Intentional and Unintentional Injustice

This is the third post in a series of seven examining the Bible’s concept of justice and the action expected of Christ-followers by our King. These principles are essential to the ministry and the faithfulness of 2nd Mile Ministries to remain on mission.

Written by Marc Nettleton, Interim Executive Director

In the 90s, somewhere after parachute pants and before Furbies, a series of books called “Magic Eye” had their moment.

Magic Eye was a simple concept. When I first opened one of the books there were no words, storylines, or characters, instead each page had a large image on it. On first glance, all I saw was just a seemingly random design, a mix of pointillism and poorly chosen 1980s wallpaper. But upon closer examination, and by training my eyes in a technique of holding the book close to the eyes and slowly drawing it out, a brand new image would emerge. Perhaps the 3D image of a duck, or a fishing trip, or a landscape.

As an untrained viewer each page was just a pixelated mess, but later a whole narrative could be found within. I just needed to know how to “unlock” the experience held within. And once, my eyes had been trained, I couldn’t not see the hidden image.

Similarly, in the world around us, the engaged disciple of Christ must do the work of training her eyes to see injustice because unless she trains her eyes, she will never be able to act as an agent of redemption to a hurting world.

In many cases, injustice is obscured in our world and unmasking this hiddenness is a key first step in pursuing the justice and righteousness of God in our world. For many Christ-followers as soon as these initial obstructions are removed they want to jump straight to action, but a path of learning is often required first or this new found engagement might actually do more harm than good. Until we learn to recognize the image behind the dots and the deeper issues beneath injustice, we aren’t ready to effectively counter its negative impact.

So, let’s set out to re-train our eyes. In the next several posts we will chronicle some different categories of injustice and for each of them, the hidden side that cloaks itself in normativity. For the purposes of this discussion, we will use racial injustice in America as our example because it is so central to understanding so much about our particular context, but know that this framework can be applied to injustice stemming from any number of possible causes.

The most obvious form of injustice we know is this: intentional injustice. When one sets out to create a biased and unjust outcome based on planning and forethought. Almost all of us would be quick to call, this practice out as sinful and ungodly and while most of us could name some person who acts that way, I think we are oftentimes unaware of just how prevalent that “person” might be.

For example, I know of a strong, Bible-believing church where there were members in good standing who were “that person”. One man ran a business that as an unwritten policy only hired white candidates. Another member had a personal policy of refusing to donate money to any Christian organization that participated in “race mixing”. I use these examples to illustrate that “those people” may not be quite as other as we’d like to think.

But, these flashing neon examples of injustice aren’t the end of the problem. Because, for a practice to be unjust, it need not be intentional. Injustice can come about because of unintentional actions as well. And these hidden injustices can have a tremendous impact on lives, outcomes, and experiences.

So let’s look at a few examples of these hidden, unintentional injustices:

An innocuous trip to the local big box retailer to pick up bandages, hair products, and a doll for your daughter seems like it shouldn’t lead to any unjust encounters, but depending on your skin color and the store you choose, it may. If you are a person of color, you may experience a lack of bandages in your skin tone, no products that work for your hair texture, and no dolls that look like your daughter. 

This may seem like an inconvenience, but this type of experience and other racialized slights have been shown by social psychologists to have a measurable negative impact on the lives of non-white people in our society. Again, this is unintentional. It isn’t that Johnson & Johnson or Mattel is setting out in some malicious campaign to demean black and brown people, but the damage that is done is real and unjust nonetheless.

Or consider, this example with broader impact. Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? In our society, social networks are often key to jobs, promotions, and so much more. But, both social networks and capital are severely segregated. So if most business owners are white, most of their social circles are white, and most business owners hire from within their own social circles, who will get those jobs and opportunities? Will the results be racially diverse or will they be homogenous? Our employment process unintentionally creates and perpetuates economic inequality.

Finally, consider the concept of implicit bias, which is the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Study after study shows that Americans of all races are preferentially predisposed towards white people and against persons of other races. Remember, again, this is by definition an unconscious, unintentional process. 

Various implicit bias studies have shown:

  • 90% of white people are positively biased towards white faces

  • In a Weapon Identification Task, whites are associated with holding garden tools and blacks with weapons

  • On eBay an iPod held by a black hand in the photo will receive 21% less offers than one held by a white hand

The good news is awareness is the first step in retraining your brain to dismiss implicit bias and that over time, progress can be made to counter this unintentional, but very harmful reality. 

