Liberty and Justice for All
America is a land that lives under the statements “All men are created equal” and “With liberty and justice for all.” A Bill of Rights states that to which men and women of every race, faith and culture, under any circumstance are entitled. But what is justice? Who is responsible for demanding and delivering justice? How can a world in which many hold the beliefs of moral relativism grasp and demand a universal justice? Questions continue to form the more I read, hear and see and, as was stated in class, once you have known, you can’t turn back.
The Problem: Ignorance and Injustice
Perhaps this, alone, explains the comfort of the general public of America—the lack of knowledge and experience of the sufferings of the world behind each political conflict. Despite having such a wide variety of means of communication, the average American has never seen the face of a starving six-year-old in Africa nor heard the story of a Christian Palestinian in Israel. In fact, some would go as far to ask why the child’s parents couldn’t get a job?
As the article by Fred Van Geest pointed out, places like Nicaragua, a starving and hurting nation, are serving as “warnings” of what happens in the unfortunate circumstance that a government might take a position, fail and, as punishment, its people suffer, hunger, and are punished. In such circumstances, one must, in fact, ask just who is being punished and is this punishment, in any sense, just?
The first step, before one ever defines justice, is to define injustice, knowing the problems and the issues. As I was preparing, my mind was bombarded with more questions than answers and it was during one of these mental battles that a certain scene came to my mind. Over Christmas break I was discussing some issues that were rather argumentative through my school district which revolved around a new (and Jewish) district superintendent who had outraged many parents when he refused to allow certain traditional Christmas celebrations and festivities. My stepbrother, who is commonly influenced by the prejudices of his father, made a derogatory statement towards Jews and, in response, my step-mom became flustered and told him to be careful. “The Jews are God’s chosen people.”
After much interaction and discussion with an individual who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp, this comment was slightly unnerving. My readings thereafter, however, have given voice to what I felt at that moment. In a strong, Republican household, many a joke about the “wimpy Frenchman” and the “towel head” has floated through the air and I can’t help but ask in such a situation, where is the consideration for God’s chosen Frenchman, God’s chosen socialist, and God’s chosen Palestinian? Perhaps one should be more aware, in these circumstances, that the argument is not necessarily with the individual, but with the government, because it is the cultural jokes and lack of face—the ignorance that is at the very root of the injustice.
In his book, Blood Brothers, Elias Chacour asks the one who claims the faith of Christ, "Can you help me to say that the persecution and stereotyping of Jews is as much an insult to God as the persecution of Palestinians?” He later goes on to say, “God’s Israel included ‘foreigners,’ those who were not of the fleshly tribes of Israel, but who had been grafted into his family,” later quoting Galatians 3 and Romans 9, both of which state that Abraham’s children and God’s chosen people are not as such by birth, but by God’s grace and by the decision to follow Christ and, as Paul stated, likewise “not all descended from Israel are Israel.” Of whom do the prophets speak when they speak of Israel? Could God’s Promised Land not be something that is not material? Could God’s promise be extended to those who are not Jewish? As Christians, we must think more of God’s vast capabilities that reach beyond the material world in which we live.
At one point, in fact, Chacour points to the disadvantage many people of the west may have in their graspings of God’s likeness. I have often asked how those who suffer so greatly under persecution and face the worst should they convert would ever come to know Christ. One would think it should be easier for someone who has everything to acknowledge God in His character. However, Chacour makes an interesting point saying at one point that,
"People in the West seem so taken with material things. It's as if they have nothing in their spirits, so they need to surround themselves with nice comforts. ...The real problem is that Western theology starts with man as the center of all things and tries to force God into some scheme that we can understand. Then He can be regulated. Elias, we've grown up believing that God is the beginning and end of all things. He is central, not an afterthought. He's alive and has His own ways. Here, they want to tame God with their philosophy."
