“We cannot love our neighbor if we are not working for justice for our neighbor.” Trillia Newbell
The murder of George Floyd has sparked outrage all around us, and rightfully so. The effects of continued police brutality have sparked protests not just in Minneapolis, not just in America, but across the world. But George Floyd’s murder is just one symptom of a much more serious condition that our country was built upon. While the Declaration of
Independence states that “all men are created equal,” the system of government we adopted preserved the enslavement of blacks as constitutional right, and refused to recognize them as citizens. Even after the Civil War freed the slaves, the nation at large continued to oppress blacks, and directly and indirectly discriminated against them at every turn. The deck has always been stacked AGAINST blacks. This is referred to as “systemic racism” All of us need to acknowledge this. It is real, and it effects every aspect of our lives. Until we admit that our country was built in large part on racism and oppression, we cannot produce change. This has become abundantly clear to me in my studies in law school, as I have worked in the courts, as I have conducted my own research, and as I have had long and hard discussions with other knowledgeable people around me. I have included a list of resources at the end of this that were eye opening in learning about systemic racism. I am, for the record, a thirty-year-old white female. It is difficult for me to understand racist oppression, as I have never experienced it. But this country was built to benefit people who look like me. And that, too, needs to be acknowledged.
This conversation makes many people uncomfortable. It should. It has to. Change is never comfortable, and we so desperately need change. Injustice should make us uncomfortable. Injustice should make us feel outraged. Without focusing on justice and the need to change, “we might remain comfortable – but it’s a poor substitute for the love to which we’ve been called.” (Phillip Holmes, vice president for institutional communications at Reformed Theological Seminary). In order to follow the second greatest commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself – we have to demand justice for our neighbors. One cannot “do one” (love) without “doing the other’ (justice). So, let’s get uncomfortable.
We, as a church, need to talk about these issues. But I’m not sure what to say. This isn’t about me; my voice cannot convey the pain and oppression that others have endured, as I have not experienced it myself. Yet I know that my silence (and the collective silence of others since the founding of this country) is how we arrive to today, still experiencing racially motivated violence and continued systemic racism. But God calls us to speak out against injustice. God desires justice. This current system isn’t how God meant it to be. This is never how we were meant to live. And so, something has to change. We have to listen to people whose perspectives and experiences might be different from our own before speaking. We have to fight for justice and for mercy.
Justice goes hand in hand with so many Biblical principles. In order to fully love, one must require justice. In order for there to be mercy, justice must first exist -- for everyone. In order to be righteous, one must also stand for justice. You cannot ignore justice in the equation. The Bible states that God desires justice and is displeased when justice fails. Isaiah 59:14-15 says: “So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.”
Our church is hurting – our beautiful, multicultural, multi-perspective church is hurting. And it has been for a long time, even if some of you, like me, might not have personally been aware of it all the time. I beg you recognize the pain others feel, though you might not understand it yourself. Be conscious of that pain when you speak to others. I beg you to listen to those around you speaking – truly listen. Hear them out; hear their perspectives. I beg you to remember that your perspective will not be the same as your neighbor’s perspective. Everyone views the world through their own eyes, and until we can accept that someone’s view is vastly different from our own, we cannot possibly claim to love them as we are commanded. You cannot fully and completely love your neighbor until you demand justice for your neighbor. And I beg you to realize that our current, faulty system is not the way we were created to function in this world. This is not the way it was intended to be. But there is always hope- hope for change and hope for justice. Without hope, we have nothing. “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice” – Bryan Stevenson.
But we have hope, church. “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus, blood, and righteousness.” (Solid Rock, written by Charlie Hall). In Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah said of Jesus: “Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s thrown and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (emphasis mine). “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” Isaiah 1:17. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8. In these verses, justice is always accompanied by righteousness and mercy. Because without justice, you cannot truly have righteousness or mercy. My prayer is that systemic change begins – but it has to start in our individual hearts. Engage in the uncomfortable dialogue. In your prayers, ask God to reveal why it is so uncomfortable for you. Pray for justice and righteousness to rule our nation- as we cannot begin to hope for righteousness without justice.
I don’t know what justice should look like for our country. While our governmental system expressed lip service in its inception, underlying it all was an insidious oppression. I don’t know what steps need to be taken when it has been so terribly screwed up from the beginning. But, church, I know in my heart of hearts that God grieves the injustice in our nation. He grieves the generations of oppression. Isaiah, Micah, and the rest of the prophets testify that He does.
“There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. (Please read this book).
I want to end with a poem by Morgan Harper Nichols. It’s long, but it’s worth the read. Please take a few minutes more and meditate on these thoughts. This isn’t something that can be discussed succinctly...
Link to poem: https://morganharpernichols.com/blog/a-few-notes
Here are a list of resources that I have used in my personal life to further educate myself on this topic.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, a book by Bryan Stevenson
Generous Justice, a book by Timothy Keller
Just Mercy (movie) – free on amazon prime to rent through June.
13th (documentary) – Netflix
True Justice (documentary) – Free on youtube through June (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfZPl4CFEUc)