I often talk about violence and justice on this blog. I write about peace, pacifism and how I think war is a disservice to the Gospel. But what I often fail to mention is why I argue the position I argue. I flesh it out here as best I can:
1: Every action committed by Christians happens in the context of God’s work to reconcile and redeem the world through the work of Christ operating in and through the Church.
a. See 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 [God] reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the dikaiosyne [justice] of God. (NRSV, Modified, emphases added)
b. The word diakosyne can mean righteousness, and is almost always rendered this way when translated into English. However this rendition misses the way that Paul is envisioning the active power of the ministry of reconciliation and its relation to what we call justice. It is through God’s reconciling work, and our work of reconciliation on God’s behalf, that we become a community of justice. It is
c. This means that when we think of violence or war, or self defense, we have to think of them within the framework of this story and either contributing to or detracting from the final outcome. Because God has asked us through Christ to be the manifestation of His very own justice.
2: Christians can contribute intelligently by insisting that when Christianity is conceiving of justice it is done within and for this context. For Christians, reconciliation is the meaning of Justice.
a. Christians must insist that acts of justice are patient and seek permanent solutions to the problems that we face, instead of reactionary, justice must be reconciliatory.
b. Christian justice is not synonymous with secular justice, and we do not hold secular states to Church ideals, but we do ask the Church to be the leaven in the world, making justice happen in various places.
3: Within the story of Christianity, Justice is not isolated. Justice belongs with the other virtues, namely Faith, Hope and Love.
a. When we talk about pacifism and justice and violence, we must conceive of a “faithful justice” from within the Church that has application to all others.
b. The wrongs of the universe cannot be righted through coercion, but we can’t sit idly by either.
c. We must be patient, because real justice is all about reconciliation. This action requires a holistic view that consolidates not only justice but virtues as well. If we believe that God is the Just-Judge, we must accept taht judgment is an outworking of the virtues and attributes of God.
d. The ministry of reconciliation and the justice of God an only be embodied by a people already shaped by the communal practices of faith, hope and love. If God is supposed to be making an appeal to the world through the Church, the only way this can happen is through people committed to embodying justice through the virtues that already shape their common religious life.
Here are practical pictures of what I’m talking about:
In Ibillin, Palestine, 1966. Fr. Elias Chacour pastors a congregation of Christians divided by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After the Palm Sunday Eucharist Fr. Chacour locks the doors to the church and challenges the congregation to kill each other or reconcile. After an awkward moment, an Israeli police officer stands up and asks for forgiveness, there was reconciliation and justice was made present to those people. (This event is cited in the book Embodying Forgiveness)
Now, this is not ideal, nor is it a full manifestation of the kingdom, but we have to begin to make room for reconciliation as a form of justice between parties as Christians. This can only be done with patience and the sometimes ugly practice of harming the gospel’s cause because we are only given two evils. So long as we recognize violence as shortcoming rather than necessity or logical choice we have room to allow for what Catholicism allows. Just war, a regrettable but sometimes tenable position, and pacifism, a more ideal but sometimes untenable position which is at various times compromised by ideologies before protecting neighbors.
The other is St. Francis of Assisi who appealed to the Sultan Malik Al-Kamil, begging for peace, and asking for an end to the war. He did not protest, or picket or debase graves and funerals, he sought to be the justice he sought. Too often we talk about justice, or social justice but we wish to put the onus of responsibility on others. For Christians Justice is always a manifestation of the Church’s vocation and it must happen through me.
In short, we must be persons of justice. Justice only happens if we are willing to love our neighbor and defend them against harm, and to love our enemies such that if we must use violence it causes us great sorrow for the gospel and for their sake.
I know this isn’t a complete list, or a comprehensive “why” but these are just some more thoughts on the matter. Hope they have helped a bit.