As we stand in the debris of post-election-polarized-divided America, many are experiencing deep concern, fear, and worry about the future of our nation. People wonder how the world's most powerful individual (POTUS) will fare on national issues, racism, LGBTQ+, international relations, climate concerns, immigration strategy, and the criminal JUSTICE system. I capitalize JUSTICE because while the US claims to be a land of freedom, we cannot truly reach our vision as a nation without re-thinking how we define and understand justice. The US has been using a 2000 year old definition of justice based on imperial Rome, which is based on punishment, retribution, and retaliation. Essentially, it is about creating peace by destroying the enemy. However, the truth is violence only begets violence and there is no such thing as just war. This was exactly the mentality Jesus came to stand against and instead show the way to overcome evil through forgiveness, compassion, and mercy (John 19:8-11, Matt 9:36). The facts around the justice system in the US are horrifying. "The US locks up more people, per capita, than any other nation in the world" (http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2016.html).
We are supposed to be a free nation, yet so many experience challenges and distress because of the way society is arranged (Muslims in America, residents who have "undocumented" status, People of color, etc.). How can this be what justice looks like? As Christians, we are challenged by Scripture to re-think JUSTICE and realize that the way we treat those imprisoned is actually the way we treat Christ (Matt 25:36) and what God wants from us is to care for those who society marginalizes and oppresses (James 1:26-27).
God took the issue of justice so seriously in the Old Testament where the prophet Amos wrote to misled Israel in Amos 5:21-24,
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want."
As we look upon 2017, the passage from Amos has been echoing in my heart. I believe it is the calling and mandate of the church to be the people who radically sees, knows, and loves ALL people. Nobody disagrees with this message, but in order to live it out we must lift up and seek out groups who are ostracized by the world. For example, the movement of "black lives matter" is something the church should be rallying with and not silent about. As Black Lives are far more likely to be sentenced to prison for petty crimes, we as the church, must not settle and speak up for justice for all groups.
When we engage in the work of justice, we begin to reconcile with one another and live into the Shalom of God. We follow what Jesus taught on The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) where He said "Blessed are the peacemakers..." Shalom is the overarching peace of God that rules and reigns over all darkness, hatred, fear, and violence. The Shalom of God that includes harmony, interconnectedness, relationships, and the flourishing of ALL CREATION. Jesus claimed to teach that this is not just an ideal but is possible through self-emptying love.
Justice in the way of Jesus shows us Shalom happens when we speak truth to power that oppresses or keeps others bound because of external factors and reducing people to categories or labels. People DO have various social identities that we must honor and cherish (age, gender, race, Socio-economic status, religion, etc.) AND they are much more as well. Freedom is not just an individual pursuit and to do justice means we seek the liberation of all creation, not just our own. Justice means that we can have courage to let go of anything that keeps up back from connecting with others in mutuality and hospitality. Justice means the part of us that needs control, predictability, and power DIES. Justice means seeking deep relationship with “the other” through Spirit to learn to see Christ wherever we look. Justice begins in our interior life when we have made amends with our own deep needs and limitations and surrender to the God who dares to love us through and through in the midst of all our human experience, transgressions, and wanderings. We cannot do the work of radically accepting others, until we have come to the experiential knowledge of being radically accepted ourselves. The message of the gospel is to radically accept that you are radically accepted. And so is he, so is she, so are they!
God calls us to invite the least, the last, and the lost, to the banquet. Not out of sympathy, but out of realizing that it is the seemingly “excluded, rejected, or marginalized by society” that Christ makes Himself known. If the gospel you preach seeks power, privilege, blessing, at the expense of solidarity with the lowly, it may not be the good news at all. Let us repent, seek forgiveness, and work towards the inclusion of all people from every nation, every tribe, every tongue, to be treated with unconditional love and acceptance.
Let us re-think justice in 2017 and understand it is all our responsibility and let us advocate for those who America has yet to honor, acknowledge, and include, so that we might remember, serve, and love as though we would unto Jesus Christ Himself.
INSTAGRAM & TWITTER: @AIZAIAHYONG
Aizaiah is a compassionate and visionary leader who has a heart for ministry and people. He spent the past five years serving as an Associate Pastor at a local church and has recently transitioned into higher education leadership focusing on Diversity and Intercultural Development. He is husband to his wife, Neddy Yong for 4 years and a father to his newborn baby girl, Serenity Joy. Aizaiah loves adventure, sports, and meeting people! He has a deep passion to inspire anybody who will listen to join in on God's renewing work in the community and world. He is currently working at Vanguard University as the lead for Diversity and Inclusion and resides with his family in Anaheim, California.