EDITOR’S NOTE: “Justice looks like …” is a special series in the Voices column. Readers will have the opportunity to consider justice from numerous viewpoints. The series is based on each writer’s understanding of Scripture and relationship with Jesus Christ. Writers present their own views independent of any institution, unless otherwise noted in their bios.
You are encouraged to listen to each writer without prejudgment. Then, engage in conversation with others around you about what justice looks like to you.
Not since Sept. 11, 2001, has there been a more tumultuous year of the 21st century than this year—2020. Please consider the facts.
Sources of tumult in 2020
Our country has struggled with a global pandemic that has claimed, as of this writing, the lives of more than 300,000 people and counting. This once-in-a-century event has caused the restriction of religious gatherings, halted sporting events, closed school systems and placed a pause on life as we know it.
The pandemic, in turn, has plunged the country into a deep recession that has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs. In addition to the public health mayhem, the citizens of our country were made to witness and even experience the anguish and rage that has been a lingering cancer and disease in the Black and brown communities in America for more than a century.
Millions of people witnessed on national television the death of George Floyd, one more person of color who died while in police custody. George Floyd was not a celebrity of note. He tragically was one of many African American males who lost his life during an arrest attempt in a metropolitan city in our country.
As a result of George Floyd’s death, there have been demonstrations in small towns and in metropolitan areas nationwide; in many cases the demonstrations and protests persist. Just like spectators at a theatrical performance, we have witnessed the outpouring of emotions by thousands of people of all ethnicities, skin colors, socio-economic classes and levels of education.
The outcry of the masses has resounded in unison, saying that the disproportionate killing and harassment of Black and brown people groups must stop.
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Still do not understand
While the events of the present day are shocking and appalling to many, I discovered a long time ago that many of my well-meaning friends and colleagues still do not understand the gravity of the situation.
• They do not understand that systemic racism continues to pervade our country today.
• They do not understand the disproportionate differences in criminal sentences for offenders of one race versus another.
• They do not understand, or maybe cannot understand, the pain of prejudice and bigotry.
• They do not understand that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is more descriptive and personal than a political action group.
• They do not understand that the tears so many Black people cry emanate from a place deep within the souls of a people who must: (1) assimilate in order to be accepted, (2) whose male role models often are softened in the media and, in order to be tolerated or recognized, are forced to be seen as effeminate; and (3) who fear their child’s first traffic stop may be his/her last traffic stop.
Many really don’t understand our journey. Lost on so many are the words of James Weldon Johnson:
“Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chast’ning rod,
felt in the day that hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet,
come to the place on which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our star is cast.”
What justice looks like to me
Justice looks like an America that can celebrate its diversity. It is a place where character counts, instead of the color or pigmentation of one’s skin. It is the full recognition, that as human beings, we are created in the “image of God” and are brothers and sisters co-equal and composing the human race.
Not until we see the utter humanity and commonalities that exist in all of us can we truly grasp the worth of all people.
As Christians, the lessons of loving one’s neighbor in the same manner in which one is to love him or herself should be easy. Unfortunately, we tend to be the people who seemingly are awestricken and confused by the outcry of people who have lived with systemic inequities.
Jesus makes it clear; he prioritized the worth of all people when he said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
In the words of an unknown author: “We shall know the true meaning of justice when we come to realize that an injury to one is the concern of us all.”
Rev. Dr. Michael Evans Sr. is the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas, and the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The views expressed are those of the author.
Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series.