In response to all this, some people may say, “But as Christians, it’s the heart that counts . . .” And, yes, while I would agree that there is a difference of culpability between intentional and unintentional unjust practices that, first, we are followers of a religion that is based in repentance. Martin Luther said that the life of every believer to begin with repentance. So we would all do well to examine ourselves deeply, not just for our overt prejudice, but to look beyond the dots to see the hidden image as well.

Second, the fact that these injustices are unintentional actually makes them more dangerous, not more dismissable. They hide behind facades and ignorance and thus perpetuate themselves unknowingly. Finally, “it’s the heart that counts” simply isn’t the standard we hold our children to, so why do we give ourselves a pass? If your son accidentally hits your daughter, you don’t say, “He didn’t mean to, so stop whining little girl.” Do you? No, you teach your son to say, “I’m sorry I hurt you, I’ll be more careful and do better next time.” 

It is the impact, not the intention that matters.

If we are going to be the people of justice that the Bible asks us to be, we must step into this journey and seek to train our eyes and hearts to see and counter injustice in all its forms. Just as we found the hidden images in those Magic Eye books of another era, today we must look for the ways that injustice is hidden in the unintentional. By doing thusly, we can develop our own skills for empathy, equity, and just living.

Where is Injustice

This is the second post in a series of seven examining the Bible’s concept of justice, and the action expected of Christ-followers by our King. These principles are essential to the ministry and the faithfulness of 2nd Mile Ministries to remain on mission.

Written by Marc Nettleton, Interim Executive Director

In the seventh grade, I got my first pair of glasses. Nearsightedness was a gradual deception, it set in so slowly that I didn’t even recognize it in process. Before I went to the optometrist, I didn’t know I was missing out on anything. Yes, the words on the board were hard to read sometimes, but perhaps that was just the limitations of the human eye.

But then I put on those glasses. Suddenly, from the back of the room all the words were legible. Overhead projector sheets were clear as day. But the biggest revelation was facial expressions. This wasn’t just blurry words becoming clear, this was a new, unknown world of communication being opened up to me (and a plausible explanation for my middle school lack of social skills). I had become accustomed to the reality that if someone was a certain distance away, one simply couldn’t make out their features. I could hear the tone in their voice, but I couldn’t see a furrowed brow or a twisted smile. But suddenly, non-verbal cues were discernible. I had been given access to a previously opaque reality.

After being given this tool, glasses, I had a cure for my literal blind spots. And with my cure in hand, I could interpret and act in the world in a brand new way.

In our first post, we examined God’s character and our discipleship. We discovered that God holds justice and righteousness in high priority. They are essential to his character. We discussed that disciples, or apprentices, must be continually becoming more like our God and having our hearts reflect that which is close to his heart. Or to put it another way as my pastor recently said, “A disciple doesn’t just know what the Teacher knows, a disciple must be becoming what the Teacher is.” So, therefore, we must be becoming people who care deeply about justice and righteousness in the earth.

So, let’s say we have read that and we are convinced! (and maybe a bit convicted too) We are ready to change our ways and orient our lives towards justice and righteousness in all that we do! How are we to go about doing that?

Well, there’s an important first step. We need to be able to see injustice. If we cannot see it, we cannot pray against it. If we cannot see it, we cannot stand in opposition. If we can’t see it, we certainly can’t take active steps to undo the impacts of injustice.

So, let’s get to work. Quick, in your head (or on paper) do this activity with me.

  • First, think about the world. Note in your head or jot down some examples of injustice that come to mind from overseas and across the world.

  • Next, think about the United States. Note or jot down some examples of injustice that are specific to the USA.

  • Finally, think about your neighborhood or career field, your immediate surroundings, what injustices plague that area?

If you will allow me to make a conjecture, my guess is that your first list was quite a bit longer than your last list. And while it might be true that certain types of injustices are more common “over there” than they are in your community, I can promise you this, your community is not untouched by injustice. The Fall took place everywhere and it has impacted every nation, culture, school, college, field of business, and neighborhood.

Injustice exists everywhere.

But instead rather, many times (especially those of us who have been privileged in one way or another) must have our eyes opened to injustice. We need eyes to see and ears to hear. Because you don’t know what you don’t know. And you can’t change, what you can’t see. 

