No Justice. No Peace.
A friend’s Facebook post has me thinking almost non-stop about this idea, no justice no peace. She didn’t state it that way. What she said was, “Calling for peace when there is no justice is not the solution.” Which sounds much more polite considering the slogan has acquired a reputation synonymous with fighting and a variety of unbecoming behaviors.
My friend attached to her post and encouraged us to re-read Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I did. It is remarkable to me how applicable the truth of his experience still is to ours today. He eloquently addresses the egregious offenses of his day with sentences whose truths still ring a wake up bell in our hearts releasing shudders clear across our current experiences more than 50 years from the day they were written.
These are a few of Dr. King’s words:
“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place…but I am sorry that [you] did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.”
“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”
“justice too long delayed is justice denied.” – Quoting William E. Gladstone.
“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.”
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the [black man’s] great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice;”
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”
“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning… I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.”
What Does God Think?
Before I made it to the end of the letter where Dr. King comments about the church I was wondering what God thinks. My mind went straight back to the Garden of Eden. Because as far as I can tell this is the first big oppression story in history. Mankind falls for the deceptive trickery of Satan and in a flash ends up completely wrecked. Humanity moves within a couple of chews and a swallow from paradise on earth to hell invading every part of life.
The first man and woman have given God, their Heavenly Father, a great big dilemma because as it stands Satan has the rights to enslave them and oppress them forever. So, what does God do? What he doesn’t do is demand the kind of ‘negative peace’ Dr. King speaks about. What God does is get Jesus. The Father deals with the justice problem. He satisfies justice as Jesus becomes the propitiation, the satisfaction of justice, for our sin. In this transaction Jesus becomes our Prince of Peace. The peace he gives is ‘positive peace’ because justice is satisfied.
If this is a picture of God’s character and how he handles oppression, why do we, who are followers of Jesus, shun instead of follow his ways? Why don’t we fight for justice, advocate for justice, preach justice and bring justice as a means to peace? Why instead do we join our voices with the masses who demand peace without justice, either outright or indirectly with our silence?
Forgiveness Isn’t Peace
Whenever there is a demand for peace without obtaining justice it requires the oppressed to accept oppression and furthermore, agree to function within the system of the oppressor. In case you didn’t notice, this makes the victim a participant in their own oppression.
It further abuses the oppressed when we latch onto the notion that justice is unnecessary. Whether mistakenly or crudely, or some mixture of both, we believe peace can be forged via forgiveness. Therefore, we apply the Christian practice of forgiveness (we are forgiven hence, we are required to forgive) as the justification to neglect justice.
To that logic, I make two points: 1) First, I call spiritual abuse on that nonsense! Forgiveness does not exist so one man may be free to abuse another. Also, justice is unnecessary for forgiveness which makes it rather convenient if we don’t want to bother ourselves with the hearty work of justice. Forgiveness is God’s gift to us and how we free our individual hearts from hatred and bitterness. 2) Second, the presence of forgiveness does not equal the presence of peace. A man who rises to the moral high ground of forgiveness must not be victimized by the exploitation of being made the poster child of persecutors who cite his forgiveness as proof while they battle cry peace is achieved. Forgiveness frees the offended but it only opens the door to relationship if it is accompanied by justice. Peace does not exist where justice is denied. Without justice there can be no sustainable peace.
Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the church to lead the way in the movement of justice for the oppressed. That is what Jesus followers do, offer freedom to the captives. We cannot enslave and oppress while proclaiming a Christian way of life. It is our mission on this planet to love, to bring peace, to behave and be like Jesus. Church, please! Stop collectively caring more about the absence of tension and seeking ‘negative peace’. Instead, let’s insist upon the presence of justice which is freedom, the only ‘positive peace’!
“Calling for peace where there is no justice is not the solution.” – Colleen Whitver, Facebook
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” – Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.