“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.”
God clearly wants the Israelites (then) and us (today) to love God (not go after other gods), and to love others (truly act justly one with another). The key word for me is “justly” – to act according to what is morally right, equitable in manner with justice. Equitable - being equal in status, rights, and opportunities.
When we read scripture passages like this one we usually think about our own actions – are they just, equitable? I believe we almost always believe we act justly and equitably. However, in the Bible God generally addresses a people, a nation. So are our nation’s structures, laws, and practices just, equitable? Recently I have asked myself, what is behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement? To learn more I have recently read three books: “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America” by Jim Wallis; “waking up white and finding myself in the story of race” by Debby Irving; and, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. I believe I gained a better understanding about how well intended legislation or action can have unintended consequences. Here are just two examples:
- Following World War II the GI Bill was set up to recognize the our returning GI’s by providing free college education and assistance with housing. Unfortunately, only 4% of the returning black GI’s were able to access the free education, due in part to limited placement opportunities and the need for many of them to work to support their families. Of one million black GI’s, only 4% were able to access the free education.
- Between the 1970’s and today the U.S. prison population has increased 767%! (from 300,000 to 2,300,000). We now have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Our “three strike” laws were meant to deter repeat offenders, but they also made writing a bad check or committing a petty theft or a minor property crime an offense that can result in life imprisonment. And when combined with our efforts to curb the escalating drug problem our prisons and jails overflowed.
Unfortunately, there has been a disproportionate impact on blacks. Of all males born in 2001 it is estimated 1 in 15 will be imprisoned, but for black males it is 1 in 3 will be imprisoned. Even though studies have consistently shown that people of all colors use and sell drugs at remarkably similar rates, in some states 80-90 percent of all imprisoned drug offenders are black. Federal funding flows to those state and local law enforcement agencies that dramatically boost the sheer volume of drug arrests; agencies don’t get rewarded to bring down the drug bosses or arrest violent offenders, they are rewarded in cash for arresting people en masse *drug arrests show a 5 to 1 ration for possession over sales.
As I ponder today’s scripture in light of what I am learning I can’t help but think as a country we have work right here to do to truly have justice for all. When the Israelites asked, “What does the Lord require of us?” The response was: “ To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8b).
Now that I know this, what am I going to do about it? I would love to discuss this issue with others. If you would be interested please contact me. Perhaps together we can find some ways to take action?
“Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)“There is no social change fairy. There is only the change made by hands of individuals.” (Winona LaDuke)