A Kingdom of Justice: Part 2

In the last post I posited several questions that hopefully help guide the Christian to a deeper contemplation of issues concerning justice.

Perhaps one of the more important questions is the one that asks, “Which rationality and whose justice are we operating under?”

Justice is intimately tied to ethical systems. Thus, when we operate under systems of violence it is quite easy to rationalize violence as the primary mean through which wrongs can be righted. After all, when a country or ideology tries to harm or threaten the foundation of modern western democracy it is deemed necessary and justified to either persuade those forces to align themselves with the our ideology, even if that persuasion goes beyond dialogue and enters violent force, which is itself a type of persuasion.

In regards to more secularized conceptions of justice a multitude of theories abound. There is the Rawlsian type which focuses more on an equation of “justice” and “fairness”. Rawls truly does care about equality, and noticing the debilitation caused by inherent caste systems posits a justice system whereby citizens intentionally utilize a “veil of ignorance”. They repress all individual realities and make judgments as purely autonomous and objective entities. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), we are historically conditioned beings. We cannot just forget the realities that make up our lives, because those realities and experiences are a part of ourselves, they make up who we are.

Other systems of justice exist too, such as those built on the foundation of utilitarianism. Under the roof of this construction it is believed that we can confidently sacrifice the one for the many. If the greater good can be served by a lesser evil, than the lesser evil is an obligation. But, can we make confident calculations such as this? Does this really produce justice? Just as with Rawlsian account of justice problems arise because us moderns believe we have much more knowledge and ability than we actually do. When American policy makers create “justice” they do so with America in mind, primarily. The “infinite justice” proclaimed by Bush, for instance, shortly after 9/11 was met equally by a desire for “infinite justice” proclaimed by Bin Laden.  Both desired acts of revenge, both felt obligated to protect their homelands. This is not to make any sort of justification for the unspeakable acts carried ouy over 10 years ago, but it also is not meant to justify the propagation of violence that has gone on for decades before and after that event.

A Social Ethic

But what about the Christian reality? Do we take seriously the communal standards set forth by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount? Here the followers of Jesus are called to renounce violence, forgo lust, extinguish hatred, stay true to promises, and to love those who seek our destruction; these are both ethical and theological, and thus concerned with justice. We represent a different communal order, a different metaphysic, than the state powers. The Christian way isn’t reduced to forced persuasion in order to propagate, but to spread truth through Community, Cross, and New Creation. The Christian ethic makes no is-ought distinction, but makes a particular claim about what reality is and who people are within that reality. To section off the metaphysical claim to the avenue of “spiritual” is to make a divide where one does not exist. Jesus was no Platonist, and certainly not a Cartesian.

The difficulty is that this is difficult! It is both difficult to live out, but also fundamentally difficult because of lived experience. What do we do about injustice? Is it to be ignored or hugged away? Is it to be stood up to, and if so how? Perhaps we can look to those who came before us and realize the beauty of their resistant nonviolence, even in their sometimes failures. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought about great change. That rumors persist about infidelity (whether true or not) does not negate the impact of one trying to follow Christ, though failing at times. The truth is that violence breeds violence, and justice that is based on violence will not bring about the seemingly evanescent horizon of justice.

While this post does not put an end to the struggle of both understanding the scriptures or how the world works, I hope it is a challenge to take seriously Christian faith as a reality, not merely another choice in the marketplace of ideas.

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11 comments on “A Kingdom of Justice: Part 2

  1. Citizen Tom says:

    I like the presentation of the problem, but conclusion is ambiguous. Are you or are you not making a case for pacifism? Will there be a part 3?

    • Hey Citizen Tom,
      To answer both questions: I am not sure. Right now there are a multitude of ideas that utilize the term “pacifism”, from those who believe in nonresistance and nonconflict, to those who practice resistance (though nonviolent) in the face of evil, to those who understand pacifism to mean simply the “love of peace” (following the Latin root of the term). Of course, loving peace can mean a whole range of things. It doesn’t have to mean, however, avoiding conflict, as often avoiding conflict may foster violence more than it corrects it.

      I did try to keep the conclusion a bit ambiguous, mainly because I am deeply torn on this issue. I do believe that Christ is calling for a very specific way of living in the Sermon on the Mount, and I do think it is radical almost to the point of being absurd (as the way of Christ does appear foolish to the wise), but fear plants me squarely on the fence.

      I am not planning on a third part, but if I do I may take a much closer look a pacifism; perhaps then I can make a decision on where to stand in regards to this issue and help others make up their mind as well.

      • Citizen Tom says:

        taylormweaver – I don’t think pacifism is evil, but I do think a Christian who chooses pacifism misunderstands the Bible.

