This was written for my newsletter called, “The Nehemiah Effect.” If you would like to learn more about the Nehemiah Effect, be sure to check out the new information I have put under my “Resources” tab on my website. There are a number of sermons and articles dealing with racism. This article by my friend and brother in Christ has also been added to it. Caleb preaches in Brooklyn New York. He’s been a great source of encouragement to me these last few months.
God of Justice by Caleb Churchill
The Lord loves justice (Isaiah 61.8). Anyone who loves the Lord must love justice too. So how committed to doing justice are we really?
For most of my life I’ve seen far less outrage in America when a police officer knelt on a black man’s neck or put him in a chokehold or shot him to death than when a black man kneels in protest of that man’s murder. I thank God that it appears to me this is finally starting to change. When the Lord brings charges against the nations for their evildoings—a lack of concern for justice is usually near the top of the list (Isaiah 1.16-17; 58.1-7; 61.8-9; Hosea 4, etc.). And when the Lord calls his people to repentance, He calls them to do justice (Hosea 12.6; Amos 5.24; Micah 6.8, etc.) as evidence of their repentance.
To say blacklivesmatter is not to say bluelives don’t matter. To say blacklivesmatter is to say black lives matter, too. Whenever someone calls for breast cancer awareness, they are not arguing that other types of cancer are unimportant; they are calling attention to a particular form of cancer that needs to be addressed. To respond “all cancers matter” is not only insensitive, it also misses the point. To say that there are persistent systemic injustices and inequalities that have caused great harm to people of color in this nation both historically and presently is to simply state the obvious. Anyone denying this is simply ignorant of both the history and the present reality of this nation. To do justice means that we will work to change this.
How do the people of God do justice?
Certainly we must pray about it. If our God is whom we say He is, then He can do far more than we can ask or even think. And we know that in the end He will right every wrong. His impact on our hearts, our neighborhoods, our cities and our nations will be far more impactful than our own. So we pray fervently, earnestly, faithfully, always.
But we’ve got to do more than just pray about it. We’ve got to do the things that Jesus did in order to do justice in the world. Here are a few suggestions:
First, to do justice we’ve got to follow Jesus into the places and lives of the people where injustices and inequalities persist. While many are tempted to run from those in need, the gospel compels us to run to them. While some seek to avoid poor neighborhoods, Jesus descended into ours. Jesus did not flee from us when we were oppressed and enslaved to sin and the devil. He came to us and redeemed us, paying the price with His own life. As disciples of Jesus we are moved by the gospel impulse and called to the places where there is poverty, abuse, neglect, violence and oppression. We do not run from it, we run to it with hearts open wide to help. God’s people pursue the oppressed and afflicted. You don’t have to be a lawyer or a doctor or a politician to make an impact. You’ll make an impact in the lives of those in need if you simply love ALL your neighbors (regardless of their race, class, party, etc.) and get involved in their lives. The question to ask is not “Who are my neighbors?” but “Am I a being a neighbor to those in need in my community?”
Second, to do justice we’ve got to change the narratives that are rooted in lies across the country. Jesus was full of grace and truth, so, we, as His representatives should be committed to truth and combatting lies. Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL who has devoted his life to fighting against systemic injustices in the criminal justice system talks a lot about this in his writings (You should read Just Mercy if you have not read it). He speaks about the politics of fear and anger that led to the toleration of oppression for decades across this country. One example of this is that many poor and disadvantaged youths (most of them minorities) were labeled as “super-predators” rather than children in need of help. This has led to mass incarceration in this country (particularly of minorities) and some as young as 13-14 years old are sentenced to life in prison. I remember my first day on the job as high-school teacher. I was assigned to teach in an all black school in a school system run by an all-white superintendent’s office. I was given one class to teach called “Basic Skills.” Since I didn’t know what I was supposed to teach in this class, I went to the white lady in charge of curriculum to ask what I should teach. Her response shocked me. She said, “Don’t worry about that. These kids don’t want to learn. You’re really just a babysitter anyways.” I didn’t find out until halfway through the semester what I was supposed to be teaching in that course. One of my greatest regrets in life is that I didn’t go back after my time teaching there to tell this lady how wrong she was, how wonderful those students were, and how terrible it was for her to say that to a new teacher and to have educational policies informed by such terrible lies. Two white men in that town killed a black man my age this month. His family members were friends of mine. I wonder, did these two white men kill him because they believed he was dangerous simply because he was black?
Ever since my first day on that job I have worked to change these false narratives. Thankfully, some are changing. One of the narratives that has finally been laid to rest over the past few years is that the Civil Rights Movement resolved the race problem in this nation. It is glaringly obvious that we still have a race problem in this country. And one of the horrific narratives that persists is that black men are perceived as dangerous simply because they are black. In the many times I’ve been pulled over by the police in NYC, I’ve never been touched or searched by an officer. But the first time I was pulled over with a person of color, he was up against the wall being frisked by two police officers. And that story has repeated itself again and again. The white-washing of our national history has caused many injustices to minorities and people of color in this nation. In this nation, we are burdened by a past filled with injustice and inequalities. And we will never be the land of the free until we address the evils of our past and begin to change the narratives. As children of God we should be the first in line to stand up and speak out against the lies of the devil that affect not only public policy but also the hearts of men.
Third, to do justice means to be courageous to embrace suffering. To do justice took Jesus to the cross and to do justice means for us to take up our cross and follow Him. What injustices were ever overcome by remaining comfortable? Justice always comes with a price. That was true for Jesus and it’s true for us. I’m reminded of a sister who testified against a police officer in NYC who brutally assaulted someone in custody. There is always a risk involved in speaking against evil done by people in power. To do justice will lose you friends and make some enemies. Some who loved you before will hate you now. If you live like Jesus, many will find you too conservative. Others will think you too liberal or radical. But consider, it’s not justice I care about if I only care about it for the rich and the privileged. It’s not justice I care about if I only speak out about injustices that have happened to me. It’s not justice I care about if I only care about it for the people of my own race or class or party. It’s not justice I care about if I’m concerned for the elderly but not the unborn or vice versa. It’s not justice I care about if I’m concerned for the native, but not for the foreigner. If I speak out against the injustices that my friends hate but am I quiet about the ones that they love, what does that say about me? Biblical justice involves equal treatment for all with a special concern for the poor, mistreated, oppressed, foreigner, and the disadvantaged. If I do justice it will certainly lead to a life full of risks and sacrifices and suffering. I will suffer hurts from those who hate those I am helping and hurts even from those I am trying to help. But that makes sense since Jesus risked it all for me. Doing justice will get me in trouble, but it’s ”good trouble” as John Lewis calls it. It’s always good trouble if I do justice to please the Lord.
Finally, to do justice we must stay hopeful. I’m broken and distressed by what I see happening across this nation. The past month has been equally depressing and infuriating. I’m broken over the injustices I see being committed. I’m broken over injustices and evils that I’ve committed and others I’ve allowed to persist. I’m broken, yet hopeful. I’m hopeful because I’ve never in my life known so many people who truly care about ending these injustices as I know now. I am hopeful because I see more churches that are multi-ethnic now than I’ve ever seen before. And I’m hopeful because I believe in a God of hope who I know will one day unite all the nations who serve Him. In order for us to make a difference we can’t give up hope. The greatest impulse for fighting against injustice is the gospel so we must keep it at the center of all that we do. “Darkness doesn’t drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hatred doesn’t drive out hate, only love can do that (MLK).” One day God will right all wrongs. One day justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Because of this, we will stay hopeful and keep working to do justice until then.
– Caleb Churchill