The sin of injustice has marred the history of the United States of America. The blood spilled from the bodies of people of color, the blood of men, women, and children, and the blood of the poor and weak have for centuries cried out for justice from this country’s soil. The genocide of Manifest Destiny, the horror of the Atlantic slave trade, the fires of Tulsa, the tragedy of Japanese American internment camps, and the lynch mobs of the South all testify against this country. They bear witness to the fact that this country—this empire—has grown and flourished through the exercise of injustice. The testimony of the Christian Scriptures affirms that injustice incurs judgment.
People have argued with me that the events mentioned above all occurred in the past. That assessment is correct. I usually hear such arguments as an encouragement to leave the past in the past and celebrate “how far we’ve come.” It leads me to ask, “How far have we come? How far have we progressed when it comes to ethnic relations in this country?” Dare I say that we have not gone far. In my experience, racism is one of the only sins for which people in the Church praise progress rather than demand disposal.
I often hear people in churches refer to this country as a Christian nation. The hypocritical history of America and her church fails to reflect the biblical picture of what a “nation under God” should be. Comparison of this country with biblical reflections of God’s kingdom reveals a stark contrast. Psalm 89:14 proclaims, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne,” but unrighteousness and injustice build the seat of our country’s power. Many people declared that the new country they were forming was founded upon freedom and inalienable rights bestowed by humanity’s creator. Still, that same group denied that same freedom, along with those same rights, to those they enslaved.
Some of you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, might desire to encourage me to stop talking about the past. Still, you fail to recognize that the injustices of the past serve as precedents for contemporary practices of injustice. I confess that I do not see your encouragement as beneficial. I hear your message as a desire for me to stop speaking. I hear your response as an attempt to suppress speech that proclaims a prophetic word challenging societal norms antithetical to the gospel. When I hear your comments, I wonder how you expect me to live in a space where you refuse to listen to my voice.
Yes, American slavery, as we knew it, ended in 1865, but the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permits slavery “as a punishment for crime.” Well, when the people who used to own you serve as accuser, judge, and jury, being “duly convicted” occurs with little difficulty. When I look at the for-profit prison system that exists in this country, I find it virtually impossible to believe that our penal system, as it exists, works for restoration. Instead, it seems it works to line wallets. When I have seen disproportionate traffic stops, placement of traffic cameras for ticketing, and disproportionate convictions and imprisonments of ethnic minorities, the history of injustice makes me question if justice is being served today. It makes me recognize my potential to serve as a victim of the “justice” system. Was there something to make injustice “automagically” stop? Since humans are prone to sin, I do not think that the various sins associated with injustice would simply cease.
When I speak about the need for justice and our government, some fellow Christians tell me that I am supposed to be quiet and let God fight my battle. Under normal circumstances, I believe that is true. In this case, I must admit that I am troubled that the people through whom I think he wants to fight my battle—fellow brothers and sisters in Christ—are refusing to participate.
Throughout history, God has consistently worked through human agency. Even in the story of redemption, God became a human; we call him Jesus. When God delivered the people of Israel from the bondage of the Egyptians, he used Moses. When the people of Israel had turned away from the Lord and turned to false gods, they suffered at the hands of plunderers, but God raised up judges who saved them from the hands of their aggressors. Amid various seasons in the history of God’s people, especially when they turned away from the Lord, he raised up prophets to speak against the injustices done by his people. However, many of the people killed the prophets for calling them to righteousness. Jesus came, and he died at the hands of the government under which he lived. Many in the early Church died at the hands of the Roman empire.
Many of you in the Church may acknowledge that these atrocious things happened. You may even recognize that various forms of injustice take place today. At the same time, you will proclaim that you have nothing to do with the injustices many people experience as if that makes you innocent. I want to challenge that idea by noting that there is no neutrality when it comes to justice. You stand either on the side of justice or injustice, and God will bring all things to account. It causes me to feel conflicted inside. On the one hand, I question how you call me a brother, but you fail to love me enough to care about my pain. On the other hand, I fear for you, knowing that you will face God’s judgment for your refusal to engage.
When I read the book of Revelation, I discover that God judges the harlot—the ungodly, satanic system that has abused and misused people throughout the world. The beast, the false prophet, and the devil himself are cast into the lake of fire. The unjust systems of the world, along with the source of their power, come under God’s judgment, and many rejoice in that. Sadly, I see something that I fear many people do not. Those who dwell on the earth rejoice over the deaths of the two witnesses, who spoke prophetically amidst a culture that puts more faith in its government (the beast) than in God. While many of you within the Church would profess total allegiance to Christ, I find that your social media, words, actions, and sometimes—inaction—testify to you siding with injustice because it does not affect you. Please, remember that your siding with injustice, whether actively or passively, will incur judgment, just like the systems of injustice in this world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, while I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I want to speak to you in the pattern of the prophetic tradition. Amid the promises of judgment, I want to offer a word of hope. In Revelation, where we see the fall of Babylon—the great worldly empire—we find a call to the people of God. A voice from heaven declares, “Come out of her my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev 19:4). The call is not to physically move to another country. It is a call to resistance. It is a call not simply to stand for justice; it is a call to stand against injustice. Avoiding the plagues of God’s judgment is as easy as making a choice regarding which kingdom will receive your allegiance. Will your words and actions reflect loyalty to God’s kingdom—the kingdom of justice and righteousness—or the unjust kingdoms of this world? I urge you to stand on the side of God and not incur his judgment.
Your brother in Christ,
Daniel I. Morrison, Ph.D. (McMaster Divinity College) is an ordained minister with the Anglican Church in North America and serves as a Chaplain with the United States Navy Reserve. You can connect with him on social media (@DocDanMo). The opinions and views expressed in this post are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Navy or any ecclesial body with which he is associated.