Should Christians Respond to Injustice?
In his masterful book “Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice”, Dr. Eric Mason likens racism and injustice to Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano that recently erupted. Homes and businesses were destroyed by the 2017 eruption and lava flow. However, he points out that according to geologists, the volcano has been erupting continuously since 1985! There would be an eruption, followed by a period of calm (maybe a year or so) which allows everyone to relax and forget about the devastation of the previous eruption.
“The issues of racism and injustice are like that Kilauea Volcano in a lot of ways. They form a hotbed of lava that lives just beneath the surface, and at any moment, they can explode violently..”
Well, over the last few weeks, months, and years, we’ve seen how one violently racist act can cause an eruption of protests and unrest all over the world. During the protests, there were some Christians who were conflicted. The reason why people were protesting seemed to be valid, but is protesting the right response? In fact, what should be the Christian response to injustice? Is non-violence the only appropriate Christian response?
There are some Christians who believe that it is our responsibility to say nothing about racism and injustice. I’ve heard some white, evangelical leaders say that racism and injustice is not a topic to be addressed on Sunday morning across the pulpit. Their approach is to remain silent or to not address it directly. For example, the Pastor of Hillsong London Gary Clarke said:
“It’s a race issue, yes. For me, I don’t live in the United States. For me to be railing as a pastor about something that’s going on in another country, I’m not really sure that’s going to help anyone.”
To be sure, Christians absolutely have a moral, ethical, and spiritual responsibility to respond to injustice. Why? Because God is concerned about justice! In my last article titled “Should Christians Tithe?”, I made a reference to Matthew 23:23 where Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Notice that Jesus says that some matters of the law are more important than others. And what is the first issue that he raises? Justice.
Unacceptable Responses to Injustice
Justice and care for the oppressed is a topic that concerns the Lord all throughout Scripture. So silence and/or indifference are unacceptable responses to injustice. There are some Christians who say that racism is just a personal sin issue. It’s up to individuals to do the work to rid themselves of their racist ways. This is the cowards way out!
First, these leaders are the same ones who like to preach and teach against all types of “sin” over the pulpit. If racism is a personal sin, then shouldn’t that demand that it be addressed on Sunday morning like all the others?
But more importantly, this is not a biblical model of intervention. Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. However, he looked down at the earth and saw people in a bad state. They were legalistic and more concerned about the law than about lives. So Jesus decided to leave the personal comforts of Heaven to personally and intentionally intervene. This is the model! Christ expects us to leave the comforts of our home and intervene on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed – just like he did!
Before I move on, there is another response to injustice that is unacceptable for Christians: revenge. It seems to be clear from scripture that seeking revenge is not a Christian virtue. Romans 12:17
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Grace, Mercy, and Justice
The challenge is that the oppressed in this country have been convinced by their oppressors that seeking justice is the same as seeking revenge. This is not the case. In fact, to demand justice on behalf of the oppressed is the appropriate Christian response to injustice! In fact, this is not just an appropriate response, it is the mandatory response. Our white brothers and sisters should be demanding justice right along with us!
Black Christians have been beaten over the head with the idea that God is the God of grace and mercy. In fact, when I say the words “grace” and “mercy”, you can probably think of no less than 3 Gospel songs on the subject. Remember when Richard Smallwood said, “Your grace and mercy brought me through…” What about when CeCe Winans said, “Mercy said no!” One of my favorites is when Donnie McClurkin said “Great is your mercy towards me.” If nothing else, we can all sing “Amazing Grace” together!
But God is just as much the God of justice as he is the God of grace and mercy. My pastor (Bishop Lester Love) taught us that grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Like the grace period on a bill. He also taught us that mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Like when you were speeding, got pulled over, but the officer let you off with a warning when you and the officer both know that you deserve a ticket.
If grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what you do deserve, what is justice? Justice is getting exactly what is deserved. Let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 3:10 & 12
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”…Such people, we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.
Now, if God were just the God of grace and mercy, this passage would look very different. Grace and mercy would be, “The one who is unwilling to work should still be fed.” He didn’t even call for the community to feed the man who is unwilling to work. He said if you are unwilling to work, the only just result of this is to go without food.
We who are calling for justice to be served when atrocities are committed against people of color in America are not calling for special treatment. We are simply asking that those who are unwilling to do their job correctly be held accountable and are no longer able to make a living (eat) from the communities that have been charged with protecting. This is not anti-cop, this is pro-justice! Demanding the firing, arrest, and prosecution of officers who have killed unarmed black men and women (AND WOMEN!!!) is not revenge, it is justice.
This is an appropriate Christian response!
So What About “Turn the Other Cheek”?
When Christians talk about demanding justice, inevitably someone will ask “what about turning the other cheek?” The idea that Christians must be doormats who allow people to mistreat them on the basis of Matthew 5 is just flat out wrong! No wonder media portrayals of Christians are often as weak and corny.
Remember Claire’s boyfriend Tony from “My Wife and Kids? That character always bugged me because I was thought, “I don’t know any Christians who are like this!” But I digress…
Anyway, “turn the other cheek” is a part of a larger sermon that Jesus was preaching called “The Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5. Jesus covers a lot of material in these chapters. To isolate one line as most important above all is more eisegesis (to take scripture out of context) and it’s not good!
To properly understand what Jesus was saying, it’s important to understand a few things. First, we must examine who Jesus was talking to. He was not talking to his apostles or even his disciples. Jesus was talking to pious Jews who were overly concerned with keeping the law of Moses. So, Jesus starts each section of his sermon by saying, “You have heard it said…” Every time he says “you have heard it said”, he’s quoting some Old Testament law. He then uses a literary device called hyperbole (basically exaggeration) to expose the fact that the law is an inadequate way to interact with your fellow man. He then closes with another hyperbolic solution.
Let’s Examine Matthew 5
He starts with the Old Testament quote in verse 27
- “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’…” This is a direct quote of Exodus 20:14
Then, he does his hyperbolic exaggeration in verse 28
- But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Finally, his hyperbolic solution in verses 29-30
- If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right-hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
The section where Jesus says to “turn the other cheek” follows this same formula in verses 38-40:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”
Any Christian who uses “turn the other cheek” as a means to discourage Black people from demanding justice is taking literally what Jesus meant metaphorically and are employing bad theology. These people should also have one of their eyes surgically removed if they’ve ever looked with lust at another person!
Obviously, this is not what Jesus meant. The theme of Matthew 5 is not about being a doormat. It’s about going the extra mile, and also about seeking reconciliation above revenge. However, the biggest takeaway from Matthew 5 is to ensure that you’re choosing to do the right thing because of your heart and not because of a law instructing you do to so. Also, just because you’re following the law doesn’t mean that you are following the path of righteousness.
James 1:27 says this, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” To care and seek justice for the oppressed and vulnerable is the linchpin of Christianity and the heart of the Gospel. Anyone attempting to use scripture to dissuade others from demanding justice is not a follower of Jesus.
God is the God of justice, and so I am a Christian who is demanding justice…by any means necessary.
In other words: No Justice. No Peace!