Justice Requires Action: A Message from Executive Director Chris Purnell

Chris Purnell

Chris Purnell


This blog post is part three in a four-part series this month that delves further into the matter of justice and its role in our work at the Clinic.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” — Matthew 7:24-25

Are you more of a doer or a thinker? Me? I like doing as much as the next person. But what I love even more is thinking about doing something. It’s so rewarding.

But therein lies the rub: Justice is ultimately made perfect or complete in the doing of things. Jesus talked about this when he said that the one who heard what he said and then actually put it into practice is like a wise person who built his house on solid ground.

That’s simply what a just person is like: They not only think beautiful thoughts, they engage in beautiful action. They not only like a post on Facebook, they volunteer at the next event. They not only say that the marginalized matter, they open up their homes and their lives for God’s divine interruption.

What is at stake in our slacktivism? What do we stand to lose by allowing ourselves to be captivated and deluded into thinking that we have done something when all we have really done is virtue-signal to our tribe or upset a few folks on social media? 

Much in every way. For starters, we may allow this shallow understanding to dupe us into thinking that we’ve really understood our fellow human. Further, we may think that we have achieved something when all we’ve done is spit in the wind. The Hebrew prophets called the people of Israel and Judah to action; John the Baptist called people to action; Jesus called his followers to action—to repent, and to demonstrate the actions that are consistent with that repentance.

All of these words are directed at me. I know my own heart and I know that I too easily mistake the taking up of a book for the taking up of the cross; I mistake the beginning of a dialogue for the conclusion of an injustice; I mistake thinking for doing.

Martin Luther King, Jr., who we rightly celebrate today, saw this in his time. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, he wrote to white moderates—people who agreed with King that segregation was wrong, even ungodly. However, they opposed him because they thought the timing was wrong, the methods were wrong, the optics were wrong, and that people were being offended.

They wanted to think some more.

But King, humbly and with Christian charity and clarity, said no. Oppressors will never think that the timing is right for justice; the methods were time-tested and nonviolent; and the eyes of the country were seeing the evil fruits of Jim Crow up-close for the first time. Then, he penned these words:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

May we deeply understand the plight of those who are pushed aside—our immigrant neighbors, our generationally impoverished communities, the homeless we brush past in the city. Then, may we act.

Until justice and peace embrace,

Chris Purnell e-sig Black 2015.png