Seeking Justice – Take Two

mediationI’ve had some trajectories that I’ve been working on cross paths since the previous post. A reading of a chapter 15 in Scot McKnight’s book The Jesus Creed, entitled  A Society for Justice (p143ff), provided some insight and dissonance. 

The first trajectory is that we aren’t looking just for justice, we should be looking for Kingdom Justice. I began to realize this when I started reading what McKnight had to say in this chapter, which parallels and tracks many of the conclusions I arrived at.

He starts by saying that

Justice is a faded entry on a dog-eared page of our society’s lexicon (p145).

This means that most justice is self-centered and self-serving. We cry out at some injustice that happens to us, or something that stirs our self-interest, and we want to reap our share of rewards as recompense for it. Justice is about recompense, getting our pound of flesh, and so on.

A quote from The Jesus Creed is apropos here:

"I think we grab the whole business of justice by the wrong end of the stick," he says. "Currently we ask who did it and how we can punish them. But it makes more sense to ask who was hurt and how we can restore them…." (p149)

Kingdom justice is interested in restoration of the other and society to a relationship with God, not to satisfy some overweening sense justice that I might have.

The second trajectory is that most of the references to justice in scripture is restorative. Justice for the sake of punishing the wrong-doer is minimal, if it exists as all.  Let me explain the difference.

Retributive Justice

Retributive Justice is a matter of giving people their just desserts.

  • In cases of wrongdoing, someone has lost certain benefits, while someone who does not deserve those benefits has gained them.
  • Punishment will set this imbalance straight.

What Is Retributive Justice?

Retributive justice maintains that proportionate punishment is a morally acceptable response to crime, regardless of whether the punishment causes any tangible benefits. Central to retributive justice are the notions of merit and dessert. People who work hard deserve the fruits of their labor, while those who break the rules deserve to be punished. People deserve to be treated in the same way that they voluntarily choose to treat others.

Immanuel Kant discussed the idea. People enjoy the benefits of a rule of law. According to the principle of fair play, the loyal citizen must do his part in this system of reciprocal restraint. An individual who seeks the benefits of living under the rule of law without being willing to make the necessary sacrifices of self-restraint has helped himself to unfair advantages, and the state needs to prevent this to preserve the rule of law.

In some cases someone who merits certain benefits has lost them, while someone who does not deserve those benefits has gained them. Punishment "removes the undeserved benefit by imposing a penalty that in some sense "balances the harm inflicted by the offense." It is imposed as a debt that the wrongdoer owes his fellow citizens.

Retributive justice is in this way backward-looking. Punishment is warranted as a response to a past event of injustice or wrongdoing. It acts to reinforce rules that have been broken and balance the scales of justice.

This concept of justice seeks to regain an equality that the injustice overturned. Some think that it is  most simply summed up in the principle of revenge ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:38-39 (ESV)

But for some, there is a short slide from retribution to revenge. Vengeance is a matter of retaliation, of getting even with those who have hurt us. Like retribution, revenge is a response to wrongs committed against innocent victims and reflects the proportionality of the scales of justice. But revenge focuses on the personal hurt involved and typically involves anger, hatred, bitterness, and resentment.

Deuteronomy 19:17-21 is the passage that Jesus refers to in his teaching above. The problem is that this is often seen as the standard to guide justice, when the best understanding is that this is the minimal level of justice that God desires.

This is similar to the discussion about building codes in the United States. When someone says that a project is up to code, what they are actually saying is that the project meets the minimum level of safety standards. So, this passage serves to limit retaliation, and is not necessarily meant to deal with the standard by which society is to aspire to justice. 

On the other hand, I believe that most of scripture is about restorative justice.

Restorative Justice

  • Restorative justice is concerned with healing victims’ wounds, restoring offenders to law-abiding lives, and repairing harm done to interpersonal relationships and the community.
  • It seeks to involve all stakeholders and provide opportunities for those most affected by the crime to be directly involved and to respond to the harm caused.

In a restorative justice process, victims take an active role in what takes place, as well as defining the responsibilities and obligations of offenders. Offenders also participate in this exchange, to understand the harm they have caused to victims, making efforts to set things right, to make amends for their violations, by committing to certain obligations, that may come in the form of reparations, restitution, or community work, and to take active responsibility for it.

This means while fulfilling these obligations may be painful, the goal is not revenge, but restoration of healthy relationships between individuals, and in the communities that have been most affected by the crime.