But, if we are to pursue Jesus and all of his character and all that he has for us, we must take up this challenge and begin to train our eyes to see injustice so that we can be those who stand up for positive, Biblical justice in every area where we have influence. Furthermore, often times the most pervasive and damaging injustices are the ones that hide themselves and are invisible to us even though they are in operation every day all around us. So, over the next several posts we will be examining how to train our eyes by developing categories for these hidden injustices that all too often escape our view.

Each of us needs to be given the proper tools. Otherwise, we’ll miss out on facial expressions or worse yet, we will be oblivious to what our God desperately cares about and is calling us stand up for boldly. 

What is Biblical Justice?

This is the first post in a series of seven examining the Bible’s concept of justice and the action expected of Christ-followers by our King. These principles are essential to the ministry and the faithfulness of 2nd Mile Ministries to remain on mission.

Written by Marc Nettleton, Interim Executive Director


For a year I lived in an East Asian nation that has sharply different views on shame and recognition than my home country. There, it is rarely good to draw attention to oneself and personal embarrassment is to be avoided at all costs. Once a man and I collided on our bikes and while it wasn’t a violent or high-speed accident by any means, I wanted to check to make sure he was ok. He would have none of it. Not wanting to draw attention to his literal run-in with a very-noticeable foreigner, he deferentially responded to me as quickly as possible and biked away.

A decade later, if I’m at a restaurant in America and a server drops a plate and I hear glass shatter, I stare straight ahead. I try not to flinch and I certainly do not look at them or the mess that they have created. My internal dialogue pleads with me, “Don’t draw attention to him! Don’t make her lose honor!” 

Why? My year of absorbing another culture has impacted me deeply. By spending time around people and their influences, I too have been influenced. Maybe you too have had a similar experience where a word has entered your vocabulary, an unfamiliar food has become commonplace, or you began mimicking another’s mannerisms. This is the process of discipleship. We naturally begin to become like those who we share life with. We act how they act, we speak how they speak, we care about the things about which they are passionate.

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives his final, earthly instruction to his followers in what has come to be known as the Great Commission. He commands them to go to all peoples of the earth to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey all that he commanded. 

The key concept here is the end result. What is it that his followers are to create more of?

Disciples.

Jesus commanded his people to go out and make, not converts, not cultural adherents, but disciples. And if we, too, are to obey this command, we must make sure we ourselves are in pursuit of discipleship for ourselves and for those with whom we have influence. To be a disciple is to be apprenticed to your leader. To be a disciple means to be continually being made more and more into the likeness of the one you follow. And this is certainly the expectation for those who follow Christ, that we would continually be formed into greater Christlikeness (2 Cor 3:18, 1 Cor 11:1, Rom 8:29, Rom 12:1-2).

However, any even cursory glance at church history (or our own backstory) will tell us that we are prone to blind spots in our discipleship formation. Augustine seems to have not believed women were made in the image of God. Martin Luther was in favor of the death penalty for Anabaptists. Jonathan Edwards enslaved divine image bearers.

So, I think this makes it safe to presume that we would be right to examine our own 21st Century North American discipleship to find what parts of God’s likeness may have slipped through the cracks, been left un-highlighted in our Bibles, and are neglected in our pulpits. Because our goal must be to become continually more like our God and if we are neglecting any part of his character, we are falling short in our discipleship.

One area that I believe certainly needs greater emphasis in our cultural moment is God’s character as it relates to justice and righteousness.

And these two specific terms carry deep meaning if we interpret them in their original, Biblical context and apply them to our modern context. The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat, which Dr. Tim Keller describes as “giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care…Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor—those who have been called ‘the quartet of the vulnerable.’”

And since I have never written a sentence more eloquently or clearly than Dr. Keller, here too is his definition of the Hebrew word for righteousness: “in the Bible tzadeqah [righteousness] refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity, and equity.” Righteousness by our cultural definition primarily looks like inward piety, religiosity, or morality. But, in truth, the Bible’s concept of righteousness far transcends your prayer life or devotional habits. This righteousness is far broader. It deals with the way we conduct business, the way we treat the poor, the way we set up systems and our society. True righteousness requires the pursuit of equity, the fair treatment of all parties in all our dealings. This equity must account for fairness in all matters including wealth, status, gender, race, and ethnicity.

