The Office of Social Justice provides resources to learn about the root causes of poverty, hunger, and oppression, and we empower the church to call on those in power to improve systems and enact just public policy.
We prioritize the perspectives of marginalized people most impacted by injustices, raise awareness, educate members, share resources, and prompt advocacy.
Below are some frequently asked questions about our office.
- How does the Office of Social Justice fit into the Christian Reformed Church?
- What's the history of the Office of Social Justice?
- Why does Office of Social Justice focus on certain issues and not others?
- Does the Office of Social Justice, or the CRCNA, speak for me when it speaks to our government and legislative leaders?
- What if I disagree?
- Is the Office of Social Justice a bi-national ministry (a ministry in the U.S. and in Canada)?
- What do you mean by the term "social justice"? Isn’t the name of OSJ controversial?
- What is advocacy?
- Should the church lobby?
The OSJ is a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. It fits directly into the mission of the CRCNA, which states: “As people called by God, we gather to praise God, listen to him, and respond. We nurture each other in faith and obedience to Christ. We love and care for one another as God’s people. We commit ourselves to serve and to tell others about Jesus. We pursue God’s justice and peace in every area of life.” The work of the OSJ applies to every line of that mission. However, the office most obviously finds its place in the CRCNA by educating and equipping churches to become more involved in doing God’s work of justice in the world.
Social justice ministry in the CRC developed in response to world hunger reports adopted by Synods 1979 and 1993. A world hunger and social justice coordinator was appointed in 1994, and the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action became established in 2000. A similar advocacy ministry in Canada has operated as the Committee for Contact with the Government (now the Centre for Public Dialogue) since 1968. The OSJ deals with both U.S. and Canadian advocacy, and has staff positioned in both countries.
Synod has, in recent years, assigned specific work for the Office of Social Justice to do on its primary focus issues: climate, immigration, religious persecution, abortion, and restorative justice. Work on other issues stems from the calling that brought the OSJ to life: addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty. Because of the broad and complex ways hunger and poverty can be addressed, a discernment process has been outlined and approved by Synod for the OSJ to use when selecting its areas to engage. It asks about an issue’s biblical grounding; its significance to the integrity, faith, and life of the church; the CRC’s connection to grassroots expertise and relationship with those affected by the situation; its alignment with CRCNA ministries and values; and the ability for the OSJ to partner broadly, especially with marginalized people who are most impacted or as part of a larger Christian movement.
Does the Office of Social Justice, or the CRCNA, speak for me when it speaks to our government and legislative leaders?
No, a letter to government officials or a statement made by the denomination does not claim to speak for all the members of the CRCNA. When the CRCNA articulates a view on a social or political matter (or when it is silent on those matters), it does so as an institution, not as a collection of individuals who all agree on everything. These views are voiced after there has been a position formed, based on thorough study, discussion, and/or decision by its Synod. Not all members will agree with every public position – statement or silence – taken by its church. The OSJ has not been tasked with representing the majority of members’ views on issues. Instead, it has been tasked with interpreting the positions of the denomination, together with the instructions of Synod to advocate for and with those who suffer injustice, to make determinations about how to raise the CRCNA’s collective voice.
In these highly polarized times, the existence of differing views can take on such importance that it threatens the unity that the church is called to pursue. When a member objects to certain positions taken (or not) by the denomination, it is in the spirit of unity, understanding, and respect that members are encouraged to offer their perspective. Staff at the OSJ is willing to listen and learn from those who view issues differently and to consider how those different views may relate to ethical positions adapted by synod. And, even in the midst of disagreement, the OSJ is called to continue its work.. Justice work is inherently controversial, because it aims to change the policies and power structures that make and keep people poor and oppressed. The CRCNA’s investment of resources in addressing the root causes of injustice is a distinctive of our denomination that shows how deeply we value the biblically-rooted, sometimes unpopular, prophetic role of the church. Even when we disagree on how it is implemented, we do not disagree that the church must work in the public square. The integrity of the gospel requires us to stand with and advocate for those who have been dehumanized and devalued by forces of wealth and power. This gospel, which promotes those who the world says are last to a position of first importance, can also expose the painful reality of privilege and complicity. Anger, denial and conflict can be the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s movement toward discovery, repentance, and restoration.
The Office of Social Justice (OSJ) is a bi-national ministry, but also allows space for other ministries in Canada to flourish by supporting Canadian CRC ministries and promoting their content. The OSJ runs bi-national projects where possible (eg. Climate Witness Project, Sanctity of Human Life Sunday materials, Catching Stones newsletter), but also runs U.S.-specific projects when differing contexts make that necessary (eg. Immigrants Are a Blessing Not a Burden) and supports Canada-specific projects in partnership with other ministries where possible (eg. Journey With Me, Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue action alerts). We are closely connected to our sister ministries in Canada and are working together as a team to provide education and advocacy resources and opportunities on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
The term “social justice” emerges out of Scripture, and was actually originally coined by the church: a Jesuit monk based the phrase on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Contrary to some misconceptions, “social justice” is a concept deeply rooted in the historic, Biblically orthodox traditions of the Christian faith. When we talk about “social justice” in a Reformed context, we are referring to God’s original intention for human society: a world where basic needs are provided for in love, where people flourish, and where shalom reigns in the Kingdom of God. This vision of shalom is a vision of “the way things ought to be,” or the way God created the world to be before sin. As Cornelius Plantinga writes, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight… the webbing-together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” Social justice refers to the pursuit of shalom in human, social relationships. There are many types of justice (retributive, restorative, etc.). The significance of social justice is that it references the pursuit of shalom — righteousness, harmony, and “the way things ought to be” — specifically in our human interactions and societal structures. The CRCNA rightly emphasizes the pursuit of God’s shalom in all areas. However, the choice of the specific term in the name for the OSJ acknowledges the mandate of the OSJ, which focuses the office on addressing societal structures and injustices which hinder human flourishing. One final note of clarification: technically, the full name is the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJHA). However, because the activities of the office extend beyond issues related just to hunger and poverty, the shortened term is more commonly used.
Advocacy is standing with and speaking alongside people who are most impacted by systems and public policies that powerful people control. The church’s voice in public policy dialogue is unique and critical, because churches are communities that include those who are most vulnerable as well as those who are most powerful. Those voices together can speak important truths that would otherwise be kept silent. When churches advocate they bring a unique Christian perspective, a real human perspective, and a perspective grounded in Biblical principles.
Since input from every sector, especially those sectors close to the poor, is critical for good policy to emerge, the laws of the U.S. and Canada allow and encourage churches to give their input. This can include speaking about specific bills or legislative proposals, as long as the work does not use a substantial percentage of a church’s overall resources. It can also include supporting and holding accountable elected leaders to live up to the expectations of Romans 13: to be God’s servants for people’s good. Lobbying is a critical way that Christians act as good stewards of the power that has been entrusted to them in a world full of inequality.