An example of this is the reconciliation process in South Africa.

For Kingdom justice, the essence of this consists in God’s love for humankind, such that he came to humanity in the person of Jesus (i.e., the incarnation). Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God demonstrated his merciful and suffering love in response to our wrongdoing, thus making forgiveness and restoration fundamental to how we should respond to human wrongdoing. The background to this understanding of Jesus is in the Hebrew concept of shalom (understood sometimes as the word for salvation, justice, and peace"), and in the ethical and messianic insights of the Hebrew prophets.

McKnight gives two examples of inaugural addresses that focus on Jesus’ concept of justice. The first is Luke 4,

 

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

and the second is Matthew 5.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:3-5 (ESV)

In Luke 4, Jesus gives his inaugural address, which has a focus on restorative justice, i.e., Jesus sees his mission as restoring the poor, the prisoner, the blind and the oppressed to community with God and others.

Matthew 5 continues along the same theme where he shows that God’s intent is to restore everyone to a relationship with him and with others.

The poor Theirs is the Kingdom
The hungry They will be satisfied
Those who weep They will laugh
Those who are hated, excluded, are insulted, rejected because of Christ Great is their reward in heaven

As McKnight says, "Jesus is concerned with restoring humans so that things are just plain right. (p147)."

At the end of his earthly life, Jesus shows that justice is not retributive, but restorative. Judgment is part of the process of restoring people to God’s kingdom so that they can enjoy a relationship with him and others. But the judgment process is not what we expect:

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:35-40 (ESV)

The basis of judgment is not whether or not we prayed the right prayer or believed the right thing (see the discussion in McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, p45-49), but how the followers of Christ have lived out the mission and commands of Christ in their lives.

Next time, what is the goal of justice? 

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Systems and Structure

Pope-leo[15] My friend and I have had an ongoing conversation about how to do church. The one thing that we’ve tried to do is to hear what God is saying about the mission and purpose of the church that we attend. This has been an ongoing conversation.

Our greatest frustration is to get others to focus on what the church should be about. We find that the more we focus on the mission and purpose statements of the church, the more resistance to change we encounter.

The other night we had a particularly “spirited” conversation about the topic, and I sensed that as we parted company, we were both a little frustrated and feeling down about our seeming lack of progress.

The conversation continued this morning, and one thought came out of all this. We have been focusing on changing the system, and not the people. The passage that came to mind was Eph. 6:12:

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (ESV)

This tells me that we are trying to change the system and not the people in the system.

In other words, we are fighting a losing battle.

As long the system is our focus, we are lost in a quagmire that will only drain us and spit us out like a seed from a piece of fruit.

We have to change our focus, not simply to address the problem by writing a vision/mission/purpose statement for the system, we need to make our main focus the need to disciple, mentor, spiritual formation, make followers of Christ, etc., in order for change to happen. This will happen because we need to make the role of the Holy Spirit in each person’s life of paramount importance.

So, structure is good, it is necessary, but that isn’t what we are called to do. We are called to introduce people –not the system, to Christ, so that we all may experience abundant life.

What this makes me wonder is, how many times in the past I’ve looked directly into the sun and not seen it?

Seeking for Justice

This was the title and theme of a sermon I preached recently. The two texts were Micah 3 and Matthew 25:31-46. I like the results enough to post the highlights on here for discussion.

As I did my homework for the sermon, I discovered that there are three basic forms of the concept of justice.

elijah___the_ravens1. Distributive Justice Concerned with the fair allocation of resources among members of a community.

• What should be distributed?

• Who should receive the things distributed?

• How should these things be distributed?

The principle says that every person should have the same level of material goods and services. It is most commonly justified on the grounds that people are owed equal respect and that equality in material goods and services is the best way to give effect to this ideal.

Because societies have a limited amount of wealth and resources, a question arises as to how those benefits ought to be distributed.

2. Retributive Justice Retributive Justice is a matter of giving people their just desserts.

  • In cases of wrongdoing, someone has lost certain benefits, while someone who does not deserve those benefits has gained them.
  • Punishment will set this imbalance straight.

Central to retributive justice are the notions of merit and dessert. This means that people who work hard deserve the fruits of their labor, while those who break the rules deserve to be punished. People deserve to be treated in the same way that they voluntarily choose to treat others.

Retributive justice is in this way backward-looking. Punishment is warranted as a response to a past event of injustice or wrongdoing. It acts to reinforce rules that have been broken and balance the scales of justice.

