Originally published on March 24, 2018.
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
—Amos 5:24, NRSV
Volume One: Social Justice
“Houston, we have a problem.” Tom Hanks spoke this line in the 1995 film Apollo XIII. The line alerted the Mission Control Center in Houston that the Apollo spacecraft had suffered a crippling explosion.
It’s actually a misquote.
Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert spoke the original line to Mission Control. Swigert said, ”Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” I see why movie director Ron Howard changed the wording. The original isn’t as juicy as “Houston, we have problem.” The Hank’s revision is much more quotable.
So I will rephrase and revise Tom Hank’s revision:
“World, we have a problem.”
“United States of America, we have a problem.”
“Disciples of Jesus around the globe, we have a problem.”
The problem isn’t new. It’s as old as humanity. It was addressed in the legislation of the Pentateuch millennia ago. It was addressed by the prophets of Israel centuries ago. It was a major concern of Jesus’ kingdom manifesto when he walked the earth. It’s been addressed by advocates of social justice globally for decades. And, a few visionary disciples have been addressing the problem in our churches for the past couple of decades.
The problem is a problem of justice. Social justice. Or, lack of justice. Social justice. That’s the problem.
I rarely hear issues of social justice talked about in our churches. Not in a broad, wide-ranging manner. I’ve participated in discussions on race. I’ve participated in a more limited way on discussions of sexism and ageism. I’ve participated in discussions on Christians and the military.
We’ve had more wide-ranging discussions on poverty and have even created a parachurch organization to administer our global response to world poverty. This response to poverty includes free medical treatment for the sick, early childhood development initiatives, aids prevention and treatment, housing and vocational education for lepers, housing and education for orphans, and the list continues. Kudos to Hope-Worldwide and its sponsoring churches and individuals for giving the poor a voice in our movement of churches.
But I’ve never participated in a discussion on what is the proper Christian response both as individuals and as churches to issues like human trafficking, immigration reform, abusive child labor practices, abortion, gun-regulation in the United States, criminal justice reform, sentencing reform, homelessness, poverty, greed, abuse of authority (including church authority), sexual harassment, environmentalism, inequitable distribution of wealth, and the list continues.
You might think, “What’s the point in discussing something like human trafficking. Human trafficking is wrong and I’m against it. ‘Nuff said”
Okay. But what are we going to do about it? What can we as a movement say and do to help shine a light on the evils of human trafficking so that governments decide to take action against those who perpetrate such evil?
This should be discussed.
So, I want to start some discussions. Why? Because the Bible is not silent on these issues.
Instead, the Bible is filled with verses on “justice.” Here’s a sample:
Psalm 37:28 states, “For the Lord loves justice.”
Psalm 37:30 reads, “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice.”
Psalm 82:3, states, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.”
Psalm 103:6 says, “The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.”
Proverbs 29:26 reads, “Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.”
Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”
Jeremiah 9:24 states, “‘But let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight,” says the Lord.”
In Micah 6:8 Micah writes, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”
Yahweh loves justice. Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting justice. Do we love or neglect justice?
Amos 5:24 reads, “Let justice roll down like water.”
Let’s get justice rolling.
“Let Justice Roll.”
—Dr. G. Steve Kinnard, March 24, 2018
Reprinted from January 15, 2018 article.
Following the photo are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King ‘s “I Have A Dream” speech given at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Read the speech silently reflecting on its meaning, read the speech aloud enunciating every word, or read the the speech to others inspiring you and your audience to action. On this day where we celebrate the life and service of Dr. King, let’s continue to dream his dream and act on his thoughts until his dream becomes our dream and that dream becomes reality.
“What you dream alone remains a dream, what you dream with others can become a reality.”
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
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