“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is Martin Luther King Jr.’s clever paraphrasing of a portion of a sermon delivered in 1853 by the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker. Both of these ministers knew the truth of the Gospel that desires and requires justice for all God’s children. One can see evidence of this in snapshots of American history: the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War, women achieving the right to vote, the Civil Rights Act and end of the Jim Crow era, a Supreme Court ruling allowing marriage for same sex couples, and for many of us the results of the 2020 presidential election. During this season of Advent we can see the light of justice shinning just a little more brightly.
And yet for many in our nation and in our world, the idea of justice seems like an unfulfilled dream. God’s vision of a just society for all has yet to be realized. And lest we become too complacent, we should recall that the prophet Amos warned the people of Israel not to think that their acts of worship might cover up their sin of greed and oppression of those on the margins.
In fact, Amos is quite blunt when he says: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
God rejects the gifts of sacrifice and praise when offered by those who are complicit in an unjust system that takes advantage of the disadvantaged and weaker persons in society. The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 have brought home the reality of our nation’s systemic racist culture that fosters white privilege and white supremacy. It has sown the seeds of suffering, division, hate, prejudice, and injustice on so many levels.
Pastor Lenny Duncan, writes: “We need to have a final reckoning with radical evil and the forces that defy God. We need to name them and claim them. White supremacy is a systemic force in this world that defies God…I believe the only hope for mainline Christianity is to dismantle white supremacy--first in our pews and then in our communities. This is the call of discipleship. With the rise of xenophobia, racial violence, and nationalism in the United States, it’s hard to deny the roots of the real hurt that people of color experience in this system. White supremacy is antithetical to the gospel.”*
Working Toward a Just Future
For those of us who are of the Judeo-Christian tradition, our faith calls us to work for a just future for all people. God’s justice cannot be separated from God’s love—and the clarion call to love our neighbor regardless of race, creed or station in life. To work for justice is hard work and requires a deep level of commitment. It requires us to stand in solidarity with those who have been oppressed. Consider the following story.
Xenophobia is flourishing worldwide. In response to a recent surge of violence against Jews in Sweden, a Hasidic rabbi in Malmo organized a protest march intended to be a demonstration of faith—to stand up to the haters. He invited both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens to wear the traditional skullcaps in protest against anti-Semitism. Members of the congregation were joined by many others not of the Jewish faith who wore skull caps in solidarity and the walk proceeded in a peaceful manner. Following the Malmo example, there are now regular walks not just in Malmo but also in Stockholm and Berlin..
We are called to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are suffering injustice. William Whitla wrote the text for a powerful hymn that reflects this call for justice in 1989 just after the events in Tiananmen Square and about the time the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina were making their appeal on the world stage:
“Let streams of living justice flow down upon the earth; Give freedom’s light to captives, let all the poor have worth. The hungry’s hands are pleading, the workers claim their rights, The mourners long for laughter, the blinded seek their sight. Make liberty a beacon, strike down the iron power, Abolish ancient vengeance, proclaim the people’s hour.”
Scripture is the story of a loving God who liberates oppressed people throughout human history. This sacred story of God’s healing love and liberation is our inheritance and must be our legacy. It is also a light to guide us moving forward with justice as God’s people today. We are a people of hope and of grace—who believe in a better future. It is in our DNA. And it was in that spirit that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America passed a milestone resolution at their 2019 Churchwide Assembly that offered an apology to people of African Descent and also denounced White Supremacy. But this is only a beginning.
We must continue the work at the local level following the admonition of the Prophet Micah: “For what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)
* Lenny Duncan, “A New Heaven and A New Earth” from Dialogues on Race (Minneapolis: Spark House, 2019), pp. 114-115.