Friday, October 12, 2007

The Biblical Call to Justice?

Here are my thoughts for the day on the topic of JUSTICE. People so often say things like: "The Bible calls us to stand for justice" and "We need to live out the biblical mandate to live out justice." We will all nod our heads in agreement -- including me. Justice. Yes and Amen!!!

But here's what I'm wondering:

a) Do we need the Bible to tell us this in order to stand for justice? Don't non-Christians also stand for justice? Don't all decent people stand for justice? What's uniquely biblical about this?

b) What political mileage can you really get out of the Bible's call to stand for justice? For example, the main criteria for justice today centers on political freedom and personal rights. But where in the Bible do we find any interest in these concerns? Yes, everyone is made in the image of God. But nowhere does the Bible talk about people having "inalienable rights" because of this. (This was an Enlightenment concept, not a Biblical one). In fact, when the idea of political freedom and personal rights first began to be seriously considered in the Enlightenment period, it was mainly Christians who opposed the idea! How can anyone support the idea that people should have a say in who governs them when the Bible clearly says that GOD ordains the authorities that be (Rom.13). It's also interesting to realize that the same Bible that tells us God calls us to stand for justice is the Bible that endorses male domination, construes women to be property and encourages (in the OT) and allows for (in the NT) slavery!

So honestly, can you really base a modern ethic of justice on the Bible?

Now don't get me wrong, I BELIEVE people have inalienable rights. I believe justice includes supporting equal rights for all and personal and political freedom. But I believe this because I'm an American, not because I'm a Christian.

c) And third, what political disputes are solved by appealing to the biblical call to stand for justice? What's the point of appealing to "biblical justice:"? Are there political opponents out there that stand AGAINST biblical justice? Is there an "Anti-Biblical Justice Party" out there? No. EVERYBODY stands for "justice," they just define it and apply it differently. So everyone can appeal to the "biblical call for justice" for support, if they wanted to. Which means that appealing to the Bible's call for justice may make us feel like our views have more authority, but it actually gets us nowhere.

For example, I've recently gotten several mailings from left-wing Christian organizations asking me to stand with them for "biblical justice" and "peacemaking" by opposing the war in Iraq and calling on our government to pull our troops out now. Sounds righteous enough. Let's march!!! But, on the other hand, one could argue that this move might prove to be the most unjust and war-encouraging thing we could possibly do! Sure, it would save U.S. lives, but why think U.S. lives count more than Iraqi lives -- or even the lives of terrorists? So, in the name of standing for "biblical justice," one could argue that our troops should stay as long as needed to ensure stability.

Now, we could debate the merits of pulling out verses staying endlessly -- as with most other political matters. Fine. But my point is that appealing to "biblical justice" to support our views won't help the matter. To the contrary, it just invites the typical divisiveness of the world's politics into the Church.

So, it seems to me that trying to root your position in the "biblical call to stand for justice" is:

a) somewhat disingenuous, since you would have stood for the "justice" position you believe in anyways;

b) somewhat disingenuous, since the freedom and rights you're standing for aren't in the Bible; and

c) very unhelpful, since everyone on all sides of the debate can make the exact same claim.

I say let's just come clean and let common decency define "justice" and govern politics. And in the meantime, how about we followers of Jesus get around to doing the one thing we're supposed to be doing: imitating Jesus' self-sacrificial love to all people and at all times.

Whatever "justice" means, we'll certain get it covered if we are aiming at replicating Calvary.

Peace out