Jesus’ understanding of social justice was about more than just ascribing to a codified system of laws, guest lecturer John L. Bell said at Samford University Thursday, March 31.
“Rather, it was about dealing with certain matters in the absence of specific laws,” said Dr. Bell, an ordained minister and hymnodist of the Church of Scotland.
Bell spoke on the topic, “Social Justice in the Name of Jesus,” as this year’s Ray Frank Robbins lecturer at Samford. A resident of Glasgow, Scotland, Bell serves The Iona Community, a Christian ecumenical effort dedicated to peace and social justice.
Legal justice, he said, isn’t confined to the behavior of an individual. “A church, nation or corporation can be accused of breaking laws,” he said. Also, laws can condone injustice, such as was the case in Great Britain, where, some 300 years after the Reformation, Roman Catholics still could not vote. And, laws are not always synonymous with justice.
“Much that is unjust in the world is not proscribed by law,” he said.
Bell noted that few hymns mention Jesus, and none allude to his interest in social justice. Nor do Paul’s letters in the New Testament have much to say about the subject. Still, as indicated in Luke 24:44, it is clear that Jesus sees himself as one who comes to fulfill the law as written by Moses.
“The law of Moses is not just about what people should not do, but how they are to treat their neighbors, strangers and servants,” said Bell.
Injustice can occur in the use of money, such as if a person chooses to give lavishly to a philanthropy rather than care properly for their elderly parents. “It may be legal, but it is an injustice,” said Bell.
Jesus does not contend that money, both corporate and personal, is implicitly tainted, but his concern is more about how it is used, said Bell.
Samford students and professors alike are part of a society whose wealth is in no small way dependent on minimal wages paid to service workers, garment factory workers, and others, he said. “We are all the beneficiaries of cheap commodities that are paid for on the backs of the poor.”
The Robbins Lecture, sponsored by Samford’s department of religion, honors the longtime professor of New Testament at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who began his academic career at Samford. The lectureship focuses on the intersection of scholarship and Christian living.
During his Samford visit, Bell also spoke to students at Beeson Divinity School and led a musical event on justice and peace for Samford’s School of the Arts.
His audience for the social justice lecture in Reid Chapel included the late Dr. Robbins’ son and daughter-in-law, Ray Robbins, who earned bachelor’s, master’s and juris doctor degrees from Samford in the 1970s, and Sue Limbaugh Robbins, a 1970 graduate. They live in Talladega, Ala.