The theme of justice in church history is mostly concerned with areas of life that caused suffering to mankind and the efforts that were put in removing the suffering. These areas include the slavery practice and the oppression of minorities.


The Early Church

Slavery was highly practiced especially before the Roman Empire became officially a Christian empire. The church at first recognized this act officially, but later opposed it.

The Bishops and priests used the labour force from the slaves to accumulate much wealth. Therefore they discouraged the abolition of slavery.

In the Roman Empire, slaves had no rights to marry. The married ones were also not allowed to live together as husband and wife. To this effect, the church later enacted laws considering marriages between slaves as valid and as sacred as any other marriage.

The African Slave Trade

This began in the 15th Century when the Portuguese and the Spanish started to travel in areas which were unknown to them.

The Portuguese made their way along the African coast and moved further to India and also to Brazil.

The Spanish moved westwards across the Atlantic Ocean and settled together with the Portuguese in America. Later they established farms plantations and even mines. This increased the demand for slaves and this marked the beginning of slave trade where the Africans became the victims.

The above slave trade imposed a lot of suffering on to the people. Therefore, it limited their freedom as human beings in the following ways.

The slaves were captured by force. This caused a lot of bodily injuries on to them.

Poor transportation where their hands and waists were tied and packed in the ship as mere luggage.

The slaves were subjected to long hours of work and yet they were not given salaries at all.

The slaves were tortured and some even killed.

Most Africans lost touch with their family members. This was because many people left their homes and went hiding to avoid being captured.

Famine also broke among the Africans. This was as a result of taking away all able- bodied men and women.

The slaves were forced to work i.e. they worked against their will.

Husbands and wives were separated forcefully and made to live single lives.

Parents and children were also separated forcefully. Children therefore lost parental love.

The slaves were forced to become Christians through being baptized. This brought to end African cultural practices such as child naming and birth rites.

The slaves were denied the chance of marrying each other more especially in a holy way.

The slaves had poor working condition. There was no proper housing; medical facilities and they were given little food.

The lazy and weak slaves were killed because they were considered expensive in terms of feeding and accommodation.

Because of the above in human acts, some individuals and groups stood up to condemn the slavery practice. Among them was St. Peter Claver who was a Spanish priest and Christian group known as the Quakers. They struggled to bring slavery to an end in the following ways.

The Quakers emphasized that the whole practice of slavery was evil and against Christian teaching and refused its members to own slaves.

Peter Claver used to take food and medicine to the slaves.

Peter Claver advised the slave owners to treat them well and with human dignity.

He visited the mines and plantations where the slaves worked frequently and taught them Christian faith through an interpreter. He even arranged and cared for the sick.

Peter Claver did this kind of work for forty years despite opposition from the slave owners.

His work paid off when many slave owners came to an understanding and realized that they had for long subjected their slaves to inhuman acts.

B. The Oppression of the Minority

The oppression of the minority came up immediately after European nations made it illegal for their members to trade in slaves. This was because those who abolished slavery were in the minority group. The rich people looked at the abolition as a threat to their source of wealth. They opposed this idea and started oppressing the minorities for their actions. These minorities include.

1. The Jews were the first minority group to be oppressed. The early Christians disliked and blamed them for troubles that were not really their fault. The Christians excused themselves by saying that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, but failed to recognize their contribution in writing the New Testament books.

2. In Communist countries. Christians round themselves as the minority. They were harshly treated in countries such as Romania, Korea and Cuba among others.

3. The Roman Catholic oppressed the Protestants. This happened in the United Kingdom where the Catholics labeled Protestant as rebels. This had followed the expulsion of Queen Elizabeth I in 1571 from the Catholic religion by Pope Pius V when she declared the Protestant religion as the state religion of the United Kingdom.

4. In North Africa, the government persecuted the Christian minority. This was because they had split off from the main church. The government authorities treated this splinter group harshly. St. Augustine even made it worse by asking the government to make it illegal to belong to this breakaway group.

5. In places where Christians were the majority, the pagans were mistreated. In the Roman Empire, especially during the reign of Emperor Constantine, the pagans were accused of failing to respect the state religion.

6. Immigrant workers were exploited in Germany and Britain. They were discriminated and worked under very poor conditions like poor (low) wages and poor accommodation among others.

7. The Catholics persecuted the Muslim minority for their occupation of Palestine. This was because the Catholics considered Palestine as the Holy land of their lord. Therefore, they treated Muslims harshly so that they could leave the holy land for them.

8. There was the oppression of the heretic minority. These were people who held different beliefs from that accepted by the church. Such people were mistreated and not allowed to associate with other church congregation.

