This morning I've been thinking a lot about why it sometimes seems like conversations between self-proclaimed liberal Christians and conservative Christians hardly ever seem to get anywhere. If I'm honest I fall into the former camp, even if I may not like the stigmas associated with those kinds of labels. So as a liberal Christian, generally spending my time with other liberal Christians, the verse I hear quoted most often is Micah 6:8- "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"
It seems so simple.
Now I'm not sure that anyone is really very good at humility, but at least it's easily agreed upon, and people try. At least, I am able to make it through my day claiming the name of Christian by hoping that humility is one of the things we strive for.
Mercy is the same way. I don't think anyone would disagree that mercy is something we are called to. We may not live it out all the time, but we're working on it.
Really, it's justice where we hit a snag. Do justice. Do what is fair. Do what is right. Do what is deserved- that's what justice means. Administer the response that is deserved.
The disagreement , it seems, is over what is deserved. What does this person or that group deserve?
If you think that they deserve judgement and punishment for the choices they make- or worse, for who they are- and I think that they deserve love no matter who they are or what they've done, then yeah, we're going to have an issue. So what does justice look like?
What I keep coming back to is the fact that I am called, first and foremost, to love. Love God, love everyone else. And loving means being patient and kind, not rude or boastful or selfish or irritable, and keeping no record of wrongs but rejoicing in truth. It means wanting what is best for the other person even if it makes me uncomfortable to do so. If God loves me despite everything I've done and calls me to do the same- and even moreso if I believe that God does the same for everyone- then who can I possibly judge? How can I do anything, or think that anyone deserves anything, but love? What could justice possibly look like besides extending my hand in peace and mercy to everyone I see?
So we come back to loving mercy and walking humbly. Doing justice means both of those things. Being a Christian and being just means loving to be kind, loving to extend mercy. It means being humble enough to recognize that the decision about what anyone truly deserves is beyond me.
I don't know if this kind of thinking will be enough to move anyone's conversations forward, but I keep going because I believe that love changes hearts. Love changes the world. And that's what justice looks like.
(Crossposted at The Story I Find Myself In)
Heather Kramer is a second year Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theological Studies student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC., where she is also the youth minister at Dumbarton United Methodist Church and an intern at the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). In her free time (ha!) she tries to read, work for justice, and blogs at The Story I Find Myself In.