Friday, October 05, 2012

unAmerican Justice

A church I've had some contact with over the years recently fired a minister.  There were several issues at play, reasons why the leadership decided to dismiss the man.  Rumors were flying around.  Charges were levelled.  Committees investigated the accusations.  And, through it all, I kept praying (from a distance) justice would be served.  I don't believe firing the minister was just.  But, then again, I don't have the same definition of justice as others.

Here's the problem:  I think most churches operate with an American pretense of justice, not a biblical sense of justice.  The American approach is this:  investigate the matter so that you can determine exactly what happened so that retribution can be served.  Of course, the pretense shows up throughout:  who ever "gets to the bottom" of things?  Who can claim infallible judgment?  And, most important, who decides what kind of punishment fits the crime?  Ahhhhh, but that's where our American reflexes kick in.  We presume to untangle the Gordian Knot of "he said, she said."  We presume perfect vision when it comes to recognizing the truth.  We presume, whatever the crime, to already know the punishment.  We think justice is served when people get what they deserve.  And yet, we know the American justice system is incredibly flawed (innocent people are punished, the guilty get off).  What often happens in our pretentious "quest for justice" is that we don't get to the bottom of things.  We don't know for certain who did/said what.  We know we've got a mess on our hands.  But justice must be served.  Somebody has to pay.  We are impatient.  That means a scapegoat usually takes the punishment so that we can feel better about the mess we made trying to "seek justice."  But there's two things churches need to know before they act out their American ways.

1.  After what we did to His Son, God hates scapegoating.

2.  The way God does justice, criminals/sinners/lawbreakers don't get what they deserve.

The way God makes us right (justice!), is he forgives.  The way God turns enemies into friends (reconciliation!) is to sacrifice for them.  The way God does justice is He shows mercy.  That's the way of God.  That's the way of the cross.  This is what Christian justice looks like.  In other words, it is completely unAmerican.

Wouldn't it be wonderful (literally) if a church actually lived according to God's sense of justice rather than the American perversion of it?  What would that church look like?  Instead, we hold grudges.  Rush to judgment.  Punish the sinner.  And, pretend like we've done the "right thing."

So, this is what I've been praying regarding this particular church:  "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."