Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Justice after a History of Violence? What to do when the Body of Christ Wages War with Itself

1 comment:
If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.
― Mark Twain, Notebook

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.
― Pope John Paul II

By Allyson Carr

Recently, we shared the interim results of the Justice and Faith research project with a group of “stakeholders”—people who are part of the Christian Reformed Church community and know it well, people who will be able to take the research results and use them in the work they do. For the first half of the meeting, the research team painstakingly went over the data we had collected and the analysis we had done. We showed the four definitions of justice that the data appeared to uncover, explained the various ways that people thought about the relation of justice and faith, and went over in some detail what had been identified as barriers and enablers to doing justice, with a few recommendations for potential next steps. Then we opened the floor to questions.

The very first question put to us wasn’t about our careful data collection, nor was it directly related to any of our recommendations for next steps. Instead the speaker basically said, “this is great, but what do people think about all the violence the church itself has done? All of the harm we have caused from positions of power? Has anyone addressed the question of how we can talk about justice at all given our history of complicity in injustice?”

I admit to being momentarily struck dumb.

You see, I have been vexed by similar questions, yet I have learned that even to ask them is to invite one of two opposed, yet equally antagonistic, responses: a defensive response that says that the contemporary Church cannot be held accountable either for the sins of a remote past or for the overzealous actions of a few people today, or a more critical response that says an institution that has been instrumental in the torture and oppression of so many people for so many years is incapable of doing justice. Both of these positions are, I believe, non-starters, and neither takes into account a good deal of history and present-day action. And yet both raise objections that are worth considering in order to address the question our stakeholder raised.