not coming here just for a better life. They are fleeing a country overrun by drug lords and pimps and being forced into participating in a drug culture, mostly driven by this countries insatiable demand for cocaine and other drugs. Detaining these people isn’t fixing any of that. A wall isn’t fixing that. Our immigration policy isn’t fixing that. Helping them rid their country of these pariah is the only solution. We were not doing enough 3 years ago, no we are doing nothing. We have to stop putting band aids on a gaping chest wound and start dealing with the problem, helping them get a handle on the powerful drug cartel that has taken over that country. Nothing else will stop this crisis. And yes, it is a crisis. Only an idiot would say otherwise. But it wasn’t nearly as bad even when we were doing something in their country to help…now it is insanity.

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Why is the US responsible to fix everyone’s country with problems made by their leaders? Where is the UN AND multi nationalism coalition?
Why doesnt Mexico assimilate all these refugees from the violence of their countries? After all the US once slave owners. Why now?

And, yes Lindy, where are the Dems? Everything proposed by Trimp was once suggested by Dems., Obama & Schumer.

Patrick,
Stop making this a partisan issue. The democrats have done a poor job too. But this administration has poured gasoline on the fire. They have stopped helping these countries deal with being overrun by the drug cartel. They have stopped helping altogether.
The reasons we need to do this are many. First, they are coming across our boarders, not some other countries. Second, we are the richest nation on earth. Third, we are the ones who are buying their d—n drugs. Fourth, if we want to stop this influx, the only way is to deal with it at it’s source. Fifth, this isn’t happening because they want our jobs, jobs which lazy white people won’t do even if they are unemployed. They are coming here because they are afraid for their lives, and the lives of their children. It’s our problem for one more reason….because we still have a lady in the N.Y. harbor that says, if you’re in peril we’re here for you.
We spend hundreds of billions of dollars helping other countries. And I know that our president only wants white people from Norway, but the reality is none of those countries would be caught dead moving to this country. I’ve been there and they have it much better than we do. The people who need us are here now, they are begging just to stay alive, and we are sending them away. How much of a Christian does it take to say…God sent these people to us to care for? It’s what this quarters lesson is all about…and in the end when God asks “Why didn’t you help that Honduran mother and her two children” are you going to say “It’s not my responsibility, it’s the responsibility of the UN or Mexico, or somebody else needed to deal with that, besides, it’s the Democrats problem…they didn’t deal with it under the previous administration”. I don’t think God is going to say “Good answer, Patrick”.

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Lindy,
You accusation is baseless. Everyone wants the US to fix their poor decisions. Special interest R. want cheap labor and Dems. Want to change the Demographic. That’s the problem ever since the “gang of 8.”
Well, I dont think God will appreciate you saying He sent these people for the US to take care of. How did you arrive at that? Fatalism? We have responsibilities to our own citizens.

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Lindy we can’t send those countries you mentioned enough money. We are sending billions now. It never gets past the leadership. So let me stop you from saying " we’ll send the money or distribute the money around the leadership". International law prohibits this because most countries fear a rich country like ours will steal their best people. We sent over 180 million to a population of 9 million people in Honduras last year. 200 plus million last year. The Trump administration is cutting the aid back as you can see. And before you jump down his neck remember the House, run by Democrates and have the power of the purse by way of the appropriations committee voted this reduction.

On the other foot… If we would get over the absolutely stupid idea that we can use military force all around the globe to change the hearts and minds of cultures and philosophical actions we would certainly have enough money to feed the hungry in this country.

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