By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
Just days after our nation once again celebrated its freedom on Independence Day, July 4, news and social media reported two fatal police shootings of African American young men in Baton Rouge, La., and a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. “We are starving for justice” was the desperate cry of a woman quoted in one report.
That cry should haunt the soul of all Americans and all people of God. America's devotion to its founding principles of “freedom and justice for all” is sorely in need of an overhaul.
It is tragic when people are starving for food. Indeed, it is doubly tragic because the earth produces enough food to feed twice the need on this planet. Failure to distribute food to neglected areas causes people to starve. Human greed and lack of cooperation create the problem, not scarcity.
The same is true of justice. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God, and our country was founded on the principle of justice for all people. So when some people are starving for justice while others have plenty, it is contrary to everything we believe in.
When justice is denied to anyone it is denied to all; and all suffer for it, whether they know it or not. We are one body, one nation, one people. And like the body of Christ, when one part suffers we all suffer. Indeed, those members who have less honor should receive more, so that "the members may have the same care for one another." You can find that bit of timely wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26.
'Running into the chaos'
Following these two tragic killings we were horribly reminded of our connectedness as one body in the worst way. An angry, misguided assailant wreaked deadly vengeance on undeserving police officers at the end of a nonviolent protest march in Dallas, Texas. While they were protecting marchers and maintaining the peace, five heroic officers were brutally slain and many others were wounded.
It was reported that during the worst moments of this horrific scene, as bullets were flying and confused marchers were fleeing in terror, uniformed police officers were seen “running into the chaos.” It was a haunting report that calls to mind the many law enforcement personnel and firefighters who ran into the chaos of the World Trade Center on 9/11, risking their lives to save lives.
We are profoundly grateful for courageous public servants who responded back then and still do today to incidents of violence and crisis, putting their own lives at risk to help others. We are thankfully aware of the overwhelming majority of good police officers who do heroic work compassionately and professionally in our midst.
In every profession there are those who abuse their power or do not treat everyone fairly. They dishonor both their profession and their peers.
There is certainly much work that needs to be done to improve human relations among all people. We as a nation must be healed of our racism and bias, our fear and hatred of "the other," especially those among us who respond to differences with arrogant disrespect and violence, often escalating tension and conflict to dangerous outcomes.
A call to prayer and advocacy
Again, I call us to vigilant prayer and advocacy for our country and for a world where violence, especially gun violence, has become a crisis of unbelievable proportions. Through advocacy we need to share justice, like food, with people who are denied and who starve for what we have.
We need to appreciate and support all our public servants who "act justly, love mercy and walk humbly" in the performance of their duties. And certainly, we should honor and emulate those who willingly “run into the chaos” of conflict and danger to save lives.
We are fortunate followers of Jesus Christ, who bore the painful cross of our salvation unto death. So we should do no less by seeking to apply the healing power of God’s love where there is hatred, injustice, discord and violence.
To do so involves sacrifice and putting ourselves at risk. But just as we are one body, this dual crisis of injustice and violence is everyone’s problem, and it needs everyone's participation to build relationships of trust and respect for all people, especially those who may lack honor and equity in our discriminatory society. Only by suffering together can we survive together and triumph over our common adversities.
The tools of civil discourse--listening, hearing with one’s heart, and sensitively sharing honest perspectives--can go a long way to changing this world’s climate of fear and distrust. The Cabinet and I will have conversations next week about ways in which we can engage the full conference in this vitally important work.
As we go forward please join us in prayer and in your own commitment to change. Thank you.