There is also a common misconception that the Palestinian conflict can never be solved as it is a part of God’s prophecy and plan, but is it a part of God’s will? Can God not care for the individuals involved in such a large-scale issue? I think in this statement, too many Americans would be happy to dismiss it as an issue never to be solved rather than to see “God’s plan for peace between divided brothers (Blood Brothers).”
Therefore, if we are to define justice and to solve the problems of injustice, we must realize that, as is stated in the article Biblical Basics on Justice, “God’s will for all is shalom, and the task of the community of faith is to do God’s will.” The task is liberty and justice for all, which means, as much as the average American would like to take the isolationist views of what is and is not our problem, we cannot back down of the responsibility that comes with our economic relationships (Fred Van Geest), nor can we be restricted to these relationships in say that it is not our problem because (as a politician stated in Blood Brothers), "I do not have hundreds of thousand of Arabs among my constituents."
“The injustices in other countries may be considered ‘foreign issues’ and therefore outside the realm of domestic responsibility. However this position fails to account for the relational character of international relations. …[Economic] relationships should not be considered impersonal, value-free market transactions,” says Van Geest who, in fact, continues by saying, “The biblical vision is a vision of a kingdom that transcends American, Canadian and European interests. One of the most prominent evidences of Christian weakness in the world today is the failure to pursue this political vision together in international community for the sake of justice for all people.”
According to the article Letting Justice and Peace Embrace, “The U.S. government—urged on by its citizens—will need to think less in terms of protecting its own national interests, still less of guaranteeing security against any possible future threat, and more of humbly accepting leadership in the challenge to promote multifaceted, global public justice.” One cannot, as a Christian, think solely in terms of America and its people because, as a responsibility to God and His Word, we are responsible to all with whom we have any form of relation, and these relations can be as a friend, brother or sister, or as someone whom you have not met but whose workplace you both effect and form. This, in fact, is addressed in the article My Sweatshop, My Plantation, which encourages the idea of boycott of companies who practice illegal and immoral treatment of employees.
In general, I would have to agree with the article, but I also would like to ask (on a side note) what happens to the employees of these companies when their jobs are cut from them? Sometimes we consider the idea of the job conditions and say that we cannot support a company who treats their workers as such. True. But what about countries where those are the kinds of jobs that are available. What can we do in a situation where to buy the goods is to support the torture, and to not buy is to take away the job and support the starvation?
The Definition: Justice and Mercy
The question one is asking when trying to define justice is simply what is the character of God and thus what does He expect from us? The face of God is to be shown through every Christian in all that they do as He, according to Chacour, “demanded that they demonstrate His own character to the whole world, that they show forth the face of God in every action from the way they conducted their government down to the use of fair weights and measures in the marketplace.”
In this sense, one must look at God in His full character in what seems to many a complete paradox—the paradox of being both a God who is just and a God who is love. Perhaps, however, when seeing the two as a paradox, one misses the concept of both justice and love altogether as, in a sense, they are one and the same and thus one then can equate the God of the Old Testament (often associated with justice) with the God of the New Testament (who’s focus was love) as they are indeed the same God.
The best illustration of this is found in the article The God Who Loves Justice, which sets the inevitable first point definition of justice when Wolterstorff says, “God’s love of justice inevitably implies God’s hatred of the injustice to be found in that world.” It is in this article that one can discover the Hebrew and Old Testament of shalom, a common greeting and concept in Hebrew (and thus Jewish) culture. This concept is defined by the, “flourishing in all dimensions of one’s existence. …God’s desiring the shalom of each and every one—not merely freedom from violation of one’s property but the flourishing of each and every one.” And it is this concept of shalom that is tied with justice by Chaplin when he defines both similarly as, “the right ordering of all things.”
