Justice or Charity?

Desmond Tutu made the following, poignant statement about the difference of justice and charity. We view our calling to share God's unconditional love through this lens:

Imagine a river flowing by a small village. Now imagine that occasionally a person who can’t swim is floating by. It would make sense to set up a lifeguard station along the banks of that river, right?

This would be what we mean by “charity”.

Charity is an act of love on behalf of someone in need.

Now suppose someone asked some questions. Why are all these people floating by? Who is pushing them in the river? Why can’t they swim? Perhaps that person would walk upstream to find out what is causing this crisis so that they could stop it.

This is what we mean by “justice”.

Justice asks the question, “why?”


Why are so many struggling in poverty? Why do we see acts of violence against women, people of color, or those of various sexual orientations or gender identities? Why is there such a gap between the top 20% and bottom 20% in our socio-economic spectrum? Why is the earth experiencing a climate crisis?

The answers to these questions will be varied. We will see solutions through the lens of our cultural and political affiliations. Our congregation is made up of conservatives and liberals so we are not united in our response. However, we are united in our understanding that faith in the God of Jesus demands that we engage the question, “Why?”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)