With Liberty and Justice for All

America is, yet again, embroiled in protests calling for justice. As I pondered the events of the last week I began to think about the founding of this country; and my mind went to the act of vandalism (or even domestic terrorism) which is given credit as the first shot of the Revolution, the Boston Tea Party. I thought about how angry Americans were over the treatment they received from the crown. I even saw a level of irony in the complaints about violence and vandalism in today’s protests. Then I thought about Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence. After Jefferson lists the grievances with the King he turns his attention to all of England. His claim is that everyone in England knew of America’s plight and sat idly by with little concern. He wrote:

We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Declaration of Independence

I have been thinking about how the average people of England perceived these actions and words. I have read some of these reactions and I realized something those in England never truly listened to the complaints the colonists were making. The Americans saw how they had repeatedly sent messages to England, its King, its legislature, and its people concerning the injustice they felt. The Americans saw themselves as second-class citizens, used and abused by the Crown, with little if any real power or voice. These repeated complaints fell on deaf ears and led to war.

This week I have also read two independent surveys of various Christian attitudes. One survey was on racial equality and the other on the police. What both surveys showed was a huge disparity among Christians along racial lines. Black churches and white evangelicals were very far apart in their views. Now Christians can disagree with one another; however, what these surveys seem to show is that much like England at the time of the Revolution, white Christians are not listening. Christians do not seem to be engaged in the life stories of other cultures.

My community is 99% white, though I am sure more overt racism exists I have not personally encountered it. What I have encountered is an ignorance about the situation of the Black communities of this country. I do not say this to exonerate my community, but to describe the problem. We have not heard the voices of our sisters and brothers in different communities. And this situation is not localized to my community, I find that when I talk of rural farming communities, or experiences in Appalachia with those in the city I am met with the same ignorance. But this is a problem for another day. Today’s problem is that a group is crying for justice. I represent a God who proclaims justice for all; it is my duty to listen to the cries of those around. I must actively engage their pain, grief, and anger before I make any judgments. I have been deeply touched by the support I have received over my comments elsewhere on this situation. I have been particularly moved by those in minority communities. But my words cannot, but reflect theirs. It is not I who suffer directly, I only suffer indirectly “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Hebrews 13:3.

Here we are, standing on the verge of another crisis potentially another Revolution. We are being called to listen to the appeals for justice, to hear the experiences of a whole community. We are even seeing anger spill over into acts of violence. What is our response? I have been encouraged by places where police departments have shown signs of hearing the complaints. But we must make sure to continue to hear the complaints, and not as so often happens, listen until the passion dies away and return to the pattern which has caused the trauma. My fear is that America (specifically American Christians) will not listen and the same violence and revolution will happen in our country as happened in England in the 1770’s.

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