Archives For Justice

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During Lent I’m writing a series of review essays of Fleming Rutledge‘s new book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, at Scot McKnight‘s popular Jesus Creed site. Here’s a snippet from the latest post on Rutledge’s work on justice and divine wrath.

I’ve changed my mind about God’s wrath. 

Or, rather, my friend, Brian Stolarz has changed my mind. 

When reflecting upon the category of divine wrath, thanks to Brian, I no longer think of myself. My mind goes instead to Alfred Dewayne Brown, Brian’s client (both pictured above).

Brian spent a decade working to free an innocent man, Alfred Dwayne Brown, from death row in Texas. Dewayne had been convicted of a cop-killing in Houston. Despite a lack of any forensic evidence, he was sentenced to be killed by the State on death row.

Brown’s IQ of 67, qualifying him as mentally handicapped, was ginned up to 70 by the state doctor in order to qualify him for execution. This wasn’t the only example of prosecutorial abuse in the case; in fact, the evidence which could’ve proved his alibi was hidden by prosecutors and only discovered fortuitously by Brian, years later. Dewayne was released by the state this summer. Brian has forthcoming book about the experience.

Meanwhile, Dewayne has a civil rights case pending to seek restitution for the injustice done to him. 

To seek rectification, biblically speaking. 

I spent about a half hour alone with Dewayne this fall as we waited for his presentation, with Brian, to a group of law students. I’ve worked in a prison as a chaplain and interacted with prisoners in solitary and on death row. Like my friend, Brian, I have a good BS radar. Dewayne was unlike the prisoners I’ve met. My immediate reaction from spending time with him was how difficult it was for me to fathom any one fathoming him committing the crime of which he was accused. My second reaction was to feel overwhelmed by Dewayne’s expressions of forgiveness over the wrongs done to him by crooked cops and lawyers, a prejudiced system, and an indifferent society. ‘I’ve forgiven all that,’ Dewayne told me in the same sort of classroom where lawyers who had turned a blind eye to his innocence were once trained into a supposedly blind justice system.

Here’s the crux of the matter, and I use that word very literally:

Dewayne is allowed to express forgiveness about the crimes done to him. 

But, as a Christian, I am not so permitted. Neither are you. 

If we told Dewayne, for example, that he should forgive and forget, then he would be justified in kicking in our sanctimonious teeth.

In The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ,Fleming Rutledge points out in her third chapter, The Question of Justice, we commonly suppose that Christianity is primarily about forgiveness. Jesus, after all, told his disciples they were to forgive upwards of 490 times. From the cross Jesus petitioned for the Father’s forgiveness towards us who knew exactly what we were doing. Forgiveness is cemented into the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.

Nonetheless, to reduce the message of Christianity to forgiveness is to ignore what scripture claims transpires upon the cross. 

The cross is more properly about God working justice. 

You can read the rest of the essay at the Jesus Creed here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/03/03/a-wrath-less-god-has-victims-by-jason-micheli/#disqus_thread

8329_1245755266240_8036607_nThis week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.

Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4. According to Torah, a big part of the good news of the Jubilee is reconciliation of wrongs in the world- a theme Paul picks up in 2 Corinthians.

To complement this theme, I’ve asked Mike Crane, a friend and parishioner to offer his reflections.

We’ve all been there before: that awkward moment—coming up out of the Metro, stopped at a long traffic light, or in any one of a dozen other situations—when a grizzled man or woman in wrinkled, dirty clothes calls out to you (or holds up a cardboard sign).

“I’m homeless.  Can you help?”

They’re right there—right in front of you.  And they’re looking straight at you.  Or, at least you feel like they are.  Now you have to decide.  Do I give them a few bucks?  Or do I look to the side (or right through them) and walk (or drive) on?  Either way you go—and if you’re like me, you’ve chosen both options at some point or another—it’s over in a minute or two and you move on, back into the comfort of the world you know.  Your world—light years distant from the one the grizzled drifter lives in—and from the eyes of the drifter.  It was just a one-off occurrence, anyway.