These two words, justice and righteousness, are used in tandem throughout the Hebrew Bible with over three dozen occurrences. In Jeremiah 9:24, when the Lord identifies what he delights in, He names, “justice and righteousness on earth.” In Job 14, when Job is presenting his defense to God, he appeals to the divine attributes by saying tzadeqah (righteousness) is his clothing and mishpat (justice) is his robe and turban. Proverbs 21:3 states that doing mishpat and tzadeqah is more acceptable to God than sacrifice. Further, in Jeremiah 22:14-16, God equates doing what is right and just and defending the cause of the poor and needy with knowing the Lord. This means that conversely, to not do what is just and right is to not know, at the very least, some part of the Lord. When these two words are used together they become more than they are as separate concepts. The best modern translation for the joined concept would be the phrase “social justice”.

But the closeness of justice and righteousness to God’s heart is not limited to these occurrences or to the Hebrew Bible alone. In the Scriptures we can see justice tied with:

  • God’s character (Ps 146:7-9, Ps 106:3, Deut 24:17-22, Lev 25)

  • True worship (Is 1:13-17, Is 58, Amos 5:18-24)

  • Judgment (Eze 16:49-50, Eze 18:5-27, Amos 5:11-15, Amos 8:4-10, Amos 2:6-7, Jer 22:3-9, Deut 27:19)

  • Key New Testament themes (Lk 11:42, Mt 25:31-46, Gal 2:10, 1 Jn 3:16-18, Jas 1:27 Jas 2:1-10, Jas 2:14-18, Jas 5:1-5)

In fact, there are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible that deal with justice and the poor. This is close to God’s heart. It is an essential part of his immutable character. But, if we miss it, it does not just mean we are disobedient, it does not just mean our discipleship is incomplete, though it does mean those things. If we miss God’s essential justice, we miss out on a huge part of our God. We lose something that is tremendously valuable and beautiful. We neglect God’s character and make him something lesser.

In Matthew 25, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the vulnerable, the immigrant, and the prisoner. Further, he actively separates himself from those who would denigrate or disregard justice for these groups. Jesus’ point in all this, in my view, is not to make salvation dependent upon one’s orientation towards justice, but is this: He is saying, If you are a follower of me, these are the things that should be characterizing you. Or, if you’ll allow me to quote Dr. Keller one more time, he is saying, “Justice is the grand symptom of a real faith.”

To be discipled means to become like the one who we desire to emulate. The process of discipleship should come naturally, but we also must examine ourselves and the Scriptures to ascertain if we are missing something in the character of God. Our first step must be to ask ourselves about our blind spots. 

  • Have I embraced the justice and righteousness of God? 

  • Does this vision of God’s character inform my worldview? 

  • What can I do about it?

As we continue on in this series, we will explore some of these questions along with the practical implications of all this in the life of a Christ-follower that we all might strive towards being continually made into the image of our God.




The Paved Path

*This post was previously written by a dietitian on 2nd Mile’s core team of volunteers

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Imagine traveling along a road that suddenly splits in two directions. One path is well-lit, paved, marked with signs, and filled with familiar faces, while the other is more of a trail off-road, overgrown with tall grasses, and a few brave people struggling to find their way. Which path would you choose?

In a lot of ways, the choice is so obvious that it doesn’t require much thought. We are creatures of habit, and when faced with a choice, we will most likely choose the path that is familiar to us. Unfortunately in our Brentwood community, that well-known path is paved with health disparities and food deserts and leads slowly down into a pit of poor health.

Consider the hypothetical case, ‘Mr. Johnson’ who grew up in a low-income minority neighborhood, much like Brentwood. Due to lack of reliable transportation, Mr. Johnson didn’t have access to many fresh foods and grew up eating lots of foods he didn’t have to cook like ramen noodles, hot chips, canned ravioli, corn dogs, and juice from the store around the corner. He watched his three younger siblings after school so he never got involved in sports or physical activity as a kid. Mr. Johnson’s under-resourced school did not require a health class and certainly never offered any cooking classes.

Over time, Mr. Johnson kept moving down this path and these habits led him to gain weight. When he was fifteen, he began working a manual labor job to help make the ends meet. Mr. Johnson continued to work physical jobs that put immense stress on his body and did not provide health insurance. Zoom several years forward and we find Mr. Johnson in the ER for back pain. While he is there, he is diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity and is instructed to follow up with the primary care provider that Mr. Johnson does not have.

