Acting justly in the world

Marty Shupack, CWS Director of Advocacy, reflects on the importance of protecting the innocent and lifting up the poor.

Women in rural Kenya
With the support of CWS, women in a community in rural Kenya constructed a sand dam, dramatically improving their families' access to water for household needs and for growing food.
Photo: Lynn Johnson/

By Marty Shupack, CWS Director of Advocacy

Is the U.S. government doing too much? That’s a question addressed in several opinion polls. If we look at Scripture we find that governments have a vital role in protecting ordinary people from those who do evil and lifting up the impoverished. I believe the important question is not how much the government is doing, but whether it’s doing the right things – acting justly, enhancing human freedom, protecting the innocent and lifting up the poor.

For example, those who do evil (Rom. 13:1-6) aren’t just the people who rob our homes or shoot us in the street. James 5:1-6 makes it clear that evildoers are also those who mistreat workers. Government has an important role in helping ensure that employers treat workers fairly.

The U.S. has acted on this responsibility through wage and hourly laws passed early in the 20th century, 1960s legislation banning employment discrimination against people of color, and the 2009 Fair Pay Act, which helps prevent wage discrimination against women. Some members of my church have jobs today because the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses not to discriminate against workers with disabilities, but to make reasonable accommodations for them.

The Bible also envisions law protecting consumers from fraudulent business practices (see for example Lev. 19:35 and Deut. 25:16). The recent Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, an effort to safeguard ordinary people from financial wrong-doing, is consistent with government’s responsibility expressed in Romans 13.

Our government has also taken important steps to lift up the poor. When I was a child, there was tremendous poverty among the elderly. That has changed because of expanded Social Security and Medicare. Other programs ensure access to medical care for people with disabilities and children in poor families.

While many uninsured people are not poor, being unable to get medical insurance is a frightening reality. My nephew, a young man with a wife and three children, is one of the 35 million people who will benefit from the new health insurance legislation. Because he is self-employed and has a medical "pre-condition," he’s been refused insurance. Now he can get it.

While many of our member denominations have prophetically advocated for these governmental actions, Church World Service advocacy focuses on policies that reduce hunger and lift up the poorest of the poor. For example, we advocated for the new Feed the Future Initiative, which will promote rural development in poor countries by assisting small-holder farmers – especially women farmers – to be more productive and to market their produce. Yet this program won’t make a difference and save lives unless Americans tell Congress that Feed the Future must be adequately funded.

The prophets, apostles and Jesus himself spoke about showing compassion for the poor and acting justly in the world. We carry on their ministry when we raise our voices for justice and fairness, in anticipation of that Day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing river.

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