Please Introduce yourself, share a little about your background and why you took this course.
My name is Kelly Anderson, and I am currently serving as the youth pastor at a rural church outside of Richmond, Virginia. Presently I am enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, where I have completed my fourth semester. The reason I decided to take the course In Search of Biblical Justice is that I wanted to begin to develop an idea for myself on the ways that God feels about justice. Entering the course, I feel like I was very unaware and misinformed about the word justice, so I wanted to develop a working definition for justice and the ways I can apply that definition in the context of my ministry.
Before taking the course In Search of Biblical Justice, how would you have defined justice?
Before entering the course In Search of Biblical Justice, my definition of justice was seen in more of a retributive way. Growing up in a rural, small-town in Virginia impacted the ways that I thought about justice significantly. The way I came to understand justice was as a reciprocal action. For example, the actions of an individual are reciprocated with equal and just consequence whether it be good or bad. For instance, I remember distinctly the time after 9/11 and when the U.S. went to war in Iraq hearing the phrase justice being used more often by those in the community. When I would think about the term God’s justice, it would invoke a sense of fear in me because if this is the “justice” that people participate in and desire for, how much worse would the justice of God be? I saw God’s justice as punishment for not living up to his standards.
Tell us about one or two lectures that most impacted your perception of justice during the semester. How was justice as recognized in Scripture defined? What biblical texts did the professor use as support?
One of the most impactful lectures came from Rev. Dr. Josh James. His speech was entitled “Exodus as Faithfulness.” Through his address, it became clear to me that God does not just act justly, but that he calls us to strive for justice in our everyday lives. When we look at Exodus 1, the midwives in their day-to-day work resisted the powers and demands of Pharaoh, sparing the lives of many. In the wake of a culture that seeks to gain and maintain power and control, how do we confront that power and act as the midwives, caring for and reaching out to those who are the most vulnerable in our society? The entire book of Exodus shows God’s heart for those who are suffering under power and how he draws near to them in their sufferings and leads them out of their oppression. One quote from James has really stood out in my mind ever since: “Exodus was not just a once in a lifetime event, but it’s a continuous event.” When we practice justice and righteousness in our lives, we faithfully remember God’s activity throughout history.
How have these points and the course in general changed or advanced what you think about or how you define justice?
Taking this course has completely changed the way I define justice. Now, justice, to me, is that motivating factor for us as people that sets us into action when we see something that is not in alignment with the way it is supposed to be. Justice is also not a conceivable goal if done individualistically. We, as a community of faith, must have the eyes to see and the ears to hear where there is suffering and oppression. In our communities, we find that each of us bring various perspectives and insights into the ways that we can work towards healing and restoration.
How will these learnings and reflections impact your ministry going forward?
Moving forward in my learning, I will be able to draw back from all the insights of the lectures and discussions with classmates and think about how the community where I serve in ministry can practice justice and righteousness while being on mission with God. These insights will be especially helpful in discussions with middle and high school students as we wrestle with the ways God may be calling us to serve in our schools and local neighborhoods. In my experience in youth ministry, I have found that students have a strong desire to stand up for and speak out on issues that they face with their peers. This course has enabled me to lead and guide them and challenge them to think about the ways that God may be thinking about specific issues.