Do Justice

I said back in November that I might do a series of posts about the things I learned or thoughts I had at the Reformation Project’s Reconcile and Reform conference. The main issue is that I am not a note-taker–in general but especially listening to non-school speakers. Which I recognize as a weakness but not one that I usually feel too terrible about.

So, in lieu of going through some of the specific speakers and take-aways, I thought I would have a little series that was inspired by one of the keynote addresses and which connects to a verse that has pursued me for several years. That would be Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This verse, in connection to a keynote address at the conference delivered by Justin Lee, whose ideas I may or may not be paraphrasing with greater or lesser accuracy at any given moment during the musings. Yay my memory.

Anyway. I thought I would, as Justin did, break this verse down into constituent parts and take them one at a time. Not in any kind of exhaustive sense, lest you think I have the time/energy/training for that, but in a sort of survey of meaning as well as some particular applications that are relevant to me, you, and the world today.

To start, I want to link this together with a couple previous posts that track a little bit of my history with Pride (the gay kind, not the cometh before the fall kind) here and here. Two reasons for this: first, this series was prompted by a queer Christian conference and second, I’ve been on a journey and as I continue, it’s good to look back. If pressed, I’m sure I could enumerate in relatively granular detail some areas of growth for me since those posts but the gist is: yes, I am learning and growing and I’m so happy for that.

On to the topic at hand. Not to be too punny, but I know I’ll never do this subject justice, simply because it’s a big deal and I am not equal to that task. But I shall try, and I shall be led for the time being by the speech previously mentioned. Which you should actually listen to for yourself. The Reformation Project has added several main speakers’ addresses to YouTube and I would highly recommend every one of them. But here’s the one we’re going to be talking about. So go ahead and give that a listen, if you have a sec, but if you have a little less than that, I’d maybe tune it around the 38 minute mark. Anyway, here goes for a quick moment on doing justice.

To begin with, I think it’s important to recognize that how we live matters. Not just as people of faith but as people who acknowledge that our lives have an impact on the people around us, and to see those people and impacts as important. But as someone who believes what Jesus said and did, I do find myself in the position of having freedom of action–no longer being under ancient, Jewish law–and also constrained in action by the love that I bear (in my best moments) toward all others.

So that’s my starting point. I believe that what I do with my life matters because I want to live in response to the love that God has shown and am therefore motivated to see my actions benefit others in recognition of their belovedness.

And now we come to Micah. To begin with, the instruction is to do justice. Starting at the beginning, then, we must see that doing is not simply refraining from acting unjustly, but an active pursuit of justice. It’s something that we should do (and be desirous of doing). In other words, leaning heavily on Justin Lee’s, we are called to put more justice out into the world than we found when we arrived.

We can’t each solve every problem but we can be equipped and prepared to face what we can, when and where we can. I was arrested by Justin’s assertion that we can all be an ally to someone. It is a weighty responsibility but it is as vital as it is life-giving. To give bread to one who has none–or to ask our neighbor to give bread to the stranger who is visiting.

As we’ll talk about more next week, justice without mercy is no justice at all. The aim, it is essential to remember, cannot be retribution or even just punishment. The model that we are shown is that the aim of justice is forgiveness. We cannot ignore the harms that are done–and we cannot simply allow them to continue–but we have to remain focused on seeing perpetrators as worthy of mercy, not caricaturish villains.

Healing is not light. You cannot move on without doing work–hard work. But we also can’t use that as an excuse to never forgive.

I’m not going to try to get any more direct about what ‘doing justice’ really looks like, because yikes. But I want to leave you with two thoughts, one inward and one outward. First, what burdens do you put on others that do not reflect the unconditional love of God for all people? Second, what burdens on others are you in a position to help alleviate–not just in the present moment but in a systematic way so that such an undue burden is not laid on anyone?


The Tyranny of Caution

This is not a theology blog and I am not a theology person. But, being a religious person, sometimes theological things happen in my life. So we’re back to it for this week, sorry if that’s not your cup of tea.

I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) and, though I’m not particularly attached to any denomination, it’s one that I like. Kind of the main idea is that agreement on the main things trumps disagreements on subsidiary things. They have six ‘affirmations’ about, like, Jesus and the Bible and that stuff. But everything else is less important–baptism and what have you. The denomination is not affirming (they’re not about the gays) and a pastor recently resigned, after an incredibly lengthy and arduous procedural process, after she performed a wedding for two men.

She wrote a letter (which is long but worth a read in general, and specifically if this is your area) and it inspired a lot of thoughts in me. I’ve presented a few of them below. This is, of course, not an exhaustive post and I’m not certain how well I’ve expressed what I mean. But this is one of those times, I guess, where I feel like I ought to say something, even if what I say isn’t exactly right.

I’ve been blessed by a fairly lifelong security in faith that didn’t significantly waver when I came out to myself. I’ve been blessed by the family and friends around me who didn’t waver either. I didn’t feel hurt by the church growing up because my closet at the time was invisible even to myself. So I come at this from a pretty good place.

The church has a lot of issues with gender and sexuality, of which homosexual marriage is only one. But it has become a pretty brutal part of contemporary church identity. Part of the concern is the small matter of burning in hell for all eternity. While relevant, that is an argument for another day.

I spoke with a former pastor of mine on this subject a while after I came out. A good family friend who genuinely wanted to understand and love. But he was confounded when I insisted again and again that you cannot love me if you do not love all of me. It is not love if it’s conditional on a) me being straight or b) me being gay but never having a romantic relationship ever. You can’t say love the sinner and hate the sin (which is iffy in general but I can see it re: a thief, for example) because the ‘sin’ is me.

Here is the essence of the church’s conundrum on this, and many other issues: is it better to err on the side of caution or of grace?

It is not a question of whether this is right or wrong. I reject the notion of fallible human beings being entirely right about every matter of doctrine. It is a question of Jesus having enough love and mercy and grace to accept us even if we are wrong. The answer is clear to me. Besides, I would rather be condemned for loving too much than loving too little. I do not know what else to say.

What does the church stand to lose in this argument? As far as I can tell, pretty much only power from a system built on injustice. A friend of mine added loss of face and loss of comfort, which are valid. Then she said this, as simple as it is true, I think: “Is the church really concerned for the souls of people who are not heteronormative? Or is it a fear of the loss of comfort? ‘What will I tell my children?’ Well damn Karen, you’ll tell your children, ‘You know how mommy and daddy love each other? Those two men love each other too.’ And that will be that!”

This is not my final argument. This is not even the conversation we should be having. But apparently it’s the conversation many in the church still need, and history shows us it’s the needs of the oppressive majority that take precedence over the needs of the oppressed minority. And I feel that I’m coming from a strong enough position to allow that in this place at this time. But come on. I feel disheartened by the extreme apparent ‘caution’ of the ECC on this issue.

When you are part of the empowered majority, caution feels easy–the status quo benefits you so why should it be changed. It is when you are in the minority, just trying to live life as well as you might, that the caution of the majority becomes tyrannical. This is not new, it is intersectional in the extreme. This is just my small corner of it as a middle-class white American cis man.

Authority is not granted to the church to open or close God’s doors. So stop trying. Just love more. Not love if we comply, if we’re righteous, if we fit. There is not simply room for us at God’s table, there are seats reserved with our name: Beloved Child of God.