“Sorry kid, life’s not fair.”
May we never again say that to a child.
Children have a wonderful, natural instinct toward fairness and justice–and so often we caregivers squash it with phrases like that.
How we nurture their instincts shapes their ability to discern and do the work of justice. If we equip our kids with the skills to understand and do justice, they’ll be light years ahead of most. And if we can ground it all in Scripture–let them know their faith and their Bible have lots to say about justice and injustice–they’ll be better resourced for a life-long faith. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the generations after us are less and less likely to stand for a truncated gospel (or church community) that doesn’t include robust theology and equipping around justice.
We can approach this equipping and training work in three buckets:
- what justice really is
- what holds us back (injustice)
- how we transform injustice (the work of justice)
We do not have to start out knowing all the answers. This can be a journey we take together with our kids, asking and finding answers together.
How the Bible talks about justice
It’s important that our kids know what justice is in a positive sense. What are we working toward? When God talks about justice and righteousness, what does God mean?
In Scripture, we find many elements of just community that resonate with even the youngest kids (and language can be adapted to be age-appropriate):
- Everyone should be paid fairly for their work (Hebrews in slavery and the Exodus), and no one should ever be paid late (Leviticus 19:13).
- We all need to look out for each other, especially people who need extra support (Matthew 25).
- Everyone should have regular days of rest (Sabbath).
- It’s important to have parties and invite all kinds of people so no one is left out (Deuteronomy 16 and Luke 14:12-14).
- Our decisions should be made without bias (Leviticus 19:15, James 2) or self-interest (Philippians 2, Deuteronomy 16:18-20). We need to be fair even if it means we lose something (like a board game!) and the same rules should apply fairly to everyone.
- God wants us to share so nobody is too poor or too rich (Luke 3:11, 2 Corinthians 8:13-15).
- When we hurt someone, we need to make it right, above and beyond what we did wrong (Leviticus 6:1-5, Exodus 22:1-15).
Just this handful of justice elements gives our kids a great start in understanding justice on both individual and systemic levels. I’m sure you can think of other elements to add! It also gives an entry point for exploring the topic of justice from different parts of Scripture.
It’s important to show our kids that God’s vision of justice is holistic (social, economic, physical) because God cares about all people and all of who we are. Tell your kids that the Bible talks a lot about justice because God cares a lot about things being fair and safe and healthy for everyone.
How to talk with kids and teens about injustice
Our kids and teens also need to be able to recognize the injustices around them. This comes really naturally to some kids, and it takes more training for others. I teach my kids to think about injustice in three different areas:
- cultural injustices – lies or wrong stories that are told about people or groups;
- system injustices – rules that are unfair to certain groups or ignore certain people or groups altogether, and resources that are made available to some groups but not others;
- relational injustices – when people are bullying or lying to get their way or get something for themselves.
There are age-appropriate ways to talk to them about the different ways these injustices play out in friendships, churches, families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. The stories of Joseph and Jesus are great starting places to find different types of injustice in the Bible. Explain that injustice is all part of the sin and death that God is rescuing us from and that God never wanted to exist.
Our kiddos are already positioned to do justice, no matter how young they are. One of the first biblical justice lessons I taught my kids is that apologizing is not enough, because the Bible says we also need to make restitution. So now, when he is hurt by one of his brothers and they say sorry, you will hear my 2-year-old say “And??”–he is ready for them to make it right in some way. The biblical model of restitution is that it should be above and beyond what was taken, so if my kids take something from someone, they have to give back more than they took. If they take three pieces of candy, they have to give back four.
These opportunities are all around them:
- When they hear something bad said about someone at school–we can teach them to investigate and look into it.
- When someone is mean to them on the playground–we can practice with them ahead of time how to explain that they didn’t like that and tell the bully not to do it again; we can then teach them to escalate to an adult if that doesn’t work.
- When they think we did something unfair to them–we can model looking into it by asking what they thought wasn’t fair and asking for their help coming up with a fairer approach or solution. We can share how we handled an unfair situation that happened at work or in the community. We can ask their advice and be curious together with them.
We can also dig into the stories of justice work in Scripture to see how God’s people have done justice and what kind of push-back they have encountered. We can explore the hard time Moses had advocating for freedom for the Hebrew slaves. We can look at how Reuben intervened on behalf of his little brother Joseph. We can look at how Mordecai investigated and gathered proof of the coming genocide to convince Esther to advocate for her people. We can show how Jesus loved to include all kinds of people, regardless of what others said. We can read the words of James telling churches to care equally about everyone.
God’s call is not for us to care about justice; God’s call is for us to do justice. Equipping our kids for this work gives them a biblical framework for understanding the world around them, as well as tools for doing the work.
- God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams
- You Are Revolutionary by Cindy Wang Brandt
- How Much Is a Little Girl Worth? and How Much Is a Little Boy Worth by Rachael Denhollander
- God’s Beloved Community by Michelle T. Sanchez
- Justice Journey for Kids, free 24-lesson curriculum for ages 7-11
Sarah Driver has worked for 20+ years at local, state, and international levels on a range of justice issues, from education reform and gender equality to human trafficking and spiritual abuse. She has also studied Scripture with this lens for the past two decades. Sarah has lived and worked on four continents and holds a master’s degree in social policy and development from the London School of Economics. You can find her on Instagram and at JusticeDriver.com.