Friday, October 1, 2010

Figuring out what justice is...

Last night a group of people met at Chalice for discussion of a Resolution that has been presented for adoption by the Christian Church in Arizona at our Regional Assembly October 23. We call this once-monthly discussion event The Forum, and each time we aim to discuss a challenging or controversial topic with the aim of increasing understanding and building relationship. Jim Barton led this challenging, civil discussion in a style that allowed us to navigate a reading of Arizona's SB 1070 and a page of scripture references to the treatment of "aliens," and voice our opinions on the Resolution in just over an hour. Many opinions were expressed, many questions asked, with no evidence of universal agreement on where we stand on the resolution. We left wanting more discussion.

This blog is committed to being a voice for doing justice. Justice is a very complex notion. The Levitical laws about treatment of "aliens" include a requirement that they keep the law as a citizen kept the law, be subject to the same punishments a citizen could receive, in exchange for being treated with the same dignity a citizen would receive, along with a reminder to treat the "alien" with compassion and empathy. Several participants last night noted the irrelevance of Levitical law concerning aliens to our contemporary immigration laws. Indeed we do not live by Levitical law. It does, however, inform our faith as followers of Jesus. So what can we learn from scripture about justice? Justice involves rules and consequences for either following them or breaking them, and it seems that justice also includes fairness and compassion, even toward outsiders. How on earth are we to construct, define, do justice?


  1. A charge leveled against me often by my non-religious friends is that rather than be guided by scripture, I bend it to make it accomodate my liberal political beliefs. I wonder if Jesus is susceptible to a similar allegation. He was a Jewish teacher. He read the law, but criticized the Pharisees and lawyers for missing the point.

    I think Jesus and I, ;), are right to promote what Linda called the Spirit behind the law. Otherwise the law is dead and offers no salvation to anyone.

    As a corollary, I do not feel the need to whole-heartedly dismiss the Hebrew Scripture.

    P.S. last night was a blast. Thanks all who came.

  2. I'm with you and Jesus. If reinterpreting is the same as bending, Jesus did bend the law. It seems his motive was to expand its effects rather than finding a loophole that would allow him to violate the law without consequences. Same dynamic then as now. You would not have a career if law were something written once, meaning only one thing, applying to all circumstances for all time. Am I right that as contemporary laws are interpreted or amended, we revisit (argue) the original intent of the law - which would be what Jesus called the spirit of the law?

    The Forum last night was great, indeed - you did a great job leading. Thx.

  3. We do indeed need to interpret the law. Example: If money must be spent on political ads "directed at the primary" is it legitimate to attack someone from another party in your ad, or is that directing the expenditure to the general election?

    Original intent is the buzz word for those who claim to just "read the law". Spirit of the law is more a term for those who think the law evolves. E.g., if it is unconstitutional to use "cruel and unusual punishment" does that mean what modern society determines to be cruel & unusual--say if our society has come to believe execution is cruel--or are we to adhere to the meaning of the phrase used by the framers--who practiced execution and therefore did not find it to be cruel & unusual. The folks in favor of "original intent" would advocate for the latter; those for the spirit of the law for the former.