1999 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Emery Graham <egraham@dca.net>
Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 11:42:14 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: How Important is the Working Definition of "Justice?"
In the short time that I've worked in the brownfields arena
I've found that the identical definition of basic terms is not
always commonly held by members of the practicing community. The
current postings dealing with the definition  of brownfields
has made feel comfortable making this observation. I'd like to
benefit from a similar sharing process by offering perspective
of "justice" that I've been using to orient my vision of
environmental justice. My having been involved in the
brownfield community for only a short time, with operational
tasks to complete, has pushed my search for understandings
fairly hard. I offer the following as one of my primary
orienting concepts of "justice." I was surprised to find one
of the contributor's articles alluding to practical moral
considerations as being applicable in the brownfields context.
See the post s that deal with Charles Bartsch's article on
brownfields gentrification.

There seems to be a basic uneasiness that arises when one
seeks to establish a moral basis for one's understandings. As
our society has become more rationalized around the
explanations of empirical experience, the "subjective" realm
of our experiences seem to have been relegated to a shaded,
hidden, and unsocial place in our professional life. It's even
more interesting to see what aspects of our "subjective"
experiences get validated by the prevailing social norms and
end up passing as socially, professionally, and
communicatively invisible as "subjective" expressions. I think
that the brownfield community's dialog around environmental
justice is caught in the dilemma's attending the "affirmative
action" and "reverse discrimination" debates. A recent series
of postings that address the externalities  of open space
preservation as being the act of  subsidizing  the existing
landholders asset value and further entrenching the social and
economic status quo, i.e., helping to maintain the existing
income distribution.

I think the following perspective on "justice" will help many
to understand an alternative vision of this term.

This definition comes from the software version of Holman's
Bible Dictionary and is reproduced here in full.


JUSTICE The order God seeks to reestablish in His creation
where all people receive the benefits of life with Him. As
love is for the New Testament, so justice is the central
ethical idea of the Old Testament. The frequency of justice is
sometimes missed by the reader due to a failure to realize
that the wide range of the Hebrew word mishpat, particularly
in passages that deal with the material and social necessities
of life.

