Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Basics 2: Doing Justice

Part 1 is here.

Justice is simple. It’s the first thing we find we need to teach our toddlers when they get around other kids: Don’t hit. Don’t take their stuff. Don’t lie. Don’t call names. This is the essence of doing justice: keeping your hands to yourself and telling the truth.

Looked at another way, how do we want people to obey the Golden Rule with us? Do they know what kind of music, or food, or clothes, or home interior design we like? Probably not. So we don’t expect them to shower us with gifts. But we know we don’t like people messing with our bodies or our property. That much anyone can do for us. The other side of the coin is that there is no harm people can do to us apart from harming our bodies, our property, or our reputations.

Is this idea biblical? I got it from reading Calvin’s exposition of the Ten Commandments in his Institutes. He points out that “do not murder” doesn’t mean we can beat people within an inch of their lives with impunity. It means that murder is the worst thing we can do to a person’s body; we should be going as far away from that pole as possible, not only not harming their bodies, but working for their benefit. Theft is similarly the worst thing we can do to people’s property; we should not only avoid vandalism, we should be helping people acquire the things they need for life. Adultery is the worst form of fraud; our yes should be yes in all situations, even when we wish we hadn’t committed ourselves. And perjury is the worst form of slander; character assassination is bad enough in the nursery, but it can be lethal in court.

Justice is simple, but just try to live that way. Try to never steal people’s time by keeping them waiting or taking an extra minute or two of break. Try to walk through a crowd without ogling the chicks. Try to tell a story about someone you don’t like and spin the details so they look as good as possible. If you can do those things consistently, maybe you can stop reading.

I would suggest that much of the hostility Christians face from our culture is rooted in injustices we commit. May I suggest that the support for and cavalier attitude of evangelicals toward “collateral damage” in Ir-Af-Pak condones murder: God will likely be easier on us on Judgment Day if we “fight them over here”—and lose—than if we are guilty of killing innocent people. God has nowhere told us to regulate our neighbor’s diet, so supporting the FDA, let alone the War on Drugs, as well as zoning and censorship, is promoting theft, as is forbidding gays to designate their lovers as recipients of Social Security and employment-based health benefits and taxing childless people to support schools and other benefits for children.

The latter cases fall into the area of compassion and so will be discussed in the next post; for now I would suggest that if we’re to win Muslims, druggies, gays, and other victims of unjust government policies to Christ, we need to stop supporting those policies. The offense of the cross is one thing we can’t avoid giving, but “if you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.”

The church in the US needs to learn how to do justice.

Part 3 is here.


  1. You sound like a natural born Voluntaryist. Check out Voluntaryist.com

  2. Thanks for the comment and thanks for the link. There certainly is a broad range of voluntary organizations and causes, isn't there?

    I wasn't born a voluntaryist. I grew up in a Rooseveltian home and thought I was being radical when I voted Socialist Labor in 1972. But yes, I believe that the best relationships are voluntary, and this blog is aimed at getting Christians to believe that expanding the scope of voluntary relationships is superior to trying to accomplish our goals through political means. If that's voluntaryism, then I guess I am one.