Therefore, if our goals are Christian and our conquest is for peace, we must consider Chaplin’s statement of “Peace without justice is illusionary and transitory. But, equally, the route to justice involves nurturing peace along the way.” Are we, as Americans, doing our homework? Are we considering the people of the nation when we engage in the battles we feel are necessary? The call here is not a matter of whether or not to go to war, that is not my argument. The consideration is as such, that when we war against the government, we must consider the individual people and culture—are responsible for making sure that, in the process we know what is to their benefit and to “nurture” peace in such a way that we are not providing an American solution to a foreign conflict, but that we are Americans working towards a solution that works.
Likewise it is not our responsibility to discriminate or distinguish whom to “punish” and whom to help. Justice is not about punishment as much as it is about mercy and the relinquishment of injustice. God’s justice was not defined so much in terms of punishment as it was when he “raised the poor form the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. God gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” (Psalm 113:5-9)
In our own pledge, we commit to justice for all and thus must remember as such to whom our responsibilities lie. “The way of a peacemaker was difficult—it required deep forgiveness, risking the friendship of your enemies, begging for peace on your knees and in the streets,” Chacour says, but this is the occupation to which God calls all Christians in one way or another. We are, according to Van Geest, to be “seeking to advance justice for all, regardless of nation or territory. …All of creation is to be redeemed, and Christians ought to be actively involved in the redemption of every feature of it.”
In doing this, we must look at the unfortunate view of Christians and thus combat these views with action. We must decide who we really are and think of whom we represent. During his years in seminary, Chacour remembers a professor once saying,
"If there is a problem somewhere this is what happens. Three people will try to do something concrete to settle the issue. Three people will try to do something concrete to settle the issue. Ten people will give a lecture analyzing what the three are doing. One hundred people will commend or condemn the ten for their lecture. One thousand people will argue about the problem. And one person-- only one-- will involve himself so deeply in the true solution that he is too busy to listen to any of it. ...”
Who are you in this picture? Are you thinking critically? Is religion a hobby for you as it is for the Christian of whom Oz Guinness speaks when he calls the community to “Look for a place where the Christian’s faith makes a difference at work beyond the realm of purely personal things? …Look for a place where the Christian is thinking ‘Christianly’ and critically about the substance of work.”
I ask myself, am I a Christian of theory and philosophy, the Christian of whom Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks, religion “that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that cripple them, … a spiritually moribund religion in need of new blood?” Do I turn my back to what I see and know, leaving behind the faces of I was Hungry, those who are still very hungry and lonely and cold? What is the character that the American Christian is portraying? I cannot tolerate the idea, nor can I wait to discover the solution to the idea, that I would wish to, as Chacour states in the final chapter of the book, try to “find the easy life of blindness to pain.”
The Solution: Love and Action
“Work for peace is accomplished not by contemplators but by people of action, builders and workers willing to get their hands dirty,” Chacour says. It’s not enough to write the paper, to read the stories, to remember these things—one must act upon it out of the pure passion that comes into the heart. Decide right away what your god is and that god you must serve. What are you committed to? Because, as I have discovered through classroom lectures, discussions and out-of-class conversation, whichever god is chosen demands total surrender and if I were to put my hands in the gods I created on my own—in the quest for self-satisfaction, the god of self, of material, of laziness, of nothing at all, how can anything get done? If your service is not towards others, how can others serve you? However, if you join in one “pure and holy passion,” you trust not in the Gods you have created, but in the God who created you and you are never alone.
Micah 6:1-8 says. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? …He has showed you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness and too walk humbly with your God.” The message is as such that love is the answer—love in its just and verbal form.
Chacour has begun to work solutions in his situations, but a similar concept of reconciliation can be spread throughout the direst of places all over the world—the concept of reconciliation with Christ and the Christian community. The spreading of the idea that Christians are not the self-absorbed and judgmental conquerors some view them to be, but that the love of Christ is active in many forms. “Christians must begin applying Biblical principles to specific contemporary public policy,” to begin with (Van Geest).
What are we “really doing with our lives and the gifts God has given us?” Where does your heart lie? What do we hunger for? “Is it a kind of spiritual hunger that does not stir you to do anything,” as described by Chacour in For What do You Hunger and Thirst? Do you truly feel the hunger that goes/reaches to the hunger of the Rwandan and the Palestinian? Do you share the pain of humanity?
