For evidence that Christian Americans hold diverse and even conflicting ideas about the meaning of justice and how to pursue it, look no further than the southeastern United States.
Paul Hill, a former pastor, was executed Sept. 3 in Florida for the murder of Dr. John Britton, an abortion provider, and James Barrett, his bodyguard. Hill was convinced that his actions represented justifiable homicide and urged other abortion opponents to follow suit.
“Instead of being shocked, more people should do what I did,” Hill said in a death-row news conference. Saying he expected “a great reward in heaven,” in the moments before his death he thanked Jesus for saving him from his sins and enabling him to carry on.
Hill never expressed regret for killing Britton and Barrett outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic in 1994, instead believing that his murder of Britton prevented the doctor from killing more unborn children.
“God’s justice system calls for retribution,” declared Ronald Brock, who drove from San Diego, Calif., to the Florida prison in support of Hill.
One state away, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore continues his fight to display a 5,300-pound granite rock featuring the Ten Commandments. Moore had the monument installed in the lobby of the state Supreme Court building in Montgomery under cloak of darkness but in full view of certain television cameras in 2000. Federal judges had it removed last month, saying it violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against state-sponsored religion.
Moore, a Baptist, refused earlier orders to move the monument, declaring: “I must acknowledge God.” Believing his cause is just, he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nearby, University of Alabama Law professor Susan Pace Hamill is trying to rally public support for reform of Alabama’s state tax structure, calling it “the worst in the nation.” The state’s tax laws are unjust, Hamill and many others believe, because they unfairly burden the poor but benefit middle- and upper-income taxpayers.
“Biblically based Judeo-Christian ethical principles hold you to the highest level of accountability to eliminate this injustice poisoning our state,” she wrote in an open letter to Alabama’s political leaders.
Appealing to Christians in the state, she challenged: “The Bible has a great deal to say about how individual people and their communities must treat the poor, powerless and needy among them.”
Somewhere amid these three extremes lies the pursuit of justice. Do we recognize it?
Justice is an important biblical theme. A thorough and careful reading of Scripture takes us far beyond the idea of revenge and even restitution to a genuine concern for fairness and equity for all people, not just ourselves or those like us.
Pursuing justice places us squarely in the paths of society’s marginalized, voiceless and powerless people. It can be dangerous, messy and thankless work. Yet those who belong to God’s kingdom, where justice prevails and grace rules, have no choice but to get involved.
Before we do, however, we need to define justice according to God’s standards, not our own. Only then will “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 6:24).
As you lead your class to understand and pursue justice, you may find additional insights from the following EthicsDaily.com features:
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.