Justin Humphreys, CEO (Safeguarding) at Thirtyone:eight has recently co-authored a book with Simon Barrington, Founder and Director of Forge Leadership, called Just Leadership: Putting integrity and justice at the heart of how you lead. Although it is aimed at leaders, it is a book for anyone who seeks to grow in this area.
Justice is integral to our mission
In the Bible the prophet Amos says: ‘Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ Most people have a cause they are passionate about where they would like to see justice emerge; whether something specific in their local area or on a global scale.
At Thirtyone:eight the notion of ‘justice’ is key to the work we do. However, it can be hard to define what justice actually looks like or how we go about accomplishing a notion of justice in practical, useful ways.
The vision of Thirtyone:eight is a world where every child and adult can feel, and be, safe. Justice is intertwined with our mission statement and integral to all that we do and all that we are. Much has been written over the years about this cause of justice. In many ways it is nothing new and the Scripture from Amos mentioned above would indicate that it is a direction that has been calling us for thousands of years and is embodied in both the New Testament and the Old Testament.
So why does it feel like we’re living through a time of increased injustices? Of #MeToo and the explosion of sexual abuse scandals in the Church and wider society to name some examples.
Just Leadership was written during lockdown and recovery from the Coronavirus global pandemic. A pandemic that laid bare further inequalities in society that was brought into stark relief by the statistics at the peak of the outbreak in the United Kingdom.
Nick Stripe, Head of Health Analysis, at the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics said: “People living in more deprived areas have experienced COVID-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas. General mortality rates are normally higher in more deprived areas, but so far COVID-19 appears to be taking them higher still.”
The pandemic has also increased levels of concern about domestic abuse, with the charity, Refuge reporting phone calls to its helpline increased by 25% and access to its internet services increased by 150%.
And what about children in such a time as this? In many ways they are more vulnerable than ever. As with others experiencing domestic abuse, children are being held captive in the very places where they are being systematically abused with reduced ability to escape and call for help.
The NSPCC have reported increases in calls to ChildLine from young people during the pandemic, citing physical, emotional and sexual abuse and an alarming rise in concerns about mental wellbeing among the most common reasons for calls.
Where can justice and integrity make the difference?
Being aware of injustice in our society is right and proper. Being prepared to be active in tackling the root causes and outcomes of injustice must also be a part of the practical out-working of our faith. But I suggest that the place we need to start is in seeking a radical revolution of our hearts first and foremost. Without this, we risk just being taken along with the latest cause or campaign. Whilst such things are good, to truly connect with the myriad issues and the injustice they cause, we must first connect with a deep understanding of who God is and how we might imitate Him through our relationship with him and the people around us. It is in this productive collision of our relational connectedness and personal discomfort where justice and integrity can really make a difference. Knowing God, knowing ourselves and understanding something of the experiences of those facing injustice is where it all starts.
Hallmarks of a just leader
There are a number of practical skills and attributes that are the hallmarks of a leader who “does justice” and who restores relationships with others and with creation. The just causes leaders are fighting for are varied. But what matters to all leaders is their heart, their approach and their posture – in other words putting justice at the heart of the way that they lead.
But what does this look like in practice for those who are in leadership? How can we be sure that the foundations we build will lead to our actions aligning with our beliefs and our identity?
In other words, how can we act authentically and with integrity? There are three key areas for leaders to consider:
- Foundations: Foundational at the heart of a just leader are the attributes of speaking up, hearing diverse voices and being willing to walk the journey with those suffering injustice.
- Posture: Core leadership postures for a just leader include coming close to injustice, generosity, managing power and being courageous.
- Action: How do just leaders act – with transparency, accountability, a passion for change and a willingness to tackle conflict.
Why care about justice?
As leaders, we need to remind ourselves of why we seek the common good, why we seek for justice, why we want to be just leaders. We care about justice because justice is who God is and what God does. We care about justice because Jesus does. We care about justice because God calls us to act justly. He also calls us to love mercy and to walk humbly with God:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly, with your God.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
We know that when that inbreaking justice comes then there is wholeness and healing and mercy and grace and a righting of wrongs. There is a feeling of peace and a flourishing; a shalom. There is a sense of being us rather than me. There is a coming of the Kingdom of God.
We desire more than anything that the beauty of God’s love and justice will become more visible in our world, that God’s inbreaking justice will be evident in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our organisations and in the world for the glory of the God who we love and serve.
In Just Leadership Simon and I write from our personal and professional perspectives and offer the book as a beginning to enable leaders to explore a broader range of concerns. Justice, though is about more than the causes themselves. It’s about who we are as leaders and who we are becoming. The key question to answer is not ‘What just causes should I choose to champion and fight for’ but ‘How can I become the type of leader who can be used by God to tackle these injustices?’
There is no doubt that we will all need to be continually reminded to be hopeful and patient as we pursue these goals which demand our intentional focus and energy.
Many people see injustices, feel defeated and wallow in a valley of despair. However, this can change when a leader brings a hope and belief that somehow a situation can and will be changed. It starts with you and me in our pursuit of God – then a movement can build!