The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, June 7, 2020
The Christian and Demanding for Justice
In the last several months we have been forced to change a few things about how we live our lives. The coronavirus has forced on us a strange way of living. How do you live for an extended period of time without getting close to others? And we have done well. It looks like the virus will soon be behind us, or at least be a lesser threat than it is now.
As we crossed our fingers hoping normalcy would soon return, an unfortunate death happens. And it did not just happen. It was brought about by the careless action of a law enforcement officer. This officer together with his three colleagues responded to a 911 call. A certain man, now we know his name to be George Floyd, was presenting a counterfeit bill to pay for his shopping at a local store. The store clerks called the cops. George smelled danger and ran quickly and got into his car ostensibly to get away before the cops arrived. But it was not to be. The cops arrived before he could escape. The cops forcibly removed him from his car and handcuffed him, hands in the back. It appears he resisted being put in the police car and an altercation followed. The officers managed to wrestle him to the ground, face down, hands still handcuffed in the back. One officer placed his knee on George’s neck and pressed down. Another pressed down on George’s back. George was able to let out a plea “I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe.” The officers continued to press down to overpower him. Eventually, George became motionless. The officers called an ambulance which took him to a hospital. George was pronounced dead at the hospital.
George’s death was received with incredulous outrage and extreme anger and sparked demonstrations of protest in many cities of the country. Everybody was disappointed in the way the police officers manhandled George for such a small crime. Calls for justice to be done were heard from all corners. The police officer who had his knee on George’s head was summarily fired, arrested, and charged with murder and manslaughter. His colleagues have also been fired and word has it that they too might be charged as accomplices in the crime, aiding and abetting murder. People took to the streets to vent their rage. Curfews were declared in some cities, but the incensed crowds would not hear of it. They broke the curfew and stayed out on the streets. Many engaged in violence, breaking buildings, and burning others. Some took to looting and others to hurling rocks at law enforcement officers. Vehicles parked along the streets were not spared. Windows were smashed and some were set on fire. There was mayhem.
Is it okay for a Christian to demonstrate and exhibit outrage in the face of injustice? I believe it is absolutely legitimate for a Christian to show outrage at injustice. The God of the Bible is the God of justice. Throughout the Bible, God calls for justice for all. The very calling of Abraham, the father of all believers, was “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice….” (Genesis 18:19 ESV). Abraham and all his posterity of all ages were to live out the character of God by doing what is right and pursue justice in all their dealings with others. Christians are the spiritual posterity of Abraham and therefore carry that charge today.
At another place, Genesis 18:25, while pleading with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if righteous people were found there, Abraham said to God, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (ESV). Abraham is appealing to God’s character which is justice itself. How then could he, the Just, act unjustly and punish the righteous with the wicked. God must have smiled to himself hearing a human person utter such profound truth about Him. God agreed with Abraham that if there were so many righteous people in the place, he would spare it. We know that God spared Lot and his family, the righteous, and punished the wicked. God showed both justice and mercy.
In Micah 6:8, the prophet reminds the people like so: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (ESV). The motivation for doing justice is the desire to mirror God’s character in our own lives because Jesus Christ God’s Son bought us back from the slavery of sin. Our own weak and fickle human moralizing about justice will not succeed in pushing us and sustaining us to be just in every nuke and cranny.
The world misunderstands, genuinely or deliberately, Exodus 21:23 – 25 which states “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (ESV). This is construed to mean revenge. The truth is that it calls for fairness of punishment. The punishment should fit the crime. If someone cut off another’s small finger, he shouldn’t be punished, say, by cutting off his whole hand or more. The punishment was to be proportionate to the crime. That is justice, by God’s standard.
James 1: 27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The Christian is charged as a carrier of God’s character to be concerned about those on the margins of society who are helpless and care for them. This is the way to publicize God’s character of justice. The Christian is also charged to be at the forefront of seeking and practicing justice in all human life. What the Christian does not do, however much provocation there is, is engage in violence, looting, burning buildings, and knocking down cars, in a rampage, foaming at the mouth, verbally hurling abuses at those said to exercise injustice. The Christian must never come anywhere close to such behavior. It does not display the character of God. Stand one’s ground, yes. Speak the truth in no uncertain terms, yes. Demand for justice to be done, yes. This is how Jesus remained composed in the face of gross injustice against him. And his way won the day eventually. That is the way of the Christian, the way of Jesus.