Nature of justice Justice has two major aspects. First, it is
the standard by which penalties are assigned for breaking the
obligations of the society. Second, justice is the standard by
which the advantages of social life are handed out, including
material goods, rights of participation, opportunities, and
liberties. It is the standard for both punishment and benefits
and thus can be spoken of as a plumb line. "I shall use
justice as a plumb-line, and righteousness as a plummet" (Isa.
28:17, REB).
    Often people think of justice in the Bible only in the
first sense as God's wrath on evil. This aspect of justice
indeed is present, such as the judgment mentioned in John
3:19. Often more vivid words like "wrath" are used to describe
punitive justice (Rom. 1:18).
    Justice in the Bible very frequently also deals with
benefits. Cultures differ widely in determining the basis by
which the benefits are to be justly distributed. For some it
is by birth and nobility. For others the basis is might or
ability or merit. Or it might simply be whatever is the law or
whatever has been established by contracts. The Bible takes
another possibility. Benefits are distributed according to
need. Justice then is very close to love and grace. God
"executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and ... loves
the strangers, providing them food and clothing" (Deut. 10:18,
NRSV; compare Hos. 10:12; Isa 30:18).
    Various needy groups are the recipients of justice. These
groups include widows, orphans, resident aliens (also called
"sojourners" or "strangers"), wage earners, the poor, and
prisoners, slaves, and the sick (Job 29:12-17; Ps. 146:7-9;
Mal. 3:5). Each of these groups has specific needs which keep
its members from being able to participate in aspects of the
life of their community. Even life itself might be threatened.
Justice involves meeting those needs. The forces which deprive
people of what is basic for community life are condemned as
oppression (Mic. 2:2; Eccl. 4:1). To oppress is to use power
for one's own advantage in depriving others of their basic
rights in the community (see Mark 12:40). To do justice is to
correct that abuse and to meet those needs (Isa. 1:17).
Injustice is depriving others of their basic needs or failing
to correct matters when those rights are not met (Jer. 5:28;
Job 29:12-17). Injustice is either a sin of commission or of
    The content of justice, the benefits which are to be
distributed as basic rights in the community, can be
identified by observing what is at stake in the passages in
which "justice," "righteousness," and "judgment" occur. The
needs which are met include land (Ezek. 45:6-9; compare Mic.
2:2; 4:4) and the means to produce from the land, such as
draft animals and millstones (Deut. 22:1-4; 24:6). These
productive concerns are basic to securing other essential
needs and thus avoiding dependency; thus the millstone is
called the "life" of the person (Deut. 24:6). Other needs are
those essential for mere physical existence and well being:
food (Deut. 10:18; Ps. 146:7), clothing (Deut. 24:13), and
shelter (Ps. 68:6; Job 8:6). Job 22:5-9,23; 24:1-12 decries
the injustice of depriving people of each one of these needs,
which are material and economic. The equal protection of each
person in civil and judicial procedures is represented in the
demand for due process (Deut. 16:18-20). Freedom from bondage
is comparable to not being "in hunger and thirst, in nakedness
and lack of everything" (Deut. 28:48 NRSV).
    Justice presupposes God's intention for people to be in
community. When people had become poor and weak with respect
to the rest of the community, they were to be strengthened so
that they could continue to be effective members of the
community--living with them and beside them (Lev. 25:35-36).
Thus biblical justice restores people to community. By justice
those who lacked the power and resources to participate in
significant aspects of the community were to be strengthened
so that they could. This concern in Leviticus 25 is
illustrated by the provision of the year of Jubilee, in which
at the end of the fifty year period land is restored to those
who had lost it through sale or foreclosure of debts (v. 28).
Thus they regained economic power and were brought back into
the economic community. Similarly, interest on loans was
prohibited (v. 36) as a process which pulled people down,
endangering their position in the community.
    These legal provisions express a further characteristic of
justice. Justice delivers; it does not merely relieve the
immediate needs of those in dire straits (Ps. 76:9; Isa. 45:8;
58:11; 62:1-2). Helping the needy means setting them back on
their feet, giving a home, leading to prosperity, restoration,
ending the oppression (Ps. 68:5-10; 10:15-16; compare 107;
113:7-9). Such thorough justice can be socially disruptive. In
the Jubilee year as some receive back lands, others lose
recently-acquired additional land. The advantage to some is a
disadvantage to others. In some cases the two aspects of
justice come together. In the act of restoration, those who
were victims of justice receive benefits while their
exploiters are punished (1 Sam 2:7-10; compare Luke 1:51-53;

The source of justice As the sovereign Creator of the
universe, God is just (Ps. 99:1-4; Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4;
Jer. 9:24), particularly as the defender of all the oppressed
of the earth (Pss. 76:9; 103:6; Jer. 49:11). Justice thus is
universal (Ps. 9:7-9) and applies to each covenant or
dispensation. Jesus affirmed for His day the centrality of the
Old Testament demand for justice (Matt. 23:23). Justice is the
work of the New Testament people of God (Jas. 1:27).
    God's justice is not a distant external standard. It is
the source of all human justice (Prov. 29:26; 2 Chron.
19:6,9). Justice is grace received and grace shared (2 Cor.
    The most prominent human agent of justice is the ruler.
The king receives God's justice and is a channel for it (Ps.
72:1; compare Rom. 13:1-2,4). There is not a distinction
between a personal, voluntary justice and a legal, public
justice. The same caring for the needy groups of the society
is demanded of the ruler (Ps. 72:4; Ezek. 34:4; Jer.
22:15-16). Such justice was also required of pagan rulers
(Dan. 4:27; Prov. 31:8-9).
    Justice is also a central demand on all people who bear
the name of God. Its claim is so basic that without it other
central demands and provisions of God are not acceptable to
God. Justice is required to be present with the sacrificial
system (Amos 5:21-24; Mic. 6:6-8; Isa. 1:11-17; Matt.
5:23-24), fasting (Isa. 58:1-10), tithing (Matt. 23:23),
obedience to the other commandments (Matt. 19:16-21), or the
presence of the Temple of God (Jer. 7:1-7).

Justice in salvation Apart from describing God's condemnation
of sin, Paul used the language and meaning of justice to speak
of personal salvation. "The righteousness of God" represents
God in grace bringing into the community of God through faith
in Christ those who had been outside of the people of God
(particularly in Romans but compare also Eph. 2:12-13).
    See Law; Government; Poverty; Righteousness.

Stephen Charles Mott

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