In light of the death of George Floyd, peaceful protests for justice, violent mobs (destroying, looting, and assaulting), and rightful peace-keeping, should remind Jesus’ disciples of our Christian understanding of justice and how we “love one another.”
Jeremy Taylor, an Anglican priest and spiritual writer (1613-1667) gives us a good Biblical framework for Christian Justice, As Christians he commends two important principles set forward in the Bible.
The first, has to do with mutual benefit (commutative justice). I should act for not only for my own benefit, but so that others will also benefit from my action. How I act as a Christian in my dealing with others needs to bear fruit, not just for myself, but for the other person--my interactions should be mutually beneficial.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 ESV)
We know this Bible verse as “The Golden Rule.” What we often forget is that it sets out the right way, the godly way for you to live with God the Creator and as a holy community. Yes, I do mean for within the community of Faith, the Church, but as we invite our neighbors to belong, even before they believe, we show them, value them, and interact with them as God deals with them.
What was so effective and so mutually beneficial for the civil rights peaceful protests was the clear mutual benefit of those who not only walked, stood, and sat-in for justice, they refused to engage in reprisal, violence, and attack. Their acting for the mutual benefit of those who’s civil rights were being denied and for the benefit of those who would deny those rights. They were able to recognize the damage that this injustice inflicted upon the perpetrators resulting in distortion of their humanity, dysfunction in their “bearing fruit.”
Christian justice recognizes that we are mutually dependent for our safety and profitability. I can only be safe from the violence of others when they too are safe from me. There is no justice, mutual benefit, in the violence of assault, looting, and destruction. These are not actions of loving one another, but of participating in evil. This is true of Law Enforcement and Protestors.
[God] hath given us all a sufficient stock of self-love and desire of self-preservation, to be as a chain to tie-together all the parts of society, and to restrain us from doing violence lest we be violently dealt with ourselves. (Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living, chapter 3, intro)
God created us so that we care how others treat us, and the capacity to recognize that our self-interest is tied-up with “others” and to see a way forward in mutual benefit. As God is just, we were created to be just, having been made in God’s image, male and female. As followers of Jesus Christ, we seek to have that image to be made visible in daily life, in our community, and our being “The Church--on behalf of others.”
The second, has to do with equality (distributive justice). We are all under the same Law, the same rule, commandment (how to live with a Holy God). The actions of everyone, my neighbor, and myself come under the same law. How I act as a Christian should not presume myself, nor any other person to be above the law.
Unfortunately, special pleading is normative behavior today--the Law, rule, or commandment shouldn’t apply to me because… The recent scandal of college admission by monetary contribution is an example that comes to mind. But on a more personal level, I all to often don’t accuse myself of sin, but I excuse myself, justify, rationalize why the law, rule, or commandment shouldn’t apply to me.
In a practical sense we have a government and laws by which our society operates, “distributing” justice and we expect it to be equally administered. We are rightly offended both by failures to keep the law, law breaking, and failures in administration by law (legislature and courts) and order (enforcement).
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:7 ESV)
This distributed justice comes not from our entering into a mutually beneficial arrangement, but is imposed either from God or our society. It recognizes an equality of persons. Whether we are speaking of our nation as “we hold these truths to be self-evident” or our recognizing that justice is an attribute of God. So for Christians right and wrong aren’t relative. We are to personify justice in our loving one another.
We are not wrong to expect accountability in our personally behavior, in our interaction with other persons, in our individual lives and in our society today. Justice needs to not only be on our lips, but in our lives as we love God and our neighbor.