Connecting faith, love and justice: some reflections

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As I reflected on our new topic – the connection between faith and loving others and working for social justice – I realized my thoughts on this topic mirror what my niece Meredith Heneghan posted here about faith more generally: “To have faith is to have faith, and that’s really it.” 

Early in life, I found within myself an urge or instinct to work for good. This urge led me to consider a life of service as a priest, then to a life of service as a social worker helping people and communities, and subsequently to writing and working for social justice.  Looking back, I see that this early urge to serve and love others, which was an ideal grounded in my intellect, now lives deep in my heart. I’ve come to be guided by my heart.

For me, it is hard to separate the desire to love and be loved from the desire to work for a more just and equitable world. I am, as friends have reminded me over the years, quite articulate in talking about love and how it unites us all as one. I take delight in that idea. It gives me great comfort and hope.

What for me is much harder is putting love into action day by day, choice by choice. A question I find myself asking at turning points big or small is: “What is the loving thing to do?”

One thing that limits our collective loving these days is the challenge of seeing loving as both an individual and communal/societal decision. This is where faith reminds me that love is not an isolated or isolating activity. My faith tells me my job is “to love one another as I love myself.” There’s no missing the individual and community connection in that directive.

In my work with nonprofit organizations during their leadership transitions, I met many amazing people who were clearly about this work of expanding love and service in their community. One organization was a Jewish family foundation in Baltimore. As I got to know the leaders and read the history of the foundation, I saw how a quote from the Old Testament from Micah Chapter 6 served as their rudder for decision-making from the outset. “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Coincidentally, I eventually noticed that my wife had put this same Scripture quote in a frame in our home. Her first husband, Timothy Cook, was a relentless disability rights lawyer and advocate. It was his reminder to himself.

I wrote in a post last year about a W. K. Kellogg Foundation study of grassroots leaders that commented on how most of them have a primary motivation for doing good. Some are driven by their faith and beliefs; some by an urge to serve others; and yet others by a passion for working for a more just and equitable world.

Regardless of our motivation, it is hard to love our brothers and sisters and not want good for all of them. For me, here is where my barriers to loving freely become so clear and require a leap of faith.

As an individual, fear often gets in the way of my loving. Acting out of some old wound that I can’t see or am not quite willing to let heal or believing that I will lose something, I fear opening my heart to others. This fear and its many manifestations lead to selfishness and holding back in giving love to those I say I love.

At the community and societal level, it is fear again that gets in the way of our loving. We are in a period of history where we are reexamining some deeply held beliefs about each other and about how we share power and love. It is challenging to share power and resources. Those of us who are quite comfortable in what we have in those realms are willing to give up a little perhaps, but not too much. Moving towards real equity for all people is a huge stretch.

Shirin McArthur in a recent post distinguished between our desire for community and our desire for what she called communiformity – you need to look, be, think like me. She concluded her post with ways she finds helpful in connecting the individual and community love: “I invite you to look for opportunities to speak up for those who bring (or could offer) different gifts, skills, and experience to your various communities. Take the time to find out what others have to offer and imagine ways to include them. Also, pray about how to share this message with others.”

That sounds a lot to me like my Jewish friends’ guide: “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly you’re your God.” I believe we all have within us all the guidance we need to find our way to love and work for justice. 


  • Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.