Revisiting “Biblical Justice” in light of the events in Charlottesville

16 08 2017

Let me just say it. I’ve been sick this week over the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the response/lack-of-response by the president of the United States. Racism is sin. Period. It cannot be justified by a Christ follower. It is always wrong. On the other side of the coin, self-righteousness is sin. Period. In fact, self-righteousness is condemned more often in the Bible. So in condemning racism, I tread lightly for fear of coming across as self-righteous. I recognize that people on both “sides” feel unjustly treated. In fact, those who consider themselves part of the alt-right felt repressed and ignored for years. Commentators have suggested that led to the election of our current president. They have cried out for justice! Of course I and many others are crying out for justice after the senseless murder of Heather Heyer when she was run down by a driver bent on causing fear and harm to those standing up for people of color. If both are crying out for justice it begs the question, “Biblically speaking, what is justice?”

Doing biblical justice is both 1) meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and 2) righting wrongs done to the most vulnerable. Biblical justice is always directed toward the poor and oppressed – those most vulnerable. This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. (Zechariah 7:9-10) You never read about God fighting for justice and being a defender of the rich or the strong or the privileged. Now this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about justice for all people. It just means that as a default, justice usually happens for the strong, rich, powerful and privileged. They have the status and means to defend themselves. So injustice happens less frequently to the strong, rich, powerful and privileged.

But people with less including the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor as well as migrant workers, some single moms and elderly and minorities – these groups are more vulnerable to injustice particularly because they oftentimes do not have the means or the generational support or the social status or class or level of influence or power to defend themselves. Those of us who do are considered “privileged.” Those who don’t are more oftentimes victims of crime or violence or corruption and being taken advantage of because they are overlooked or easier prey. So, because they cannot easily defend themselves, the God of the Bible has a special place in his heart for them. That is why God is described as a “defender of the poor” and one who “takes up the cause of the orphan and the widow.” God stands up for the vulnerable because no one else will.

Let’s apply these biblical principles to representative groups from each “side” that our president claims are to blame for the violence in Charlottesville: white supremacists and #blacklivesmatter supporters. Because God, by his very nature, is just, we can believe wholeheartedly that God wants justice to be done for everyone. However, biblically speaking, God is a defender of the most vulnerable, not those with power and privilege. God calls his people, the church, to be defenders of the poor and marginalized rather than defenders of the powerful and the dominant majority. So, you tell me. Whose cause does God take up? Certainly not those advocating for the dominant culture to gain more power and use that power to oppress or marginalize others. The biblical God of justice takes up the cause of those who have been marginalized by those with power; those who have been oppressed because of their skin color; those who have been systematically held down by the dominant culture. Yes, #alllivesmatter, but the God of biblical justice would more likely take up the case of the oppressed and raise a banner that says, #blacklivesmatter. That God would also likely be targeted and run down like Heather Heyer was. In fact, Jesus was targeted and murdered for opening up the Kingdom of God to those who were not the privileged.

Now to be clear, people are not perfectly just. I am not perfectly just. Nobody on either “side” is perfectly just. There will be people whose cause is righteous and “biblically just” who fall short of emulating Christ’s character in their actions in standing up for their cause. Then there are some (although I’d guess, fewer and farther between) whose cause is much less righteous and does not meet the definition of “biblically just” whose character is much more Christlike than their cause might lead us to expect. We can’t accurately categorize all people. However, we can and we should do the difficult work of holding the causes of both “sides” in the Charlottesville violence up to the plumb line of biblical justice. When we do so, it will be abundantly clear which “side” those who follow the God of the Bible should land.

As a side note, I am proud to be part of The United Methodist Church. Along with its predecessor denominations, the UMC has historically been doers of biblical justice whether through the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage or civil rights. United Methodists care for the vulnerable.

Another side note – if you wonder why I put quotation marks around “side” it’s in reference to the president of the United States’ speech made on August 15, 2017 in which he claimed that both “sides” were at fault for the violence in Charlottesville.

Final side note – if you are interested in reading more about biblical justice, I would highly recommend Timothy Keller’s book, Generous Justice.




One response

16 08 2017

Keep preaching this my brother and friend!

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