Next week is National Pro Bono Celebration Week and the perfect opportunity to examine how to make justice for all possible. By identifying the problem we can identify how to work together toward a solution.
America has a problem
America’s number one problem is we don’t recognize the problem. We recognize symptoms and spend a lot of time and money on the symptoms. But until we address the cause, we cannot effect change.
The symptoms of injustice – racial disparity, immigrant maltreatment, wage abuse, trafficking, mass incarceration, education, poverty – are all symptoms of a deeper problem. The root problem is a lack of access to justice.
The truth is America has the greatest justice system on earth. But when you cannot access that system it doesn’t matter. Think of it this way. Giving a man a fish is addressing the symptom of hunger. Teaching a man to fish is addressing the systemic issue of poverty. But if the man cannot access the river then we have a deeper problem. Today people cannot access any of our justice systems – government, criminal or civil.
We pledge “justice for all” while 70% of people lack meaningful access to our justice system.
The problem has three dimensions
1. Affordable Access to Justice
The United States ranks 65th in the world for providing affordable, access to justice. That ties with Pakistan. That’s right – Pakistan! 1 in 3 Americans cannot afford an attorney. In our country if you commit a crime and cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. But if you are the victim of crime – fraud, abuse, trafficking – you have no such right. Those exiting prison, trying to interact with the government or caught in the civil justice system have no right to an attorney.
I grew up in a small town with a local butcher where everyone knew everyone. We even knew their dogs. So when a local dog ate the butcher’s prize roast, he knew to call the town lawyer.
“Hi Larry. Let me ask you a question. If someone’s dog ate one of my roast, would they be liable?”
“Your dog just ate my roast.”
“How much was it”
A couple days later the butcher got a letter and in it was a check for $12.87. There was also a bill for $125.00 for legal advice rendered.
We have a lot of lawyer jokes. But this is no laughing matter. Millions of people cannot afford access to information that means the difference between shelter or homelessness, seeing children or not, financial stability, health stability, job security, and numerous other fundamental rights.
You can “google” anything. But in an age of information overload there is simply no way to know what is relevant, especially in a nation of ever-increasing complex laws. Those laws are the foundational challenge to a host of symptoms decried in America.
So why don’t more civic groups, religious groups or others address the real problem? Lawyers.
Lawyers control the legal systems. Only lawyers can represent someone in courtrooms. Lawyers continue to make up the largest profession among legislators and presidents. And 100% of judges are lawyers.
One of the most comprehensive examinations of the justice system concluded,
the machinery of justice can be operated only through attorneys, that attorneys must be paid for their services, and that the poor are unable to pay for such services. This is the great, the inherent, and fundamental difficulty – inherent because our legal institutions were framed with the intention that trained advocates should be employed, and fundamental in the sense that no amount of reorganization or simplification, short of a complete overturn of the whole structure, can entirely remove the necessity for the attorney.
Sounds like a modern indictment, but the quote is from Justice and the Poor written by Reginald Heber Smith in 1919. With such an age-old problem is there any hope?
As we move toward solutions we must recognize the deeper problem that lies at the heart of all problems – sin. Many wont’ agree. Even if one agrees with individual sin, some will disagree with sinful systems. I believe in both. So do a group of friends who wrote a new book on the subject titled Advocating For Justice.
Sin broke this world. The perfect became imperfect. Justice and peace reigned in Eden, but were evicted along with Adam and Eve. Injustice and strife followed mankind out of Eden and spread like a plague across the world. The Prince of this World, the serpent of Eden, we most often call Satan purposefully plants the lies of greed and power that lead to injustice and strife. This greed and power clings to individuals and systems. Recognizing the presence of sin, helps address solutions.
God has a solution
While the problem is big and complex, the solution is small and simple – you! You are God’s plan. More specifically, the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit within you which seeks to advance the Kingdom of God. The three dimensions of the problem are countered by three dimensions to the solution.
I love Gospel Justice. Yes, I wrote the book. I don’t believe you can have justice without the gospel or the gospel without justice. Both address the problem of sin. In fact the heart of justice is the cross of Christ. Seriously. Look at the word justice. What is in the middle? You might say the letter “t”, but I say that is the cross of Christ. The gospel lies at the heart of justice.
Jesus defeated sin on the cross. He died for you. His substitutionary death makes it possible for you to experience a new life filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. That is no small power. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, dwells within you once you accept the truth of Jesus death and resurrection; recognize you are powerless over sin; and confess your sin and receive His forgiveness.
The gospel restores you in relationship with God and invites you to work toward restoring the Kingdom. You will not fully accomplish that work until the Lord returns and fully restores justice and peace, but the Kingdom is present and moving toward that certain end. You are a citizen of that Kingdom seeking to restore others in relationship with God and neighbor.
Justice is about restoring what is broken and balancing the scales for the poor and vulnerable. The Hebrew words are Tzedek and Mishpat. Together with their New Testament Greek counterparts, they intertwine with the concepts of righteousness and shalom. This justice cry is the second most prominent theme in Scripture.
Before we look at the important role of lawyers, let’s be clear – you are God’s plan whether you are a lawyer or not. Micah 6:8 does not say, “He has shown you, O Lawyers…” It says, “O Mortals”. That’s everyone. And what does the Lord require of each and every one of us? “To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”
Lawyers are special agents of justice. To whom much is given, much is required. Sadly, many lawyers do not give time or money toward assisting the poor and vulnerable. But here is the problem. We spend a lot of time, and jokes, bashing lawyers. Why not encourage them?
Encourage them to use their unique gifts to make a difference. Let them know they are not alone. Support them. Sure the Bible is full of “Woe to you teachers of the law (lawyers)” but it also has Zenas. Zenas was a lawyer. Paul asked Titus to be certain Zenas was supported. (Titus 3:13). We need to do the same. Share our web page for lawyers with them. Work with them to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.
Our name, Gospel Justice Initiative, is intentional. However, we recognize there are multiple players who together form the body of Christ advancing the Kingdom. This is key to our statement of faith. All of us must work together to provide access to justice.
The significant need is an opportunity for the church to stand in the gap. Share our pastor page with a church leader. Together we can address the root cause of injustice by sharing the hope of the gospel and the help of a lawyer. We can work together to free people from legal burdens and systems so they can flourish.
Together we can make justice for all possible. Many of us want to do grand things for justice, but Jesus told us He would judge us based on what we did with one. One man injured on the Jericho road. “one of the least of these” Mt. 25:40. We can all do something for one. Together we can do more.
Contact us to get started. Let’s change someone’s story together. Sharing this article with others is a great way to advance justice for all.