Two questions for spring, on the doing of justice, prompted by some conversation about how one might honor the memory of William Sloan Coffin. First, there is the question of how? How do we engage in a spiritual practice of social action and protest that does not simply devolve into competing factions shouting beyond one another in endless rounds of mounting anger? We do well to keep in mind Coffin’s caution that a “politically committed spirituality contends against wrong without becoming wrongly contentious.” That must involve the deep conviction that those we oppose in the social arena are also beloved children of God, and that we must always seek to find and honor the Christ in them even as we work to achieve an often radically different vision of social arrangements.
Second, there is that question of vision. What is the vision of justice toward which we aim and on what is it grounded? Put simply, provisionally and decidedly nonprogramatically, the Biblical vision of justice, as Walter Brueggemann puts it, is this: sorting out what belongs to whom and returning it.
So, for example, in a world of plenty food belongs to those who are hungry; in an economy of abundance work belongs to those who seek jobs, wherever they come from; in the 21st century health care belongs to those who are sick, shelter belongs to those who are homeless, and clothing belongs to those who are naked; in our nation’s cities good schools belong to children left behind; in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ordination belongs to all those who are called; in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across these United States marriage belongs to those who are in love regardless of sexual orientation; in Saudi Arabia, freedom belongs to women; in Northern Ireland, in Israel, in Palestine, in Darfur, in Iraq and everywhere that plow shares still give way to swords and shields peace belongs to us all.
It is far past time for sorting this stuff out. It is far past time to move beyond religion that focuses only on the next world, that insists on an unbiblical distinction between the sacred and the secular, and that, as a result, blesses the status quo even as that status crushes millions beneath the weight of injustice, oppression, sexism, heterosexism, racism, militarism and neoconservative globalism.
It is far past time to recognize that the doing of justice is the primary expectation of the God of the Bible. Perhaps such words will honor Coffin’s memory and motivate as well.