Is Justice Just a Fad?

We are experiencing something unique in our society: pop culture and deep culture are both talking about justice.

By deep culture I mean generational culture, the kind of culture that lasts for decades and changes at a slow pace. This kind of culture includes norms and values that can be passed down, values like giving others a hand up when they've fallen down. Pop culture, on the other hand, is always in flux. This kind of culture is obsessed with the latest and greatest, the faddish and the trendy, and it reinvents itself every chance it gets.

What's fascinating is that these two types of culture are both concerned with justice.

Globalization, the ease of international travel, and the ubiquity of social media have all helped shape a generation more aware of what is happening in the world than any before it -- a generation some have dubbed "the social justice generation."

Today we hear about campaigns for justice across the globe. Sometimes these attract a level of mixed reviews after they have exploded in popularity, as with KONY2012, and sometimes we hear about them just as they are gaining momentum. One example of this is the End It Movement to free the estimated 27 million modern slaves, a plan that was recently highlighted at Louie Giglio's Passion 2013 conference. The 60,000 student attendees gave more than $3 million and signed up in droves.

All of this media buzz about justice raises an obvious question: Is justice merely a fad that will disappear when the next popular issue replaces it?

There is some truth in that analysis. The trendier a movement becomes, the more certain people will avoid it precisely because of its popularity. Pop culture works that way: The latest thing soon becomes yesterday's news.

Ironically, many in the social justice generation pursue justice simply because it is a fad. They want to be seen as hip and conscionable. Sometimes awareness and advocacy are reduced to clicking a "Like" button.

That justice is currently "in" and is sometimes more about me than about the vulnerable and oppressed isn't all bad news, however. While mixed motives are less than ideal, good and tangible gains can flow from mixed motives. The Apostle Paul made this same argument. Responding to criticisms that some preachers were telling crowds about Jesus only to build their own fame and power, wrote, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice" (Philippians 1:18).

I think much the same can be said about justice. At least the conversation is happening. At least awareness is growing. I don't have the time or energy to weed out everyone else's mixed motives, let alone my own. I'm simply glad that people who otherwise might be wrapped up in the latest television series are instead thinking about how to end modern-day slavery.

What gives me the greatest hope about justice, however, isn't its current pop culture popularity. Justice is about more than specific cultural trends; it is about the conditions that allow people to flourish and to be in right relationships with each other, their world, and their Creator. No matter what causes are in and out of favor with pop culture, the deeper culture of this generation will continue to value justice as a good and necessary foundation for living.

So when looking at contemporary justice campaigns and movements, some who join them may fade or leave altogether, but many will stay, and the work of justice will continue.

We've been endowed with certain qualities, like empathy and mercy and a sense of fairness, and it is these qualities that allow us to care about justice even when it is no longer trendy. The need for justice will always be with us because injustice will always be with us. When pop culture moves on to the next bright light, my belief is that the work of justice will continue to be promoted and carried forward by many in this generation.