3. Restorative Justice

•Restorative justice is concerned with healing victims’ wounds, restoring offenders to law-abiding lives, and repairing harm done to interpersonal relationships and the community.

  • It seeks to involve all stakeholders and provide opportunities for those most affected by the crime to be directly involved and to respond to the harm caused.
  • A restorative justice process aims to empower victims to participate effectively in dialogue with offenders.

Victims take an active role in what takes place, as well as defining the responsibilities and obligations of offenders. Offenders also participate in this exchange, to understand the harm they have caused to victims, and to take active responsibility for it.

While fulfilling these obligations may be painful, the goal is not revenge, but restoration of healthy relationships between individuals, and in communities that have been most affected by the crime.

What is interesting is the correlation to the biblical accounts of Justice. It doesn’t take much work to fit the biblical narratives into one or more of these categories.

I found three four goals of justice as I worked through the materials:

  • Restoring the equilibrium of community (whether it is local or international)
  • Restoring the victim(s) from whatever level of injustice or oppression that they suffer to a proper relationship with God and others;
  • Restoring the oppressor/victimizer to a proper relationship with God and others, especially their victims;
  • Restoring the community and creation to its proper role and relationship with God.

By the way, the image at the top is from a painting by the Chinese Christian artist He Qi, called Elijah and the Ravens. His gallery is here. Take a look

Missionary Conquest

imageJust about the time you think it’s safe to tell someone you are a follower of Christ. I found this game on a website advertising board games, card games, puzzles, and other useful paraphernalia.

As one researcher has said, evangelical protestants seeking sanctified versions of everything from board games and television to rock ‘n’ roll. All part of a mentality that says that  ‘God wants me to have a fulfilling life here as well.’

The blurb by the company says:

Missionary Conquest

Don’t miss this exciting game of laughter and strategy! Travel around the world as a missionary and learn to finance your trips with wise investments. Good decisions and risks are major factors in this wonderful game. No Bible knowledge is required to play, win or to enjoy this game.

I especially like where it says, “learn to finance your trips with wise investments.” Of course, “no bible knowledge is required to play, win, or enjoy this game.” Just like real life.

On another, more serious note, David Bosch wrote in Transforming Mission,

If the “missionary text” of Greek Patristic period was John 3:16, and that of medieval Catholicism Luke 14:23, then one may perhaps claim that Romans 1:16f is the “missionary text” of the Protestant theological paradigm in all its many forms.

My question is, what is the “missionary text ” of the emerging/Postmodern era? I’m not sure what I’d say, but John 10:10 isn’t too bad:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Let me know what you think.

Nothing New Under the Sun?

canaanite-Jesus Interesting news article that I found on Yahoo. It seems that the director of the movie Basic Instinct is writing a book.

“Basic Instinct” director Paul Verhoeven will publish a revisionist biography of Jesus in September, following more than 20 years of research.

The Dutch filmmaker, who has had a lifelong ambition to make a film about Jesus based on scientific research, claims that Jesus’ father was probably a Roman soldier who raped Mary during the Jewish uprising in Galilee. He also claims that Christ was not betrayed by Judas Iscariot.

Verhoeven decided to write the book to raise interest in his film project. Verhoeven, who turns 70 in July, has been a regular attendee of U.S. scholar Robert W. Funk’s Jesus seminars, which question miracles and statements attributed to Jesus.

There are a couple of interesting points here.

First, the qualifications of this person to do this kind of work is…?

  1. He is a film maker. Oh yes, that gives him a lot of credibility. What I like especially is that he decided to write the book to raise interest in his film project.
  2. He is a follower of Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar.

Please forgive my cynicism, I have seen people with excellent investigative skills whose work is overlooked because they lacked the necessary pedigree, but this is a bit much. This kind of expertise is a Monty Python exercise in logic.

But the part I find interesting is the premise of his book, that is, Jesus was the bastard child of Mary, who was raped by a Roman soldier by the name of Panthera.

According to the discussion, for example, in Mary in the New Testament, By Raymond E. Brown and Paul J. Achtemeier (p262), there may some concurrence with or familiarity with biblical traditions, but these polemics contain little history.

Verhoeven’s claim that the Roman soldier named Panthera is probably based on a corruption of the Greek word for virgin (parqenoß), an accusation found in Celsius, and quoted in Origen:

“But let us now return to where the Jew is introduced, speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that “when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera;”

But, the book will probably receive it’s 30 seconds of fame for its bold and daring premise, and will put Verhoeven along that other great biblical scholar, James Cameron.

