There was a man walking along the banks of a river. That was the opening of a story told by Jana Adams. When he saw a man about to drown in the river, he jumped in and saved that man's life. The man who had rescued the stranger in the water felt good about his accomplishment and rightly so. Not long afterwards, our main character saw another person in the water. Once again, he dived in and swam to the rescue. But, as Adams told the story, there were more and more people in the river more than any one person could save. So others began to help in the rescue effort. Men and women who lived nearby began patrolling the banks, so they could rescue anyone who needed help. As it worked out, the river bank people then bought a boat for their expanding rescue operation. And what they did was very good, as many, many lives were saved. Then Adams paused in her story-telling, to say: But no one ever went upstream to find out why so many people were falling into the water. She made her point. Charity is good, and many people need our help, our goods and our services. But Justice demands that we go to the source of the problem and work for social change.
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Jana Adams told the Charity-Justice story at a recent gathering of people from a variety of church congregations. Adams represents DART, the Direct Action and Research Training Center which describes itself as a national network of grassroots, metropolitan congregation-based, community organizations spread throughout the United States. Adams was speaking at a "Rethinking Justice Workshop" held for members and prospective members of CAJ, Congregations Acting for Justice, in Evansville.
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Jana Adams provided the participants with a hand-out page of biblical references, to provide examples of Charity and Justice. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is a story about charity, a good and praiseworthy action. The Gospel story does not attempt to survey the causes of highway banditry. The Samaritan provides temporary and immediate relief. Moses, on the other hand, challenges the institutional system in Egypt that kept the Israelites as slaves (Exodus, chapters 1-12). Moses did not ask for food and medicine. He said, "Let my people go . . . ." As Adams put it, Moses did not say to Pharaoh, "Help my people cope."
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Adams said that charity typically involves private individual acts, responding to immediate needs. Acts of charity provide direct service, food, clothing and shelter. Charity, in the DART definition, requires actions to be repeated. It is directed at the effects of injustice, the symptoms. Justice is directed at the root causes of social injustice. It promotes social change and responds to long-term need. Working for justice can require public, collective action.
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Examine the good works you have done. Or look for news reports about "Good Samaritans" and others who have attracted some attention for doing good deeds. Have they been done in charity or justice? Examine the structures and habits of society your city or town, your neighborhood or area. If you see a person swept into the dangerous waters of poverty or prejudice or hopelessness, take action! Then look upstream. Jana Adams bends to one side when she says to an audience, "We've been leaning on this charity leg so long, we have to build up this justice leg, so we can stand upright!"
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