By Kate Harrison Brennan
I lead an organization that exists to help Christian women do mercy and justice. Sounds great—and it is—but I’m learning how hard it is to create a work culture that dares to focus on justice and mercy within our office, as well as our mission. I’m convinced this is what we are called to do. Each of us is to take Micah 6:8’s words seriously: What does God require? That we act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” But what does that look like in the day to day?
Let me back up. I put my faith in Jesus as a teenager, and soon came to realize that my own sense of wanting to put the world right was in fact an echo of God’s deeper call for justice. God will finally put the world to right when Jesus returns, but until then, I needed to have confidence in what I couldn’t yet see (Hebrews 11:1) and lean into doing justice and loving mercy. Here. Now.
In high school, I’d go into my parents’ quiet, dark study, dial onto the Internet (yes, dial up Internet!) and read the biographies of men and women who served in leadership at the United Nations. Their sense of mission to bring justice and mercy to people around the world inspired me to study international development at Oxford, where I analyzed the decision-making process of an international organisation established to serve the world’s poor. Part of my work included editing a volume called Making Global Institutions Work, which included a chapter on the UN’s need to practice what it preaches with its own staff. Even global justice organizations needed in-house justice protocols.
Those experiences set the course of my career, grounding me in crucial practices for justice and mercy, and by God’s grace, bringing me to the work I do now. It’s not easy—and I think that’s the point. This year, for instance, a global aid charity made headlines for all the wrong reasons; allegations emerged that its staff had sexually exploited vulnerable women in Haiti. Closer to home, we all know people with high ideals whose personal lives don’t seem to match.
Many of us also know what it’s like to work in an environment where there’s a glaring gap between the organization’s values and the experience of working on the team. It’s easy to become skeptical. Is working for mercy and justice really possible? Even if we follow Jesus, can our work reflect more than an obligatory do-gooder attitude? Can we actually help right the wrongs we see daily?
The answer lies in Micah’s call: If we’re willing to walk humbly with our God, even while not always getting it right, I believe we can reflect the Lord’s justice and mercy to others in practical ways:
1. Don’t buy into “pyramid schemes” that exploit.
One of Micah’s tasks was to remind people how God has been faithful. The Almighty (6:4) “brought you up out of Egypt, and redeemed you from the land of slavery.”
God rescued the Israelites from Egypt – the land where Pharaoh’s work system relied on production without end or rest. This was a place with a literal “pyramid scheme!”God’s people had been forced to do work in extreme and exploitative conditions.
But into this world of extreme, get-everything-done-at-any-cost-work, came God’s voice, saying, “Let my people go!”And it was His son, Jesus, accomplishing a greater rescue, who later hung on a cross and said, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). As He bowed His head, dying an unjust death in our place, He knew His purpose on earth was completed.
In Jesus, God answered the prophet Micah’s question when he asked (6:6), ‘with what shall I come before the Lord . . . shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ Christ offered Himself to make us a redeemed people, calling us out of slavery to walk with Him wherever He leads—including following His lead in our jobs.
But have we forgotten our freedom or bought into the modern equivalent of a “pyramid scheme” in the way we do our work? As a CEO, I am responsible to lead in a way that mandates rest and does not ask for “more and more” ’ from the people on my team. Whatever our role, we can speak up for just practices.
2. Be present - be salt and light.
Our destiny as Christians is to live into the life God has shown us. What is good? Micah asks. God’s provision! He has placed us in our own specific contexts to walk humbly with Him, and to extend His mercy to others.
Jesus told His followers (Matt 5:13-14) that they would be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. They would be preserving the created order, as salt keeps decay at bay. That means intervening for those who are vulnerable, those who are wronged or abandoned or mistreated. As light, we expose injustices, and cast out darkness so that people connect our good deeds with our Father in heaven.
In other words, our great privilege, as co-laborers with Christ, is to reflect our Creator and to imagine a world with dignity and just treatment for our fellow image-bearers. Yes, the world is broken, and working for justice doesn’t happen easily, but we can rest knowing Christ will come again and make right all that’s been wronged. In the meantime, whether in the office or the front lines, may we do justice and walk humbly with the One who defines mercy.
Dr Kate Harrison Brennan is CEO of Anglican Deaconess Ministries (ADM), a 127 year old Christian women’s foundation. Kate is a Rhodes Scholar and former Advisor to Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Recently, she took part in a Micah Australia delegation of Christian women leaders to Australia’s Federal Parliament. ADM is on Facebook and Instagram, and Micah Australia is also on Facebook and Instagram.