        What is said in the Sermon on the Mount has to be put in context. The Sermon on the Mount represents three small chapters of a relative large book. Moreover, Jesus does not advocate pacifism in Sermon on the Mount. Loving God and each other does not require us to submit to evil. What we are to do is overcome evil with good. We have a right to protect each, and we can protect each other in love. Because it is about judgment and hatred, vengeance belongs to God.

        Here are a couple of posts on the subject.
        http://citizentom.com/2011/05/30/for-those-who-kill-our-enemies-and-break-their-things/

        http://citizentom.com/2010/08/24/why-does-god-allow-war/
        I suspect you will find the link in the second post to an article by Max Lucado most helpful.

  2. Citizen Tom says:

    BTW – I look forward to a third post. Whatever you decide about pacifism, I expect an interesting discussion.

    • altruistico says:

      I agree, we are not called to pacifism by any means. Putting on the “Full Armor of God” certainly subscribestoanything other than “pacifism.” We can overcome hatred with love and, what greater love for another thanto lie down our lives for them…..

      • Hi altruistico, nice to see you aroud here:)
        I agree wholeheartedly with your last statement. I don’t like to overspiritualize matters, but there is a great power found through a love that calls for us to lay down our lives for our fellows. I believe NT scholar Michael Gorman sums this up nicely with the “cruciform” terminology, a principle he finds in Paul as imitating Christ. He fills the term with “not merely a conformity to [Christ’s] suffering– though it includes that (e.g., Rom 8:17; Phil 3:10)– but conformity to his cross-shaped narrative more broadly, the narrative of self-giving loyal obedience to God (faith) and self-giving love of neighbor.”

        There is a beauty and power in realizing that the shape of our salvation (not the source, but the shape) is the cross, and that calls for us not only to recognize what Christ has done for us but also calls for us to participate and embody the paradigm of the True Human, Christ.

        As to your statement about the Armor of God, I am not exactly sure right now how to interpret these correctly. I remember in passing seeing references for each piece of the armor in some OT places, especially Isaiah. I do think it is appropriate to recognize that Paul is here talking about the “powers and principalities”. I do think that Paul is very interested in what is happening politically/religiously in his immediate context. That this is an encyclical letter (meaning is was circulated and written for a wide geographical area, not just Ephesus) confirms that whatever he is writing about is a widespread problem, and I would think that it probably has something to do with governmental forces and the widespread reaches of the imperial cult and other forces that call for the devotion of believers.

        When we look more broadly at the encounters of Paul in Acts, and other biographical sections of his epistles, he often makes mentions to his trials, and I think it is telling that when he encounters trials he allows his persecutors to strike him and otherwise humiliate him. While not going to far into it, I think Paul is living out the cross through these encounters and overcoming hatred with “truth,” “righteousness”, a gospel of peace”, “faith”, “salvation”, and “the Word of God”.

      • altruistico says:

        Thanks Taylor; it’s good being here. Thanks for your response to my comment onon Citizen Tom’s site.

    • Thanks, Citizen Tom. I have really been appreciating the conversations we are having.

  3. […] A Kingdom of Justice: Part 2 […]

  4. Michael Snow says:

    You give us Christians a much-needed “challenge to take seriously Christian faith as a reality, not merely another choice in the marketplace of ideas.”

    Following your outline, in Part 1, we can all agree with the idea that evil “must be encountered and defeated.” For us as Christians, we are assured in Scripture that, ultimately, God will accomplish this.

    The point that we see it as “an imperative that we become involved and punish those that do evil acts” should ring alarm bells with those who know Scripture. We all agree that sometimes now, and ultimately in the end, evil doers will be punished. We also agree that it is the duty of Christians to intercede for those who suffer.

    The questions are, “what are our mandated means of intercession and who does the punishing now?”

    In Romans, we are told that God institutes government authority to punish evil doers. And the instructions to Christians, previous to that statement, are to follow Christ’s example and teaching in the treatment of enemies, and to leave wrath to God. In summary, we are told that Christians are the light of the world, not the sword of the LORD.

    Many of us fail to read Romans 12 and 13 in context. We need to pay close attention:
    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/romans-13-in-context/

    • Thank you for the comment and link, Michael. There is another interesting event to perhaps include in the timeline that you may find interesting, unless I missed it. I discovered it recently while wrestling a bit with Romans 12-13. Around 54-56 C.E. Jews and Jewish Christians had started to arrive back in Rome after being expelled around 49 C.E. At the same time a tax revolt was fermenting against Nero. Taking this, along with what you spelled out in your blog, it seems that Paul is exhorting his readers to respond to evil in a very specific way, as the main theme foud in Rom 12:9-13:10 is how to respond to evil.

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