A Passion for Public Justice

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Passion for Public Justice

 Reformed Christians have it in their DNA to care deeply about social justice. Before he was a theologian and a pastor, John Calvin was trained as a lawyer, something that profoundly shaped how he pursued his theological vocation.

Calvin was pastor of a large congregation and a leading lecturer at what became the first modern European university. Yet he kept his office neither in the church nor in the academy, but in City Hall. The final, longest chapter of his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, is entitled “Civil Government.” From its inception, the Reformed movement, of which Presbyterianism is the primary American expression, has held that Christ calls us to make a difference in the world.

This passion for public justice didn’t begin with Calvin; it goes back at least to the Hebrew prophets, such as Amos who cries out in God’s name, “Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Isaiah’s lament rings just as true today as it did in ancient times, “Justice is turned back, and deliverance stands at a distance, for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.”

In 2016 our presbytery’s passion for public justice led us to adopt a resolution on gun control that we circulated to our churches, to the media, and to our elected officials. Yet the proliferation of guns has continued unabated, and the scourge of gun violence has again this week reared its ugly head in the horrible killing in Uvalde TX of nineteen elementary school students and two teachers by a disturbed, gun-wielding eighteen year old. Last week it was Black shoppers in Buffalo and Taiwanese worshipers at a Presbyterian church in California that were gunned down by hate-driven men.

In a national broadcast on the evening of the Uvalde massacre, President Biden anguished, “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?” Where, indeed?

Protesting the unbridled proliferation of guns is surely saying and doing the right thing. But it is apparently far from enough. Despite the calls to government from Pittsburgh Presbytery and many others across our nation, guns are as readily available now as ever, including guns that are designed specifically to facilitate mass carnage. Our legislators have been cowed by the gun lobby. The only solution is to vote out those who refuse to take a stand for reasonable gun control, beginning with weapons tailored for mass killing. It will take great resolve and perseverance.

Last week our presbytery adopted a resolution against voter suppression as it has been enacted by legislators in many states under the guise of election integrity. The indisputable fact is that lawmakers are making it increasingly difficult for people of limited means to vote, something that surely, and we believe intentionally, disproportionately affects people of color. It is an ill-disguised attempt on the part of legislators currently in power to reduce the number of votes that would likely go against them.

As we did concerning gun control, we will send this resolution to our congregations, to local media, and to our government representatives. This will of course not be anything new to government officials; they have been publicly challenged on this numerous times. Again, the only real solution is to vote out legislators who promulgate voter suppression measures.

Let us have no illusions. Pushing against politicians who protect firearm proliferation and voter suppression in the interest of retaining their own power will make us targets of forces whose anger is already hot. We will be in the crosshairs of people who are willing to wink at violence, whether in a schoolhouse or a church or a grocery store or in the halls of government.

“Justice, and only justice, shall you pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) Are we ready for the battle?

Yours in pursuing God’s justice,

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