Systemic Justice

By definition systemic injustice is complex. 

A complicated problem is different from a complex one. A complicated issue is difficult, there will be lots of work, it will take lots of thought, but in the end, it’s linear, moving from A to B to C to solve the problem. 

A complex issue isn’t linear. It involves systems and networks and groups — it’s multi-faceted. You need legislation, programs, people, even changes in values and perspectives. 

Take sex trafficking as an example.

Sex trafficking is a systemic injustice. Many laws address it. The cultural norm is against its practice. But because it’s systemic — because it’s complex —it’s still an injustice. It’s still happening. We still need non-profits, like The NET, that do what they do. We need churches like mine (and many others) to participate. We need my mother-in-law (and many others) to build relationships with the women caught up in the sex industry, to love them, to treat them as equals, to sit next to them in church, right next to the pastor who preaches the hope of the Gospel and the necessity of Gospel-people to take action in light of the Light of Christ the King. It’s going to take lots of legislation, lots of people, lots of education, lots of programs, and lots of money. 

It will take systemic change, to bring justice to systemic injustice. 


The bible is an honest book that speaks of the brokenness of humanity in an honest way. And it speaks to the brokenness of humanity in every sphere — family,  cities, government, church. It recognizes that sin has affected and infected every part of our society. Early on, in Genesis 6, God grieves the corruption of the world where every intention of the thoughts of the heart is only evil continually. And the rest of the Old Testament speaks to the continued systemic brokenness: in the book of Judges everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes; in Ecclesiastes, Solomon goes nihilistic on us about how messed up things are; in Proverbs, he puts forward wisdom in how we should act towards one another as he observes the injustices around him; the Prophets speak to the legislative, ecclesiatical, and communal aspects of complex, systemic injustice.  

My point is simply this: the reality of a broken world infected by sin is that we face complex issues that require complex, systemic change. And even then, we’re gonna have to wait for Jesus to come back to actually finish the job.

We’ve seen this already with racism and slavery in the US. Much legislation has passed, cultural perspectives have changed, programs are in place, education has happened, but clearly we need more. We can argue about what that more is, but it’s something. Because of its complexity, because racism is so embedded in the systems and networks and groups, it’s residue and it’s reality still exists. 

Which brings me to the discussion of abortion. Abortion is a great systemic injustice. (Which is why I don’t understand how some conservatives push back on the reality of systemic injustice existing at all…it is very strange, illogical, and inconsistent.) I understand that some professing Christians are pro-choice, and hold to some sort of moral “ok” for abortion (in various degrees). But let’s assume the historic and conservative stance is the biblical one: Abortion is a great evil and goes against the law and heart of God.

Abortion is the law of our land. Psalm 94 speaks against law-makers who “frame injustice by statute.” That is, they pass laws that legalize injustices. That is what we have in Roe v Wade and other laws. Abortion is also culturally accepted. Certainly it is vehemently opposed by many, but no one can argue that the pro-choice proponents haven’t won, hands down, the marketing game — the narrative has been embeded in our cultural story and, largely, the pro-choicers are the heroes of that story. (The fact that much of our culture is bummed they can’t abort Down Syndrome babies in Texas anymore is my case in point: the pro-choice narrative is the story our world holds to.) There are networks and groups and people and money and laws all working together to oppress a whole people group — the unborn child. (I would also argue that many women who become pregnant in less than ideal circumstances are also often “oppressed” — pressured, encouraged, and sometimes even forced, to have an abortion.)

It is a systemic, complex injustice. How must we proceed?

Well we must fight for justice, systemically. That is to say, in a holistic, multi-faceted approach. So we rejoice at the new legislation that the State of Texas passed banning abortions after six weeks. Some of us rejoice at the deterrents put in place to punish those who pressure, pay for, and perform the abortions on these women — many whom don’t have a network of relationships around them that can help them would they choose the life of their baby. 

But we don’t just settle on celebrating a new law. There is still work to do.

Many have been angered by the law — even those that profess to be pro-life. They want more legislation. They want more programs. They want more to be done. They want the issues to be addressed that created this situation where, perhaps, a poor, marginalized young woman is put in this situation at all. Yes, and amen! Now we can argue about how those things should be addressed, and what kind of laws should be passed. How involved the government should be in systemic matters is a matter for political discourse, and that’s ok. But we should all agree more needs to be done.

Again, we need non-profits, crisis pregnancy centers, churches, people, money to address this complex and systemic problem. 

For example, at my church, we partner with the Fort Worth Pregnancy Center, we promote, educate, and encourage adoption and foster care, we have Embrace Grace groups that rally around the single mom that chooses life, and we don’t ostracize the woman who has an abortion, instead we extend grace. The same grace we received. The same grace I’ve recieved in my sin of abortion. 

I am confused though.

The same day the Texas abortion law passed, so to was another law passed that is the first of its kind. In Texas it is now a felony to buy sex. This is a huge win against the systemic injustice of sex trafficking. It was celebrated. Is there more to be done? Absolutely. Should we still rejoice in this small win? Of course! When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves there was rejoicing. But there was still work to be done. Many blacks in the South didn’t even hear about it. It’s why Juneteenth is now a national holiday. We still went through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. And we celebrated all along the way as laws changed, the cultural perspective shifted, and other systemic issues were addressed. And yet there is still more.

I’m confused because some are not celebrating a law that virtually makes it illegal to have an abortion in Texas. Yes, some will seek abortions out-of-state if they have the means. Others will seek it underground. But slavery still exists and no one is saying we should make it legal again so it can be regulated, controlled, and “safe”. And yes we still have work to do, but wasn’t this a good work that got done? I don’t hear anyone lambasting the felony sex purchase law because it didn’t do all the things we need done. 

I’m not sure where to go from here. This is a systemic issue in and of itself, and so it is complex.

Where we get our information, how we consume news, what forms us, who disciples us, what church we go to, the company we keep, the stories we have…all of that plays into how we interpret the things happening around us. I would suggest that blog posts like these that allow for more than 280 characters, and gracious conversation among friends, and rich biblical literacy are great ways of moving the conversation forward. 

But I also know that until our great King comes back and rules in righteousness, “the poor will always be among us.” And I’ll pray. And I’ll keep fighting. And we should keep talking. And let’s celebrate the small wins. Let’s grieve what’s still lost. And let’s trust in a God who is at work even now.