“The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” (Psalm 33:5 NIV)
Some days you just shouldn’t read the news. Like when you find out that an unarmed teenager was fatally shot by police, allegedly with his hands in the air crying “Don’t shoot!” As a parent, it’s the worst feeling I can imagine – a senseless loss. There’s nothing you can say to make his parents, his family, his community feel better, because it’s a tragedy that was entirely avoidable. If not for the community protests, some of which turned violent (albeit not fatal), the rest of the nation might not even have noticed, because it wasn’t widely reported until then.
During Creekside’s recent sermon series on justice, Pastor Doug said something that stuck with me: “Mercy is helping people who are hurting; justice is asking why they’re hurting in the first place.” In the immediate aftermath of tragedies like Ferguson, we must show mercy. We have to share in the family’s suffering. Everyone asks, “Where is God?” in those situations, and we have to be God’s voice and his heart, saying he was right there, and he’s still here because we are.
When the situation calms down, then we start to think about justice. The family is asking for “justice” and they mean human justice. I’m not even sure what that looks like, but it’s probably different from the kind in Doug’s quote. That kind of justice means asking larger questions with the hope of effecting larger change. Questions like:
Why does the Ferguson police department have military grade equipment, but the officer who shot Michael Brown didn’t have a dash cam on his car?
Why, if black people are 63% of the residents of Ferguson, MO, do they represent 86% of police stops and 93% of arrests? (Missouri Attorney General’s Office, via John Oliver – WARNING: video contains profanity)
Why, given the population, are there only 5 black cops on the police force? (again from John Oliver)
Asking those questions is uncomfortable. America is fraught with racial tension and we’re all a little awkward at dealing with it. Our church specifically may feel out of place asking questions like that when we’re almost all white. Answers to large questions of justice might necessarily involve politics, and mixing politics and religion makes people squirm. (But religious people are still voters, so maybe we should get used to having those discussions!)
The one thing we should not do is the easiest thing of all: nothing. If we really shared in the pain of a grieving family, the outrage of a grieving community, then we would do what they’re doing: demanding justice. Maybe we should call up our local police chief and ask what they’re doing to improve officer training, to ensure that fatal errors aren’t made in our city. Maybe we should call up our city council members and ask whether having a dash cam is mandatory (and if not, why not). Maybe you can come up with something altogether different that will help you make sense of the misfortune and prevent future incidents like it.
As the verse above tells us, God loves righteousness and justice. And how does he spread his unfailing love? Through us.