I have met the god of the conservatives and the god of the liberals and I have found neither to be Jesus. True, there are some themes on both sides that overlap with Jesus, but neither side embodies all that he stands for—and both sides are, at best, severely truncated on his teaching. And so, as a “citizen of Heaven” (Phil 3:20) I am left pledging my allegiance to Jesus and His kingdom while I think about God in whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8) whenever I come across it in this world.
While I get accused by conservatives for being too liberal and by liberals for being too conservative, I keep my focus on Jesus who was often found offensive on all sides. It’s in his shadow that I find Truth. And when I don’t do things under his shadow—even good things, like seeking justice—I ultimately end up doing it wrong or under someone else’s shadow.
Don’t get me wrong, I love justice. As an urban pastor of a dinner church community that feeds plenty in need of physical and spiritual food, I have longed for justice. I have prayed for unfair laws to be broken and celebrated new ones that care for the poor. I have served on committees looking to end homelessness and drug use and participated in many projects hoping to care for others and see some form of justice come to fruition. I have co-chaired city projects that have, among many other objectives, tried to restore relationships between the poor and the police by bringing them to each other. I have read books on the topic, preached on the topic, and even written my own books on the topic. Social justice is absolutely important, just as the prophets make clear time and time again.
But despite my drive for social justice, it is a realm I have grown fearful of over the last few years. I feel like justice is now defined as “righteous slander and vengeance”—a contradiction if ever there was one. I don’t sense that all of our Christian justice warriors are concerned with Jesus’ important teachings of forgiveness, restoration, and enemy-love. We instead stereotype people as villains and rip them apart as though it’s a holy thing to do.
I completely understand that prophetic anger exists. What drive would we have to change the world for Heaven without a healthy dose of it? But that’s just the thing—I’m not sure how healthy our dose is when we become void of the fruit of the Spirit—of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If to have these characteristics is to look like and serve like God, then to not have them in our ministry of justice is to look like something else.
There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world and we are not allowed to stay silent. But if we cannot fight with the love of our Savior who forgave even those who nailed him to a cross, then we may not be fighting for or with Jesus. And after having seen first hand what justice looks like when Jesus is not a part of it, I can tell you that it is a scary, troubling, and confusing place. We must fight with love of Jesus, like Martin Luther King Jr, whose words I’ll leave us with to reflect on.
While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community. To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you…. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. (King Jr., Martin Luther. A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings. Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 2012, pp. 53-54.)