In my short time on this Earth, I have been blessed to travel extensively. I've traveled to both well-developed parts of the world and tragically undeveloped regions. By oversight or just downright neglect, some of the people of our world are dramatically underserved and blatantly unprotected by their governments and fellow citizens. Justice, at least its meaning for me, applies to the broad spectrum of what we call "life." Life in and of itself is not regulated to my experience or even yours, and my understanding of both justice and injustice is related to the respect of pluralism -- the myriad of life expressions that are beyond what is germane to my upbringing, socialization and culture.
All life has meaning. "Justice is what public love looks like," said Princeton University Professor Cornel West, and I agree. As a Christian, my faith and the meaning of justice are romantically and promiscuously intertwined. The Prophet Micah asks rhetorically, "And what does The Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Given this construct, when we have conversations that seem to be inherently complicated within our homes, the Academy, and the Church, these elements must be the substratum of all conversation: justice, love and humility. We must remember to filter our thoughts through justice, our assumptions through love, and our opinions through humility.
I was troubled (and I still am) when I read a recent opinion editorial piece in the New York Times titled "The Brutality of Corrective Rape," by Clare Carter. The stories of rape and murder are real. The people in the stories are real and their lives hold meaning for the people who love them and, consequently, for the people that hate them.
I pondered the cruelness, the utter brutality done to these men and women for nothing more than being "other" than what cultural and religious norms dictate. I will admit that I am privileged and don't at all find myself as vulnerable as they do. My geography, gender, sexual orientation, and religion all afford me privileges in a society that does little to protect people who are most vulnerable to the violence and murder caused by someone's biased and bigoted opinion. Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker agrees and says:
"People who are the constant targets of legal and cultural violence do not care what a person like me, with normative privilege, thinks about their helplessness, nor should they, so the bystander lets his empathy slip into a garbage can and just goes home, mute, not even certain what home means except that we all live here, knee-to-knee."
As I reflected on the essay, I found relief in knowing that situations like this very, very seldom take place in the United States. We are a civil and civilized nation and overt acts of violence against people who are marginalized in our country just don't happen often, and when they do, they are usually prosecuted when reported to authorities but in all actuality.... That isn't true at all.
A recent report in the Red Eye (a local paper here in Chicago) says that last year (2012) there were "One thousand three hundred and twenty-six sexual assaults reported to the Chicago Police Department -- an average of more than three everyday." They happen every day and it is the opinion of most social agencies that most times the assaults are not even reported adding to the number and dramatically increasing the numbers of victims who may live right next door to us or sit next to us in our congregations. I would like to think that there are exceptions that can be found within our theology, the exception of care, peace and protection within the church but we can draw parallels or shading between physical acts of violence in Africa, and theological violence in the Western civilization, as seen and experienced in churches all across America. We do it every Sunday when we use scriptures, blind and narrow opinions, to "correctively rape" those who are "other" than us. Whether they are the single mother, the social the illiterate, the homeless, the immigrant, the LGBTQ community, or those with addictions, they are all generally marginalized and despised. We lovingly hate them and use the Bible to do so, we draw from holy scripture ideas like "Love the sinner, but hate the sin." The problem with this paradigm is that the "hate" is the operative word and seemingly drowns out whatever love that may exist.
When Jesus walked the Earth, there was a woman who was caught in nefarious sexual behavior and faced a justice system that was not exclusively in the hands of magistrates or the like. Her fate was placed in the hands of those who had power, who were all men (note: misogyny did exist before hip-hop) and who purposely moved to rationalize her public murder judicially, while using Moes to sustain her murder theologically. They saw her life and death as worthless and nothing more than a prop to discredit Jesus' teaching and the claims of His Messiahship. Her sentencing was also used to reinforce cultural and social norms of their day that viewed and used women primarily as breeders and homemakers. Jesus intervened in word and deed because if He didn't look past her "otherness," or her wrongness and her sin, no one else would have. For Jesus, His love for her and her life was more meaningful than her guilt. Then again maybe Jesus was a soft, social pacifist, who didn't understand what "the wages of sin" really meant and thereby weak in not just picking up a rock and throwing it to murder her because thats what she deserved for being wrong. But I happen to think that Jesus is teaching us that wielding rocks in judgment of others only reflects our own inherent weakness and exposes the fault-lines in our own humanity. I am bothered that I live in a world where people will hate and marginalized "others," and use the Bible to do so, but never bother to lift their hearts enough to see that murdering them by another's rock puts blood on our own hands also.
My friend (in the Twitter sense) Dream Hampton has taken on a independent film project called TransParent. She says:
"When Detroit poet Natahsa T. Miller approached me to direct TransParent I was hesitant. I was uncertain about directing a film. I am an ally and being an ally is about humbly submitting oneself to a life of learning. Israeli painter Bracha Ettinger, says 'not witness, but withness. Not empathy, but besidedness.' The quote is a revolutionary approach to being a partner, supporter and ally: 'I care deeply about the Black and queer community, enough to seek counsel, and yes, direction, as I proceed with this project. I care about Shelley's death, but I care as much or more about her life.'
When I was younger, I thought South Africa was on another planet. I thought Detroit was someplace I would never go, I didn't know Sanford, Fla., existed and I thought Jasper, Texas, was someplace so remote that it didn't matter. As I have grown older, these places surround me closely in ways that touch me and what happens to all people in all those places now matters to me a great deal. In both curious and precious ways, we are all affected (whether we know it or not), which is why we should try to make better the lives of others and live to make sure justice and love are there. We just might need it for ourselves one day, are children definitely will.