Within the next five years Mr. Johnson is able to obtain health insurance and find a primary care physician. However, by this time Mr. Johnson has been untreated for his chronic diseases for years, has had a stroke, suffers from depression, and experiences chronic pain. His new doctor does not have time to answer his questions but instead starts Mr. Johnson on several medications that will cost Mr. Johnson on a monthly basis.

How did Mr. Johnson get here? He simply followed that paved, familiar path ahead of him—something we all might do. But depending on our community, our paved path will look different and not lead to the same place.

In some communities the path is studded with organic foods, gym memberships, youth sports leagues, and preventative healthcare. While other paths are lined with corner stores, fast food, run-down parks, and limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And this is what health disparities look like. These divergent paths highlight the inequalities that exist when members of certain population groups do not benefit from the same health status as other groups.

I am a dietitian who sees the health disparities within Brentwood in a very real way.  ‘Mr. Johnson’ sits down in front of me every day, overwhelmed by the place he has found himself in and the seemingly impossible climb out that is facing him.

How do you exercise when each step hurts your knees? How do you start eating healthy when you have to choose between buying vegetables or buying your medications? How do you get control of health conditions that no one has explained to you? It is overwhelming and heartbreaking and can feel hopeless.

But this is where I remember that we serve a God who redeems our life from the pit and renews our youth like the eagles (Psalm 103:4-5), a God who hears our cry and draws us up from the pit of destruction to set our feet upon a rock (Psalm 40:2), a God whose very Presence holds the power to heal (Luke 5:17). The Power and Presence of God can change an otherwise hopeless situation into a beautiful, flourishing one. The solution to eliminate health disparities is complex, multi-factorial, and challenging. But God is a God of healing and redemption who longs to see the health of Brentwood restored. Let us long for that with Him and move forward in the power of His Spirit to be agents of His healing in Brentwood.

Please pray for flourishing health in our Brentwood community. Pray for large-scale, systemic change so that the path to flourishing health would become the most accessible, easily traveled, and clearly marked path. Pray for knowledge, resources, and empowerment for our community members to travel that path well. And most of all, pray for God’s healing work in our neighborhood. His Presence changes everything.

More Than Just a Week

Every spring 2nd Mile hosts teams of college students from all around the country. These weeks are often a rich time of growth for students as they work and live in our community for a week. During these seven days, we invite people to be a part of what God is doing in and through our neighborhood, and learn about themselves, other people, and ultimately God. 2nd Mile has found that these trips can be incredibly transformative and has shaped the trajectory and careers of many students who have come on the trip.

Hear from two students and their experiences while in Jacksonville:

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Gabe

My name is Gabe Ernst, and I participated on a mission trip through 2nd Mile Ministries with a group of students from Asbury University.  This was my first time coming to Jacksonville, so I enjoyed getting to know the community.  Some of my highlights during the week included helping in the 1st grade classroom at Brentwood Elementary School, participating in the two:fiftytwo after-school program with 2nd Mile, and forming relationships with the adults and kids of the Brentwood community. I enjoyed staying in a host home in the neighborhood we served.  This helped me understand how people live and go about daily life in a more urban context. Being able to work with 2nd Mile Ministries was a wonderful experience, and I hope to come back again to serve the community and also let the community teach and bless me!

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Emily

My experience serving with 2nd Mile Ministries in Jacksonville, Florida was super impactful and one that I will always remember. I learned so much about the urban community of Jacksonville in the short time our team was there, and I have grown to understand and appreciate urban communities as a whole. Immersing myself in such an unfamiliar culture really opened my eyes to what God wants to do within the community, and it was such a privilege to be there in the midst of it.

Working with the kids at Brentwood Elementary was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. I could see the stories behind their precious faces and developed compassion for them. It was such a joy to interact with them, be seen as a role model to them, and help move them forward as they fulfill what God has planned for their lives. It was also a great experience working in the community garden and being a part of street beautification. It was so impactful to see the difference that our team made in Jacksonville in just a week. I loved being able to have meaningful conversations with those in the community and hear their stories. It was amazing to be a part of something that will greatly impact the kingdom of God.