In 2007, the General Assembly of The United Nations declared 20 February as a World Day of Social Justice to be marked annually.

“Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.”

See the United Nations website for further information.

It should come as no surprise to discover that a hymn book of the Methodist Church includes a sizeable number of hymns that reflects the denomination’s traditional promotion of justice and peace and engagement with other related social issues. The Joint Public Issues Team website represents the work of an ecumenical initiative with the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and The Church of Scotland. The site highlights shared concerns under a number of discrete headings that include Peacemaking and the Environment.

Hymns within Singing the Faith pick up on these themes – not only within the obvious sections of the book such as Justice and Peace, StF 693 – 723, and The Wholeness of Creation, StF 724 – 731, but elsewhere also.

Below is our first, brief selection of more recent texts included within Singing the Faith, reflecting different aspects of Christian engagement with social justice issues. For our second selection, click here.

Jesus’ example:

Three relatively familiar hymns that all bear re-visiting.

Jesus Christ is waiting (StF 251) An early song from John Bell and Graham Maule set to a rhythmic French carol melody. Each verse pairs a description of Jesus in action (waiting, raging, healing, dancing and calling) with a personal response by the singer – for example, in verse 3: “Listen, Lord Jesus, / I have pity too: / let my care be active, / healing, just like you.”

When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there? (StF 256) Sydney Carter’s popular take on Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31 – 46. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, this section (often referred to as the parable of the sheep and goats) is headed “The Judgement of the Nations”. Like the scripture itself, Carter’s hymn pulls no punches. Don’t erect fences around yourselves, he seems to be saying – God’s love is for everyone regardless of creed, colour and name. Few hymns express the gospel message more simply or more starkly.

Would you walk by on the other side, when someone called for aid? (StF 257) Like “When I needed a neighbour” (above), Pamela Verrall’s hymn uses repeated questions to challenge us to action. Again, this is a text based on a passage of scripture: the parable of “the good Samaritan” told by the writer of Luke’s Gospel – chapter 10, verses 25 to 37.

‘Church’ is more than Sunday worship:

As dawn awakes another day (StF 659) Like “Beyond these walls” (below), a call to engage with faith on a daily basis, despite being “distracted by demands of time”, and with a clear assumption of the Christian imperative to get busy with hands as well as minds: “Affirm us, Lord, as we employ / our hands and minds in every place, / let worship flow through busyness , / responding to your love and grace.” (v.4) Clare Stainsby’s text is set to “Herongate”, based on a traditional English melody.

Beyond these walls of worship (StF 547) A hymn that does what it says on the tin: it urges us to think “beyond these walls of worship” and embrace discipleship as a whole-life thing. Again, the emphasis is on the sharing of personal faith and commitment but with phrases that suggest the need for love-in-action: “will we display our faith in you” (v.2); “send us out now to proclaim / that we’ll live our life as a sacrifice” (v.3) The tune – like the words, by Ian Worsfold and Paul Wood – is syncopated but with attractive repeated phrases and so will be so relatively easy to teach and pick up.

Colours of day dawn into the mind (StF 167) A popular song with chorus and a broad focus on mission –“Go down in the city, into the street, / and let’s give the message to the people we meet” – but with the implication of social engagement.

And finally…

Why not check out the Poverty and Justice Bible, based on the Contemporary Englsh Version of the Bible. It features over 2,000 highlighted verses and a unique 32-page guide with in-depth studies. There's also a companon volume,  Inspire Justice - 365 Day Devotional on Poverty and Justice, with each daily study built around a "pray, read, reflect, respond" format.

Social justice - part 2