By Erin Miller Cash
If you search the NIV for the word “justice,” you’ll find 134 references.
Some of them are helpful, and some are not. Some say things like “the tribe of Dan will provide justice.”
I read each one of those 134 verses. A few resonate with me more than others.
[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
From the earliest texts of our tradition to Jesus himself, we find God at work pursuing justice for the oppressed. Often justice and love or justice and righteousness go hand-in-hand in the Biblical texts.
We are called to be a people of justice.
We are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who ate with the outcast, touched the unclean, stood up to the Religious Leadership. Jesus was killed because he wanted radical inclusion of everyone in the kingdom of God. Everyone.
Our Denomination strives to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” We believe valiantly in our causes: for some that is an issue of homosexuality (sin or nature), for some it is an issue of immigration reform (needed or not), for some it is pastoral education (required or optional), for others it is worship style (contemporary or traditional). We are a people who are passionate about many things.
One of the things I love about being a Disciple is the fact that we hope to live into the words “in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” The quote can be traced back as early as Augustine; the church has been trying to do this for centuries.
As Disciples, we tend to let one another speak about our particular passions, but we rarely come together to work. Someone may believe that LGBT persons need to have full inclusion in the ministries of the church, but she doesn’t see that this matter of justice is similar to the matter of justice surrounding immigration. In both cases a minority population is being subjected to the will of the ruling majority population (even if that population’s opinion on the matter is divided). Justice is justice. And justice is righteousness.
Can we be the model?
Can we be the generation that begins to show our unity to the world?
Can we be a movement for wholeness?
If we would stop bickering with one another over which issue is most important and start acting in love, we might be able to accomplish some incredible things for the neglected in our midst. What if we agreed that justice is justice and we worked together to enact change on several fronts? What if we embraced one another in charity where we disagree on a non-essential? What if we were able to come together around the table instead of storming out of the room?
A pastor I respect very much once said to me, “I fear for who is next.” As a government and as a religion (I’m speaking here generally about the church as a whole, not as individual denominations or local congregations.), we have notoriously excluded someone from power.
The list can go on if we want to dig deeper into our history. The more we look, the more we find the truth: someone has always been an outsider in our nation and in our religion. We don’t like to admit that, but it’s the truth. We largely define ourselves by who we are not.
The Scriptures I cited above don’t say to enact justice for those who deserve it. The scriptures say to act in kindness, love, righteousness, and justice. It doesn’t say to condone every behavior, despite your personal convictions. It says to work for justice. It says to love kindness.
Someday I may find out that I was wrong. I may come to find that the justice we chose to pursue was a tragic mistake. I may put people in situations where the tradition we’ve known is compromised. I don’t think that will happen, but I could be wrong.
I’m ok with being wrong.
I’m not ok with being unfair.
I would rather work to make sure every person who wants to work alongside me is able to live into their calling than to exclude someone for my personal beliefs. I would rather embrace “the sinner” in love than insulate myself from her. I will always choose kindness. I will always choose love.
I cannot control the actions of another person.
Keeping someone out of the fellowship will not change their behaviors.
It will only change me.
It will harden me and my community of faith to the outsider.
It will allow prejudices to form.
It will make space for judgment in our midst.
I don’t want to be that kind of minister.
I don’t want my denomination to be that kind of place.
I want us to come together.
I want us to work together.
I want us to love together.
I believe we have the power to make transformative change in our churches, our government, and our lives. I believe that as we champion our respective causes we can support one another. I believe that if you are passionate about welcoming immigrants and I am passionate about LGBT rights, we need one another. I believe justice is justice and love is love.
I will choose to love those who believe I am wrong.
I will choose to love those who refuse to engage me in conversation.
I will choose to love those who others will not.
I will choose love.
Will you join me in working for justice for all people?
Will you come alongside me to proclaim that all anyone really wants is to feel accepted and valued for who they are?
Will you allow yourself to make space for everyone?
Will you find your voice in the midst of a group?
Will you help someone else find theirs?
The kingdom is a place where God leaves no one out.
I need your perspective, and you need mine.
We need one another if we’re going to make changes.
We need to put aside our judgments and welcome one another.
How will we ever welcome the outsider if we can’t embrace each other?