Justice Sunday II is a misnomer. It has little to do with the pursuit of justice in America and everything to do with the judgment on America. A more truthful name for the religious right rally would be Judgment Sunday II.
When Christian fundamentalists launched the Moral Majority, their strategy was to use the Republican Party to advance their agenda through the White House. They helped elect Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush, placing their moral mantle on these men and mobilizing church members to vote for them.
Twenty-five years later, including 16 years of Republican presidential governance, the religious right has won elections and watched its agenda flounder. Abortion is legal and frequent. Homosexuals are active in the Republican Party. Government-sponsored prayer in public school classrooms is still unlawful, while teaching evolution in biology classes is lawful. The Republican-controlled House passed a bill supporting increased federal funding for stem cell research using frozen embryos at fertility clinics, a position now supported by Republican Senator Bill Frist, leader of the Senate.
Along the way, fundamentalists began playing the victim card, claiming that they were ignored, persecuted, ridiculed and denied their rights.
One of the Justice Sunday II speakers, Jerry Sutton, pastor of Nashville’s Two Rivers Baptist Church, chaired the 1988 Southern Baptist Convention’s resolutions committee which reported that “traditional Christian values of home and family are often … ignored in the media and secular education.” The resolution said that biblical values were “under constant attack.”
Tony Perkins, head of the event, accused the Supreme Court of having a “growing hostility” toward religion, while Tom DeLay, the event’s keynote speaker, called federal judges “black-robed malcontents” who are “attempting a hostile takeover of American morality.”
Unable so far to force their agenda through the White House and Congress, Christian fundamentalists have zeroed in on the courts. They want to force the American judiciary to implement their agenda.
So, justice is not the real agenda for the meeting. It’s judgment from a controlled court.
A meeting about justice would adhere to the biblical witness that prioritizes both personal and social justice. Justice means doing right to others, protecting the poor from the crushing power of the wealthy, ensuring integrity in a dishonest marketplace, supplying bread to impoverished women and children, providing health care to the sick and seeking the welfare of foreign workers. The Hebrew prophet Micah said that God required from people of faith nothing less than justice.
From such an agenda, Christian tradition made justice one of its hinge virtues upon which swings morality.
Christian fundamentalists regrettably translate justice into judgment. Consequently, delivering justice is not a priority for fundamentalist churches. Preaching damnation is.
Eternal punishment and earthly judgment fit snuggly together.
No more fitting example of this symbiosis appears than in the host church’s sponsorship of Judgment House as an alternative to Halloween in which children are scared into Christian conversion or compliant behavior.
Replacing court houses with judgment houses is as unlikely to make America more moral than taking over the Republican Party.
What would be of better help to the nation would be a renewed commitment among people of faith to take up the prophet Amos’ call to let justice roll down like a mighty river, irrigating the land with fairness, watering equality and feeding the common good.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.