Justice in the Old Testament

Throughout the books of the Old Testament, God is presented putting a continual effort to establish harmonious relationship among His people. Being the author of life, God did everything possible for man to live in harmony. These include;

1. God created human beings male and female in His image to show both are equal (Genesis 1:26)

2. God commanded man kind to use the worldly resources for their welfare.

3. God created man for companionship. He realized that Adam was lonely and created Eve so that he could live in harmony.

4. Greediness and disobedience breaks human relationship with God and among themselves. God punished Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3: 1 ff)

5. Selfishness and jealousy are the root causes of breakage in human relationship. Cain killed his brother. Abel because of being selfish and jealous (Genesis 4: 1 ff)

6. God was concerned about suffering of the people in Israel and He sent Moses to set them free.

7. The Israelites were called upon to protect and pressure human life. They were forbidden from killing one another.

8. The Israelites were encouraged to be faithful in their marriage and avoid committing adultery.

9. Stealing was forbidden among the Israelites. They were therefore to protect each other's property.

10. God encouraged the Israelites to punish those who would cause body injuries to others.

11. The Israelites were encouraged to compensate for damages caused in another's property as a means of protecting property.

12. The Israelites were encouraged to assist those in need like the poor widows, children and the forgiveness (Exodus 23:12).

13. The Israelites were warned against siding with the crowd to twists justice. God discouraged mob justice.

14. God warned the Israelites against taking bribes in the courts of law to ensure that there was justice.

15. The judges were called upon to treat both the poor and the rich equally when passing judgment.

16. God called upon the Israelites to listen to the complaints of each other in order for them to ensure true justice (Deuteronomy 16: 111)

17. The Israelites were called upon to maintain justice in the courts of law. (Amos 5: 15)

18. The Israelites were encouraged to seek good and hate evil so that the Lord would be with them.

19. The Israelites were called upon to respect and treat their slaves with human dignity (Deuteronomy 15: 12-18)

20. God invited the Israelites to make self-love a measure of their relationship. God is quoted as saying, "You shall love your neighbors as yourself'. This was the kind of relationship that God expected to exist between the Israelites (Leviticus 19: 18).

21. God called for respect of all human beings. Slaves or not, each individual had to be treated with respect and human dignity (Deuteronomy 15: 12- 1'8).

22. The prophets condemned and denounced the tendency of substituting obedience to the laws and religious observances for brotherly hood. They emphasized that having concern for one another was more important than obedience to the laws and religious practices (Isaiah 58: 1-12).

23. According to Ezekiel 34, the desire for peace and harmony is in all people. Whenever people, fail to find it, they try to find ways of providing security. The Israelites tried to secure their lives by following the covenant laws and customs,

The Sinai covenant and its relationship with the Israelites (exodus 20: 1- 17)

The Sinai covenant was the agreement between God and the children of Israel. It was signed at the foot of Mt. Sinai in the third month after the Israelites had been delivered from their slavery in Egypt. Following their deliverance, God saw the need to guide the Israelites as they related with one another and with Him. Therefore, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) as a means to safe guard the interpersonal relationship aimed at ensuring peaceful living as seen below.

1. The Covenant law first reminded the Israelites of their former status of being slaves in Egypt before their liberation, (Exodus 20:2)

2. The law demanded the Israelites to worship only Yahweh (God), Worshipping any other gods was a sin and prohibited, (Exodus 20: 3-6)

3. The law demanded the Israelites not to use God's name for evil purposes like false swearing. Doing so meant punishment from God. (Exodus 20:7)

4. The Israelites were to observe the Sabbath day. They were to keep it holy and dedicate it for God. All people were therefore not to work on that day hut to rest. (Exodus 20: 8-11)

5. The laws demanded the Israelites to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. They were also required to extend this love to the strangers.

6. The law asked the Israelites to respect their fathers and mothers. This was the only way for them to live longer in the land they were to be given. (Exodus 20: 12).

7. The law did not allow murder among the Israelites. No one had the right to take another’s life, (Exodus 20: 13).

8. The law stopped the Israelites from committing adultery. (Exodus 20:14). This shielded married couples from cheating.

9. The law stopped the Israelites from stealing one another's property. (Exodus 20: 15). This guaranteed security for people's property.

10. The law did not allow the Israelites to accuse one another falsely. In other words, it stopped the Israelites from giving false evidence so as to humiliate the others. (Exodus 20: 16).

11. The law stopped the Israelites from admiring or desiring another man's property including the house, wife, slaves, cattle and donkey or anything else. (Exodus 20: 17).

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