It is a goal of the Mercy and Justice Team that in the Great Plains Conference justice becomes as common as mercy.

On this page:


What is Justice?

The Mercy and Justice Team defines justice as ensuring the human rights and dignity of all, especially the most vulnerable.  

In the Waves of Justice framework developed by the team, we define justice ministry as:

  • Responding to God’s call to ensure the human rights and dignity of all, especially the most vulnerable
    Voices for Justice
    The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.
    –Bryan Stephenson
  • Using community power to solve social problems by transforming systems
  • Holding ourselves accountable for measurable change

​There are four different types of justice: 

  • distributive – who gets what
  • procedural – how fairly people are treated
  • retributive – punishment for wrong-doing
  • restorative – restoring relationships to "rightness"

Social justice – justice for society – usually means equal rights, equal opportunities and equal treatment for all. It has also been referred to as a fair division of resources, opportunities and privileges in society. Social justice deals mainly with distributive, procedural and restorative justice. Achieving social justice requires changing systems that perpetuate injustices.

Social justice is justice for the entire society. If some part of the society is suffering an injustice, then all of society is suffering from the injustice. Correcting an injustice helps to restore the entire society to rightness. People who think an injustice for others does not affect themselves are mistaken – it affects the whole society.

Individual justice refers to helping one person overcome an injustice or restoring them to a just relationship to others. This often happens while other members of a group the individual belongs to are still suffering the injustice.

Justice is often described in relation to correcting an injustice. Some examples are:

Injustice Justice
Some schools in the community are poorly heated and the classrooms are poorly lit. All schools in the community are well heated and well lit.
People of one race are paid less than people of another race for equal work. All workers are paid the same for equal work regardless of race.
Streets in one part of town are not paved and there are no sidewalks while in another part of town all streets are paved and have sidewalks. All the streets in town are paved and have sidewalks.
At a business, women are not allowed to be in management positions. Management positions are determined by merit and not by gender.
Some local landlords refuse to rent to same-sex couples or transgender people. All renters have the same access to rental properties regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Residents in the lower-income part of the area often have access to only unclean water while residents in the higher-income part of the area always have clean water. All residents of the area always have access to clean water.

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Mercy vs. Justice

Voices for Justice
Charity is love for a moment. Justice is love extended into the future.
–Rev. Mark Sandlin

Mercy is helping with individual needs. It is about individual acts and expressions of loving-kindness. Justice is changing systems to eliminate the need for many mercy ministries. Working towards a systemic justice framework takes progress. On the continuum of working towards justice, we continue to work on mercy.

We recognize that there is valuable work in the transformation of individuals that occurs somewhere between mercy work and systemic justice work. This individual justice work also needs to continue as we work towards transforming systems that are equitable and just for all people.

Voices for Justice
When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.
–Dom Helder Camara, former Roman Catholic bishop from Brazil

The Mercy and Justice Team realizes that many churches in the Great Plains Conference are doing amazing mercy ministries.  We, as a conference, do mercy well.  The Team also found that not too many churches in the conference are doing justice ministry.  Both are very important.  The focus the Team has on justice ministry is because this is the area in which we, as a conference, need growth.
For further reading on Mercy vs. Justice see the Book List.
Also, see the slide presentation, "God’s Mission for Us."

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Biblical Justice

In the Bible, justice (Hebrew word – MISHPAT) is about equitable ways of ordering society and negotiating systemic changes.

For an excellent video about Biblical justice see the Bible Project video on Justice.

The most common call for justice in the Bible is Micah 6:8:

"He has told you, mankind, what is good. What does the Lord require from you, except to carry out justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?"

Micah explains that God does not ask us to do justice and mercy, but rather He requires it from us. We are also required to walk humbly with God. When doing justice or mercy, it is also very important to walk humbly with others, especially people we are trying to help. We need to work together as equal partners, not from a sense of superiority because we might be more educated or have more resources. To walk humbly with God we must also walk humbly with all children of God.

Some other Biblical calls to do justice from the Common English Bible include:

Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.

Isaiah 58:6
Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke?

Jeremiah 22:13-17
How terrible for Jehoiakim, who builds his house with corruption and his upper chambers with injustice, working his countrymen for nothing, refusing to give them their wages. He says, “I’ll build myself a grand palace, with huge upper chambers, ornate windows, cedar paneling, and rich red decor.” Is this what makes you a king, having more cedar than anyone else? Didn’t your father eat and drink and still do what was just and right? Then it went well for him! He defended the rights of the poor and needy; then it went well. Isn’t that what it means to know me? declares the Lord. But you set your eyes and heart on nothing but unjust gain; you spill the blood of the innocent; you practice cruelty; you oppress your subjects.

Amos 5:24
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 8:4-8
Hear this, you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale, make the ephah smaller, enlarge the shekel, and deceive with false balances, in order to buy the needy for silver and the helpless for sandals, and sell garbage as grain?” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget what they have done. Will not the land tremble on this account, and all who live in it mourn, as it rises and overflows like the Nile, and then falls again, like the River of Egypt?

Matthew 23:23-24
“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith. You ought to give a tenth but without forgetting about those more important matters. You blind guides! You filter out an ant but swallow a camel.

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Progress Oriented Justice

The Mercy and Justice Team describes progress oriented justice as an intentional, structured effort to correct injustices in a community. This requires 

  • community power
  • a clear description of the problem
  • thorough research of the current situation
  • a workable, achievable solution
  • a well thought out plan to reach the solution
  • timelines and benchmarks to measure progress
  • holding ourselves accountable for measurable change
  • perseverance to see the process through to the end 

A major key to progress oriented justice is community power. One church alone will not alleviate an injustice. We have to go beyond the walls of our church to work with other churches and beyond that to reach out to the whole community regardless of faith belief or lack of faith belief. It is only with many voices throughout the community speaking together that important, lasting change will be accomplished.

Voices for Justice
Power concedes nothing without a demand.
–Frederick Douglass

There are two types of societal power – the power of money and the power of community. The power of money often has control in our society. Control is maintained by preventing others from sharing in the wealth. This leads to many injustices perpetrated on many people.

Power of the people, who come together united as a community, can overcome the power of money only when the community is large enough and organized enough to pressure the society to change.

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A Call for Justice

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of history’s most eloquent and persistent voices for justice. While pointing out numerous injustices, he encouraged all people with the sense of right and wrong to not only speak out for justice but to also become involved in the non-violent struggle for social justice.

Rev. King also spoke out for churches to become involved in justice ministries and to act as the moral compass for the country. He had little patience for religious leaders who didn’t think churches should be working toward social justice. His strongest call for all Christian leaders to preach the need for justice came in his Letter from Birmingham Jail written in August, 1963.

Some quotes from the letter include:

  • In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. (page 1, paragraph 6)
  • History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. (page 2, paragraph 3)
  • We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. (page 2, paragraph 4)
  • We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. (page 4, paragraph 1)
  • If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. (page 5, paragraph 8)

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Next Step

To continue on your journey to justice, please proceed to Commitment.


Please feel free to reach out to the Mercy and Justice’s Waves of Justice Subteam if you have any questions during your journey to justice.  Also, if you have any comments or suggestions about this toolkit, we would like to hear from you.  

Our contact email is waves_of_justice@greatplainsumc.org.