Some Good Advice

Okay, I admit this is not one of my strengths, which probably why I find it an interesting clip. It’s worth a look at any case.

Is God more successful if there are other gods?

Since this is my first post, I thought I would borrow something from my other blog.

It may be that the very thing that we attempt so hard to achieve may be the one thing that causes religion (Christianity) to go stale.

Evangelicals in the United States believe that society is losing its moral moorings, that the family is under attack, and that the traditional consensus on (read American) religious values is being lost or at the least sublimated by competing forces (e.g., pluralism, secularism) in culture. The spiritual environment in Europe is often painted as the next step for the United States in the journey away from faith in God and the loss of religious values in society.

Most of this picture is now being called into question by practitioners of sociology of religion. The traditional view is, sociologists of religion say, that the relationship between religion and American society resulted in a postwar America as settled in a period of industrialism. The widespread assumption was that the social order was underpinned by religious values, which not only preserved the status quo, but promoted the well-being of all.

This view of religion and America was derived from the normative functionalism of Talcott Parsons, who stressed above everything the integrative role of religion. His view was that religion was a functional prerequisite central to the models of social systems and social action that Parson’s elaborated. American society was shaped by the focus on what people believed in the various churches, and that religion’s role was in the integration of society and in promoting or discouraging social change.

However, sociologists such as Rodney Stark, Roger Finke and others are discovering a different picture.

“The natural state of a religious economy is pluralism,” Stark said. “Typically, pluralism has been repressed in favor of religious monopolies.”

For example, Stark contends in his book Cities of God that contrary to popular belief, Christianity flourished in cities in the Roman Empire that had a sizable plurality of religions. The rural setting proved to be resistant to the new religion long after the urban areas of the empire had become predominantly Christian.

Stark maintains that the same is true of the United States. The colonial era was a time of low religious fervor. This did not change until the colonies became more tolerant of religious traditions. Eventually the U.S. Constitution opened up the religious marketplace, making it easier for new religious groups to flourish. This religious freedom impacted the rising fortunes of such groups as Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics, but also saw the rise of such religions as Mormonism and Jehovah’s witnesses. It was also the time when evangelism and the missions movement grew in importance.

The reason for this, says Stark and others, is that the religious mind is rational, and religion is the behavior of rational, well-informed actors who choose to ‘consume’ various commodities. Thus the choice of religious affiliation is made in a rational way, with the potential member weighing costs and benefits of each possible choice before choosing the one that maximizes rewards, although not necessarily that it minimizes costs. This model is referred to as an religious economies view (see Stark’s The Rise of Christianity, p193-195).

A religious economy consists of all the religious activity going on in any society, and consists of a market of current and potential customers, a set of religious firms seeking to serve that market, as well as a line of products to serve those customers.

An open religious economy is a religious pluralism that forces each religious body to appeal successfully to some segment of the religious market, or to slide into oblivion. When various religious bodies specialize, it becomes easier for religious “consumers” to find the best product for them.

In other words, it seems that God likes competition. He has never necessarily been the guarantor of the status quo; after all he is especially concerned about the welfare of the widow, orphan, and alien in the land.

A another point that Stark and others make is about the modern view of secularization. The traditional view is that modernity was caused a decline in religious behavior and belief, caused by an increased emphasis on science and rationality that leads people away from supernatural explanations. Proponents of this view point to the low rates of religious adherence in northern Europe as evidence of the process of secularization.

However, Stark and other proponents of the religious economies perspective disagree. They believe that the religious condition of northern Europe is largely a supply-side problem rather than a lack of demand. That is, lack of religious participation in much of Europe reflects highly regulated [religious] economies dominated by state supported churches, and that these are inefficient firms who do nothing to create demand.

To put it another way, the choice is either a state supported church that offers little to the people, or, a general lack of belief and apathy toward religion.

What does this mean to us? Basically, people here in Europe have no real alternatives or choices. Christianity gained ascendancy in the Roman world because it could offer answers and alternatives to the questions of life that people faced day to day. Zeus, Thor, and Isis couldn’t help, but Yahweh could. It is almost a remake of the conflict between Ba’al and Yahweh on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). God seems to like competition.

It would seem, then, that our task is not to make Christianity the ascendant religion or the guarantor of the status quo. Instead, we should proclaim to others that Christ offers some real alternatives to the life they live now, to the questions that they face, and the hope that they need.