Maybe a one-off occurrence, though, has driven you to take a closer look at the drifter’s world.  You’ve felt moved to help with the local homeless ministry.  Now, it’s twenty sets of eyes looking at you.  There’s no avoiding the eyes, anymore.  Soon, you’re sitting down at the table to eat with four or five men and women from that other world.  You can’t help but notice the dirt under their fingernails.  And they want to talk to you—and for you to talk to them.  You’re drawn into their world—and you’re starting to think that the huge distance that you thought separated you really isn’t there.  It may be one world, after all.

By now, those one-off encounters on the street and the time you’ve spent with people at the homeless shelter are telling you there’s more for you to do.  So you decide to take a chance and head off on a mission trip to Guatemala.   You leave the modern airport—much like the one back home—and very quickly you’re struck by the crowded, poor conditions that exist side by side with the wealth of an international capital.  When you get to your destination, a small rural village, you come face to face with real poverty.  The people you meet aren’t homeless, but they live in a country with no natural source of potable water.  Where ten people live in a single room—dad, mom and kids living out their whole lives in less space than you have in your family room, back in “your world.”

How can we not address the need that we’ve grown increasingly unable to look past?

That one homeless guy at the Metro has become a roomful of homeless people at a shelter.

And that’s become a country—a world—full of people in need, trying to survive from one day to the next.

It’s like tending to a tree damaged by a tough drought.  And you look up to see that the tree is part of a grove of struggling trees—and that grove is just a part of a vast forest.

When we think about it, it can seem overwhelming.  Tending a tree—treating the grizzled drifter with dignity and helping him when we find him—is a manageable task.  It’s what we’re called to do, and it does make a difference.  That’s our mission.

But injustice has thrown our world out of kilter.

It’s allowed a country rich in natural resources, blessed with nearly forty watersheds, to have no potable water for its people.  It allows hundreds of millions of people to live at subsistence level while a relative handful have more than they know what to do with.

We have to understand justice issues, to argue for justice, if we expect to help set things right.

Mission and justice go hand-in-hand—and they bring us ever closer to the day when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

When the eyes of a homeless person won’t trouble us—because she can’t be found, no matter where we look throughout our wide world.

 

A Christian Justice?

Jason Micheli —  August 29, 2012 — 3 Comments

The Christian tradition has typically opposed the death penalty for a number of compelling reasons. Our savior was an innocent victim of it. Our awareness of human sin means that establishing someone’s guilt beyond doubt is always fraught with error, intentional or not. Our belief in God’s sovereignty precludes us from taking life.

Of all these perspectives, one that I find particularly compelling- and one that has also elicited evangelical sympathies- is the argument that capital punishment eliminates a prisoner’s ability to seek redemption for his or her crimes. The electric chair ‘ends’ their story before they’re able to seek a better ending to their story.

This religious ‘right’ is usually put in opposition to the rights and stories of the victims and their families so that, not just in the act of murder itself but even after, the stories of victim and victimizer are held in opposition forever, making healing and forgiveness a near impossibility.

What’s got me thinking about this is the conclusion to the murder trial of Behring Breivik in Norway. No doubt you’ll remember he’s the man who ignited a bomb in Oslo last summer, killing 8, and then shot 69 at a youth camp on a nearby island.

What’s distinguished the trial is how the court has taken as its goal not only justice (proper defense of the accused and punishment for the crime) but healing.

How have they done this?

The court, damn the costs and the time, has made it a point to hear the story of every single victim. Even before the trial began, the court appointed and paid for 174 lawyers to see to the rights, privacy and needs of the victims family. The court took the time to compassionately listen to 77 autopsy reports, each of which was followed by a photograph and detailed biography of the victim. After the closing arguments, the victims’ families were allowed to speak, often eloquently about their loved ones and their experience of grief. The court did all this without sacrificing the defendant’s rights to a fair trial; Breivik was allowed to have the final word, spouting his rants without any one censoring him.

As an op-ed in the NY Times puts it: By affirming the humanity of each victim, the court tried to satisfy a traumatized society’s thirst for truth and justice without denying the defendant’s right to a fair hearing. 

We give a lot of shallow lip service to ours being Christian nation but we seldom flesh that out. Meanwhile here’s a perfect example of Christian justice in action (ironically in a mostly secular nation). For Christians- just as there’s no cross without easter- healing must always be a component of any notion of justice.