Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What is Justice?

What is justice?  This is the question that many are asking in regards to yesterday’s grand jury decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.  For some, Officer Wilson’s actions were just because he was executing his legal right as an officer of the law to defend his life against an aggressor.  For others, the decision to not bring Officer Wilson to trial is an injustice because he caused the death of an unarmed civilian and should, at the very least, have to answer for this.  For many, this is only another example of racial bias in regards to the law and further promotes the idea that Police Officers, especially white ones, live above the law.
The challenges faced in fully understanding this situation involve a lack of hard evidence, conflicting witness testimonies, media bias and interference, and a high degree of emotionalism for people on all sides of the issue. 

Beyond that, we are working with an imperfect justice system (broken) in a fractured government in which race and politics colors the way that we receive and interpret information.  And culturally, there is still a racial divide in our nation, both explicit and implicit, which unfortunately spins our thoughts, actions and reactions to this controversy.

So again I ask, what is justice?  What is justice to Michael Brown and his family?  What is justice for Darren Wilson?  What does justice mean to the community of Ferguson?  What is justice for the minority population in the United States?

One of the wonderful surprises that we find is that in contrast to our society, which favors the powerful over the weak, Godly justice, according to Scripture, is defending those without power from the oppression of the powerful.  It is a dramatic reversal from the norm of our society which tends to give the most favor to those who pull the most strings while robbing any favor from those who are in the most need.  Yet over and over again, Scripture attests to God’s desire that His followers seek justice for the oppressed. 

Isaiah 1:17
Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.
Jeremiah 22:3
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Our nation measures justice according to the laws of the land, which allow for a person of power to make the discretionary decision as to whether or not someone can live or die.  And we cannot avoid the reality that those discretionary decisions are influenced by one’s position and privilege.  Nor can we deny that historically, the powerful (often white males) have been given preferential treatment over and against minorities in the eyes of the law (which is supposedly blind).  And finally, we have to reconcile the fact that, no matter the circumstances, an armed police officer charged with protecting citizens shot and killed an unarmed man.  Legally, it was decided that he had the right to do so.  But does that mean that Michael Brown did not have the right to live?  And are we now in a state where enforcers can act as judge, jury and executioner without any form of punitive action being brought against them (as long as they testify their lives were being threatened)?

So once again, it would appear to many that the powerful triumphed over the weak, which is ultimately the inciting reason behind the cries of “injustice!”  It would seem that this could be a continuation of racial subjugation which has plagued our nation since its inception. 

The question remains, what is justice in the eyes of God?  All of humankind has been created in the image of God and therefore have divine worth, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and the like.  And Paul tells us that in the Kingdom of God, the distinctions which divide us no longer exist.  Therefore, it is unjust to give preferential treatment to a person or people group based on race, title or position. 
Additionally, we will all have to make account for our actions in this life, whether or not they are legally justified.  Officer Wilson will have to deal with the fact that he killed another human being, and only he knows his true motives.  Any murder or killing is an unnecessary tragedy in the eyes of God, who is actively working at reconciling the entire world to himself. 

Justice, in the eyes of God, is the Church, His physical representative here on earth, standing up for the rights of those whose rights have been taken away.  Michael Brown’s right to a trial for the robbery and (potential) harassment/assault of an officer of the law were taken away.  Maybe he gave his rights away through aggression; in any case, he did not receive due process.   The black community’s right to receive fair treatment from the legal system in Missouri was, as perceived by many, taken away.  And whether or not this is completely true is not the point; the point is that once again the weak were made powerless, and serious reparations are in order.

So where do we go from here, as a church?  First, we need to stop the violence we are doing to one another.  Not only was violence done in the incident, but violence occurred by protesters and the government’s reactions to the protesters.  Also, many are doing violence to each other in their discussions, as well as violence to the life of Michael Brown, to his family, to the African-American community, and to Officer Wilson in the words being said and typed.  Violence takes many forms, but violence will never ultimately stop violence.  The only thing that can overcome violence is love.

Secondly, we need to educate ourselves on the realities of oppression in America.  We need to stop infusing our faith with our politics and rather see people through the eyes of God.  Whether they are undocumented immigrants, Muslims, politicians, or black, God sees all people as his unique and important creation.  Imagine how our culture would look if we stopped viewing others as “problems” and instead viewed them as irreplaceable. 

Finally, we need to seek justice in our own communities.  Where are the fragmented places in our own lives, in our churches, schools and cities?  And what efforts could we make to bring those broken pieces together?  What is our part in all of this?  We need to stop being armchair politicians and protestors, and we need to stop being satisfied with the broken system we live in, and instead be an active force for God’s justice here and now.  The world is not going to Hell and we are not called to stand idly by and watch it destroy itself.  The Kingdom of God is here and now and we are called to be ambassadors for His reconciling work.  We cannot change the decision made in Ferguson, but we can change the unjust system which led to these tragic events.  Let us learn to stand together, to support one another.  That is justice.   

1 comment:

  1. Good points, well said. Thanks for writing this