What are the solutions? I only wish I knew them all. Many times I wrestled through the active ways that I could change these things and it is then that I realized that there are keys to the doors of different areas. Many times I would argue that the approach is first to the people and then to the government. I would argue that the politicians are the furthest from changes of hearts, which is the primary goal in reconciliation. However, they are nonetheless very instrumental and important. The stages begin with the heart of the individual, to the restoration of a community, to the restoration of a government that can allow for more changes of hearts. The three foster each other, but the beginning and personal level is that of relationships and the honor with in them.
Many times I read the horrors committed on behalf of each country and wondered how did the countries expect respect if they did not give it? How can reconciliation occur in an environment of oppression—one that lacks the idea of human dignity and hope;
“The stiff laws of the Old Testament were only a shadow of the higher law of God’s love,” Chacour says. “… One of the first things Jesus did when He reconciled man to God was to restore human dignity. …Only by regaining their shattered human dignity could they begin to be reconciled to the Israeli people, whom they saw as their enemies. This, I knew at once, went beyond all claims of land and rightful ownership.”
When asked, “What do you think is the greatest need of all?” in the Palestinian villages, Chacour responded, “Hope. …Palestinians need the hope of a future. Hope that one day we can reconcile with the Jews and live in dignity again.” The Hearts and Minds article stressed this in the sense that this is more than just an idea to be played around with-- “This is not a time for peace loving, but rather for peacemaking, which is much more demanding.”
This brings us back to the idea of peace, of justice, and of shalom. Does peacemaking always mean the absence of war? Letting Justice and Peace Embrace makes a good point in the idea that;
“Imperialist, genocidal Nazism could be conquered only by force of arms. Violence within states may also require coercive intervention from outside, a challenge to which the international community is slowly waking up. …Whether the Iraqi people could have been liberated without foreign military intervention is doubtful, but now we’ll never know. International military activity must not, however, cause more injustice than it aims to redress… must consider all the costs.”
What are the implications of this? Again, the implications indicate the knowledge of how the actions will effect and be received by the culture in which the people reside. However, “we can’t ourselves eliminate war from our fallen world.” Some issues require political intervention and military action when considering a corrupt and harmful government. The importance is war as a means to shalom—the peace and prosperity of the people who reside in the affected land.
Frustrating to me is the lack of action by those who would still debate the war in Iraq. To sit around and play with ideas may be entertaining, but what are they achieving in their consistent opposition to something that has already happened. At this point, perhaps they themselves should think less of making an “I told you so” point and peace loving, and think more about peacekeeping both in Iraq and on the home front. Would they have everybody pull out and leave a country in chaos and inevitable self-destruction, thus being inconsiderate to the lives of Iraqis they so often claim to “defend?” What will these people say to troops returning home from Iraq who are dealing with emotional issues of war, of missing family, of losing friends? Perhaps supporting the troops but not the war is an interesting concept, but it is a theory without practice along with the rest of the debate.
Let’s move past the nationalist views and idealist thinking. Move past the days of debates that go nowhere and produce nothing, and show the world justice in action. Look just once into the face of the Brazilian boy running barefoot through the third biggest city in the world. See his bony frame and his outstretched hands and do something about it. Embrace his heart, fill his stomach, and show him the road to true dignity that leads to a peace that the world can never provide. Show them a peace that is not brought by a government, a fulfillment to both physical hunger and their hunger for a constant state of being. While policies are rightfully debated in the houses of politics by those who are hopefully thus called to change the large scale picture, those who are so called should follow the footsteps of Christ to reach to the immediate—bringing a hope and immediacy to an issue that has seemed, for so long, lost and unheard of. Who are you? What is your call? Can we show this nation what they agree to as citizens living under “freedom and justice for all?”
“He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” –Jeremiah 22:15-16