When dealing with justice-related issues, an essential component is empathy. Empathy is the EMOTIONAL ability to understand how someone else FEELS. It is the ability to CARE and relate to another person and their situation.
For example, when seeking justice for immigrants and refugees, we must consider what it would be like to be in their situation. How does it feel? What emotions are at play? How can we RELATE TO what immigrants and refugees are going through?
The tricky thing about emotions is that they are, by their very nature, relational matters of the heart. Our empathy toward someone in a particular situation draws from our own reserve of life experiences. Have we been in a similar situation? Have we known someone else (a close friend or family member, perhaps) who went through the same type of thing? If we don't have any PERSONAL experience with a particular issue, then our emotional response will draw from our exposure to this issue in things like movies, TV, books, and media stories.
In other words, our empathy and emotional response to any issue of justice is completely dependent on our prior personal experiences. Another word for "prior personal experiences" is bias. Yes, my friends. Our emotional responses to any issue are biased, and based on our own pre-conceived notions (whether real or fictional).
If that's not bad enough, our emotions are also the easiest part of us to manipulate. The right music, the right spokesperson, the right story, the right theatrical timing, the right word usage. All these things can manipulate our emotional stockpiles and can be drawn upon later to achieve the desired response.
If it sounds like I'm saying our emotions are sometimes dangerous and unreliable guides, it's because I am saying that. What is the solution?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Psalm 119:105 make it very plain that Scripture is our ultimate, over-powering, constantly-essential guide for everything. "Everything" obviously includes issues of justice, and righting the wrongs that exist in our world.
Proverbs 18:15 and numerous other verses in the Proverbs extol the value of knowledge in discerning right from wrong. Knowledge is the understanding of facts, of history, and of other relevant information. Knowing these things, and being able to apply them in a Scriptural way, is essential to a proper discussion of justice issues.
Another way to describe wisdom is "common sense." Proverbs 3 proclaims the immeasurable value of wisdom in all areas of our lives, including a proper understanding of Biblical and societal justice. As the saying goes, "common sense is all too uncommon." Thankfully, James 1:5 offers the answer.
The final component is the ability to think critically and apply Scripture, knowledge, and wisdom in a connected, all-encompassing way. This is called logic. It is teaching someone HOW to think, not necessarily WHAT to think. It is analyzing the information and leading to a final, correct conclusion.
Scripture. Knowledge. Wisdom. Logic. Taken together, these are the antidote to the unreliable consequences of emotion. Don't believe me? Try to think of a single Scripture verse that says our words and deeds toward issues of justice (or anything else, for that matter) should be governed by our emotions. That's my point.
Am I then saying we should all be cold and calculating, like Vulcans? That we should stifle our emotional response to issues, and never try to empathize with someone who is experiencing the injustices of society?
Of course not.
The book of Hebrews compares Scripture to meat. I like this analogy. Considering our list of essential items above, if Scripture is the meat, then Knowledge is the bread, Wisdom is the vegetables, and Logic is the beverage that washes it all down.
And what is emotion? Emotion is the salt.
(See, I told you I'm not advocating that we all completely ignore our emotions.)
A little salt goes a long way. It seasons the whole meal. It adds flavor and dimension to our palate. But certainly no one would ever dump an entire salt shaker on their food and say it was a good idea. Or even worse, skip the meat, bread, vegetables, and beverage altogether and just eat spoonfuls of salt! Yet that's exactly what we're doing when we let emotion take the primary role in determining our words and actions. Not only is emotion incapable of taking a primary role, it should be the LEAST influential component of our decision making. Scripture, knowledge, wisdom, and logic do not NEED emotion in order to achieve a good outcome. Yes, emotion and empathy can help. But our society's over-reliance on emotion has seeped into our churches and how we deal with complex issues.
Why do I bring this up? Recently I have witnessed multiple interactions where issues of justice were being discussed by people with opposing ideas and viewpoints. Controversial issues. Such discussion is healthy and Scriptural. At some point, though, an appeal to emotion entered into the discussion, and took the field by storm. No amount of Scripture, knowledge, wisdom, or logic could displace the emotional argument. In fact, such attempts were usually met with even MORE emotions ... offense, anger, sadness, and indignation. The person offering the Scripture/knowledge/wisdom/logic side of things was accused of being uncaring toward vulnerable people, and was ultimately forced out of the discussion.
The person bringing meat, bread, vegetables, and drink was buried in salt.
(If you're experiencing an emotional response to these words I've written, and your reaction is to immediately reject what I'm saying, shut me down, or otherwise make sure these words never see the light of day ... aren't you proving my point?)
We ought never claim to know the internal motivations of other people to the point where we label them as uncaring, hateful, or unloving, simply because they offer a different perspective than our own.
We should be secure enough in our own convictions and ideas to let them be challenged by others, without appealing to emotion to shut down the other person.
We should put all ideas on the table, as long as they appeal to Scripture, knowledge, wisdom, and logic. And then let the best idea win.
We should always remember that a little salt goes a long way.