Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
Very often people who agree on the need to change things disagree on how to do it or, more importantly, when to affect the changes. This is an age-old argument. For example, In New Testament times the Jewish church (who represented the establishment) wanted to slowly make changes to include the gentiles, and do so with great sensitivity. Paul, however, wanted to ram massive change down their throats with no pause to accommodate their sensitivities. For him the truth of the gospel was at stake. Read Galatians! During the Reformation, Erasmus wanted to work slowly within the Catholic Church to reform abuses, but Martin Luther wanted to force reformation swiftly and decisively through open rebellion. The fact that you don’t know who Erasmus is proves that Luther prevailed as a revolutionary.
Run this paradigm through any and every change in human history. What brought effective and lasting change – patiently working within the system, or forcing change swiftly and often with great conflict? I think of the massive societal upheaval I experienced in South Africa. In February 1990, Mandela was still serving a life sentence in prison, the country was decisively segregated, and the military enforced the system ruthlessly. In April 1994, Mandela was sworn in as the new president! Massive change happened overnight. In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King made this point. Some supporters wrote to him asking him to patiently work with the authorities of Alabama rather than resist them and force change. Here is part of his response: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”
There are some things in Churches of Christ that have to change – not matters of style or preference, but issues of fundamental justice. The truth of the gospel is at stake. We can throw away fear and anxiety and do what is right swiftly and decisively, or we can do what we’ve always done – meet, talk, study, listen to “concerns,” meet again, study some more, talk, talk, talk. What do you prefer? What would Jesus do? What would Paul do?