Liberty and Justice for All
I became a U.S. citizen in 1995, twenty years after getting my “Green Card” that allowed me, a Canadian, to live and work in the U.S. At the induction ceremony in Roanoke VA, I was required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s easy to form the words, but hard to embrace their force. After more than forty years of loyalty to the Canadian flag, I faced an abrupt change in a lifelong course. What rolls easily from the lips of cradle Americans was a monumental challenge for me to utter. Yet I did it.
But on this we all stand on equal footing, naturalized and native-born citizens alike: We pledge our commitment to the ideal of “liberty and justice for all,” blithely unmindful of the depth of revolution this demands of us.
As I write this letter, I am preparing to go to Fifth Avenue in the heart of Oakland to join an interfaith prayer vigil declaring that Black Lives Matter. Black lives that are robbed of the “liberty and justice” that are supposedly guaranteed for all citizens. Black bodies that are snuffed out far too easily with impunity by those who prioritize saving their own skin above all. Black voices long silenced by those who have the privilege of being able to tune them out without repercussion. Black businesses supported almost solely by the small fraction of buyers that are black. Black citizens warehoused in jails and prisons for petty crimes, often because of bail bond laws that are anything but just.
If anyone should be on the vanguard of insisting upon liberty and justice for all, that Black Lives Matter, it should be Christ’s followers. Jesus came “…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This, Jesus said, is the essence of the Gospel, the “good news.” (Luke 4:18-19)
The Bible declares that all human beings are created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:26-27) No exceptions. As such, we all are granted the divine attribute of freedom, of agency to create and order our habitation. As those imprinted with God’s image, we do this rightly only when our agency is infused with divine goodness, generosity, and delight in the welfare of all that lies within our orbit. God created us with the capacity not just to be influenced, but to be influencers. Not just to obey, but to direct. Not just to respond, but to act. What properly belongs in fullness only to God rightly belongs also in some real measure to each human being created in God’s image.
Anyone who follows sports knows about “free agency,” when a player is released from contractual obligation to their team, and granted the freedom to seek a contract to play with any other team. It is called “free,” but in many cases it is the death sentence to an athletic career. Unwanted at home any longer, “free agents” often find themselves unwanted anywhere. “Free agency” understood as being left on your own to sink or swim is neither fully free nor self-determining.
The notion that Black Lives are free to help themselves is likewise neither freedom nor self-determining agency. Some free agents get good deals, but the deck is stacked against them when the home team says, in effect, “You’re on your own.”
The church is the home team for all the saints. It guarantees liberty and justice for all within its bosom. It does so not by making each member a free agent, but by binding all members together in one body, where none can say of any other, “I have no need of you.” Each has a gift that all need. The church dares to believe that liberty and justice for all is truly possible because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus present wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name. The interdependence of the members of Christ’s body is animated by and relies upon the work of the Spirit. It is God’s intent for us, because it is God’s gift to us. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
The church that lives in the power of the Spirit cannot abide some members having lesser standing than others, lesser agency than others, lesser respect than others.
The United States aspires to be a place that guarantees liberty and justice for all. It has failed miserably in this when it comes to Black Lives. But what seems impossible for human society God can and does accomplish in the church. When the church denies this in its practice – either actively or passively – it ceases to be true to its Lord. It must repent.
“Liberty and Justice for All.” “Black Lives Matter.” They are inseparable.
Especially in the church.
When the church lives true to its identity and calling, it is a light to the world, a beacon of what is possible, even in a society as broken as ours. (Matthew 5:14)
Lord help our church. Lord help our nation.
Yours in the quest,