September 2014‎ > ‎

02. In Search for the Truth about Justice

Héctor Acero-Ferrer is currently in the second year of the MA program and works as a research assistant for the Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics. Originally from Colombia, Héctor holds a Master of Divinity and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the Toronto School of Theology, Regis College. Parallel to his studies, Héctor has worked for several non-profit, faith-based organizations dedicated to social justice and education including, Fontbonne Ministries, Scarboro Foreign Missions, and the Newman Centre Catholic Mission. Héctor’s research interests include philosophy of language, the intersection of faith and society, and current trends in Latin American theology.
When the Faithful Meet the Wronged: In Search for the Truth about Justice

In his book Journey Toward Justice, Nicholas Wolterstorff describes how his life journey has had a significant impact on his current philosophical approach to the question of justice. Wolterstorff’s experience with concrete human communities, he argues, has transformed his conception of justice in a way that would have been unlikely had he remained confined within the frontiers of academia. Woltertorff concludes that his “encounter face-to-face with the victims of social injustice” (244) has significantly marked his current understanding of justice, enabling him to respond to John Rawls’ conception of an ‘ideal society’ with his own theory of inherent rights.

Following Wolterstorff’s simple but profound paradigm shift, we become “forced to think about justice in our actual societies, societies that are far from ideal, societies in which people are systematically wronged” (245). Once we shift our attention from Rawls’ ideal society, and turn our attention toward our own, imperfect societies, we become capable of seeing that most of what we know about justice has been revealed to us through personal experiences of injustice—in particular, through our interactions with those whom Wolterstorff calls “the wronged.”

Wolterstorff’s analysis of the evolution of his own thought, as someone who has dedicated his life to thinking about justice, exemplifies an understanding of justice grounded in the language of a community. While some communities understand justice primarily as regulating individual relationships, other communities understand it as the robust structure in which those relationships might thrive and flourish. While some people understand justice as speaking to the reparation of broken relationships, others understand it to refer primarily to retributive judgment.

Following Wolterstorff, we can confidently assert that, although expressed differently, there is something universal about justice: it shapes the way in which we interact with others, how much we respect the world around us, and the role we set for ourselves within society. It serves both as a springboard and a finish line for our actions in the world. It opens possibilities for future agency, modifies present interactions, and evaluates past behaviours. In other words, our functioning-in-the-world is carefully shaped by what we make of justice.

Given the significance of justice in the context of human action, we are hopeful that a better understanding of justice can provide us with the necessary tools to improve society. Understanding the connection between justice and faith, especially, provides the key to deciphering the way in which our spirituality can serve as a vehicle for the positive transformation of our communities.
"The research project attempts to elicit the way CRC congregants understand the connection between faith and justice."

The latter conviction forms the impetus for the current major research project of ICS’ Centre for Philosophy, Religion, and Social Ethics, entitled “Justice and Faith: Individual Spirituality and Social Responsibility in the Reformed Church of Canada.” Pursued in partnership with the Centre for Community Based Research and the Christian Reformed Church in Canada, the research project attempts to elicit the way CRC congregants understand the connection between faith and justice. Conscious that a vital aspect of our engagement with the Christian tradition is the way in which it shapes our understanding of the matrix of relationships that constitute community, the “Justice and Faith” project is tracking the different ways that members of CRC congregations in Canada think about justice in relationship to their faith.

Preliminary results, based on an analysis of key informant interviews as well as a statistically accurate congregational survey, have shown that congregants’ definitions of justice can be grouped under different clusters, including themes such as helping those in need, restoration of the created order, and retributive judgment. Opinions about the link that Christians should sustain between the exercise of justice and their faith practice also vary. While some argue that the church should be at the forefront of justice-seeking initiatives, others think that the Christian faith calls us to seek justice outside the context of the faith community.

Are we inclined to think that justice work belongs to the secular sphere? If so, what do we do with the call to seek justice in the Scriptures? Is the call to justice something we should fulfill outside of the confines of church? In retracing our answers to these questions, where opinions significantly diverge within our own congregations, we can return to a common ground, which Wolterstorff finds in the definite sense of injustice we feel when we encounter “the wronged.”

For more information about the Justice & Faith project and to see preliminary results, visit