I gave the class a biblical definition of justice in four parts: Deliverance of the oppressed into freedom. Deliverance of outcasts into community. Deliverance of the poor into enough. And…
“The fourth would open up a can of worms I can’t put back together in one class,” I said. “But three is enough for now.”
When class dismissed one minister stuck around, waited until the crowd dissipated to ask me. “What’s the fourth thing – the one you wouldn’t tell us?”
I toed the ground, bit my lip, searched the back of my eyelids for an answer. Then I just blurted it quickly, like ripping the bandage from a wound.
“Deliverance from violence into equality.”
It’s been more than a decade since the Twin Towers collapsed but we still haven’t healed. Our fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends still fight.
And some Americans will fight anyone who speaks of peace. Even in hushed tones to a crowd of one under a steeple.
The only time I’ve ever been threatened with violence? After preaching on the blessedness of peacemaking.
There were no threats today though. Just honest questions. And my honest answer: “I don’t know.”
I don’t know how to stop terrorists. I don’t know what to do if someone breaks into my house. I don’t know what I’d do if you aimed a gun at my child. I don’t know. But Jesus said…
“So are you a pacifist like Ghandi?”
I’m not, I explained. Not like Ghandi. Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights movement in America has impacted me more. But mostly its the words of Jesus that have unclenched my fist. Jesus told his disciples to love their enemies. I don’t know how to love someone while trying to kill them.
He poked the scab, reliving that September morning when 3000 Americans died while news cameras rolled. Violence seemed just in the aftermath. And I too remember. I remember the words of Jerry Falwell; remember feeling a great big Amen well up inside me, nodding along: “Blow them all away in the name of the Lord.”
Then I recalled for the minister another moment from our nation’s history. I reminded him about dogs let loose on crowds in Memphis. About firehoses unleashed on silent marchers. About little girls blown up while sitting in their Sunday best. About fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends hanged by their necks from trees. For the color of their skin.
“What if most black Christians in America then interpreted Jesus’ words the way most white Christians in America do now? What if they believed violence was holy and just when used to repay terror, to stop future violence?”
I don’t know what to do about Islamic fundamentalism or Jewish teens abducted by Palestinians or Israeli missiles launched into West Bank neighborhoods or North Korean rocket tests. I don’t know a lot.
But I know the answer to that question. What if Rev.King believed what most of us believe? A lot of white people would have died. Not just the ones wearing bedsheets and burning crosses. Restaurant owners, bus drivers, school teachers, preachers, policemen, politicians…and anyone else who behaved violently or stood by while others did. My parents. My grandparents. Yours too.
Deliverance out of violence into equality. Easier to believe when we’re the enemy being loved.