Pursuing Biblical Justice: An Interview with Josh Smedley

Hi Josh, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. I moved to Durham in 2012 as a student. I’m married to Ruth and am part of the Achor Community.

What has being part of Kings, especially the Achor Community, been like for you?

Being part of the Achor Community since I graduated has been the best part of being at Kings. Achor is an intentional missional community on the Sherburn Road estate. I have got so used to sharing life and sharing in mission together on the estate that I find it really hard to imagine not being part of the community.

I know that you work for Just Love – can you tell us more about that?

Just Love is a movement inspiring and releasing Christian students to pursue the biblical call to social justice. The movement started because we believe that if God is not OK – not apathetic – about all that is wrong and broken and unjust in our world, then we shouldn’t be either. We want to raise up a generation into a whole-life, life-long pursuit of Jesus and His justice. When I was a student in Durham, a group of us started the second ever Just Love group. I began working for Just Love once I graduated and since then we’ve grown to 25 groups in universities across the country.

That’s amazing. What exactly does your work for Just Love involve?

My role mostly involves looking after our staff team and overseeing our strategy and direction. There are basically two phases to what we do in Just Love – first with students and second with graduates. I like to think of it as a greenhouse and a garden.

Our student groups function like greenhouses – creating the sort of conditions that enable seeds to germinate and young plants to grow. University is a time of formation – you build the relationships, start the habits and make the choices that will set the trajectory for the rest of your life. So, the coaching and training we give our students is about helping them to lead communities which form deep rhythms and habits of justice – through serving, campaigning, fundraising, praying and learning.

So, first the greenhouse, then the garden. We want to ensure that the plants grown in the greenhouse get established and thrive in the garden. The real impact of what we do, the real change that will be done for the world’s poorest, will come through what our graduates go on to do for the rest of their lives – in their work, in their communities, in their giving and in their lifestyles. Our alumni network is about equipping and sustaining that.

So that’s what we’re aiming for: catalysing change among students and transforming potential into impact over the rest of their lives. My job is to make sure that happens.

That’s such a helpful illustration to understand Just Love’s vision, and really inspiring. How would you encourage each one of us to engage personally with social justice?

Social justice is complex, so I think principles are a better starting point than specific actions, which can easily become a tick-box exercise. When it comes to seeking justice, how we do it matters just as much as what we do. Here are a few principles I find helpful…

  1. Ground your pursuit of justice in the Bible. This doesn’t just mean having some proof texts about justice up our sleeves; it means inhabiting the big biblical story – from Genesis to Revelation – and living in a way that stays true to that story. Our practice of justice is about pointing back to the God of creation and covenant, exodus and the cross; and pointing forward to new creation – to a world of perfect justice and perfect peace. We live into that future hope – we long for it, we pray for it, we work for it, and we allow it to shape what we value, how we live and how we love.
  2. Justice is a posture, not a gesture. Biblical justice isn’t a switch that we flick on or off as the mood takes us. It’s not a box we tick by volunteering once a month, or occasionally donating to a charity, or buying Fairtrade. Biblical justice is a posture, not a gesture. It shapes and transforms our entire life – what we value and how we spend our time; how we use our money and how we use our power; the careers that we choose to go into and the communities we choose to live in; the lifestyle choices that we make. It offers a beautiful, radical alternative to a world addicted to consumerism, status and self-fulfilment.
  3. Justice goes beyond charity. John Perkins, the great civil rights leader, pointed out that you can do charity from a safe distance, but you can’t love people from a safe distance. Charity is fine, but the way of Jesus calls us beyond charity – towards costly self-giving love. Here’s an uncomfortable question for many of us: ‘are we making decisions that move us towards places of brokenness and pain, or are we insulating ourselves by keeping injustice at a safe distance?’
  4. Be humble. The cross reminds us that the salvation of the world does not ultimately depend on us. That’s really important when it comes to resilience and staying in the fight for the long haul. We need to be humble in our practice of justice. We are not the heroes. If you haven’t read When Helping Hurts (Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert) I’d highly recommend it. All sorts of damage can be done when we assume that we are the ones with all the solutions.
  5. Use your head as well as your heart. A lot of damage has been done by well-meaning Christians who are guided by emotion without the balance of critical thought. Good intentions are great, but not enough. If we want to love people well, then we need to give careful thought to what actually makes a sustainable, long-term change to the root causes of injustice. This applies to the sorts of charities we might support or give money to. It also applies to ethical living, which is a justice issue because it is the world’s poorest who are already being disproportionately affected by climate change. Some actions are thousands of times more impactful than others. By all means use bamboo toothbrushes, but also bear in mind that reducing flying, reducing meat consumption, switching to a renewable energy supplier and moving your money out of high street banks and into an ethical bank will have literally thousands of times more impact.
  6. Don’t try to do this on your own. Seeking justice is not simple – there is always more to learn and we will always make mistakes. All of this could be a bit paralysing, but like with any other part of discipleship, we need to see this as a long obedience in the same direction, and we need to surround ourselves in community who will support us, push us to go deeper and hold us accountable.

Thanks so much for sharing, Josh, that’s really helpful. May the Lord bless you as you continue to live a life of biblical justice and missional community!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash