Using the Golden Rule to Overcome Injustice

September 13, 2020

In recent months I have reached out to my African American friends to listen about their struggles with injustice.

A mother told me of the fears she has of her teenage son being treated unjustly because of the color of his skin.

He said she had a responsibility to remind him that because he was black, there was always the potential that his rights could be violated.  She wanted him to be prepared to respond in the right way so he would come home alive.

I’ve listened to a black man as he recalled his father returning from faithfully from serving our country when we were at war.  Despite fighting for his country like everyone else, he was constantly harassed in the community.

He received threatening phone calls telling him to move his family, always laced with disparaging language.  He was passed over for promotions at work, even though he was qualified.  He said his father maintained his dignity, loved others, and taught his family to love God through it all.

I spoke to another man, a pastor and chaplain, who told me he grew up in Nevada.  He said when you are driving out there, you can go miles and miles without coming to a well-lit area.

One night, many years ago, he was driving, and the blue lights came on behind his car.  He wasn’t speeding and didn’t know why he was being pulled over.  But fear immediately became his predominant emotion.

He drove until he found a well-lit area to pull over.  When the officers approached, they did so with guns drawn.  Of course, it was nighttime, so they had no idea who was in the car.  They questioned him regarding the reason he didn’t pull over when they flipped on the blue lights.

He explained his fear as an African American of pulling over where there wasn’t any light.  He told me, “I understood their fear and rationale for approaching me with their guns drawn.  But that could have turned out much different than it did.  After further questioning, they let me go without incident.”

Recently a black friend of mine posted a tribute to a young black woman who was killed in his community by a stray bullet.  She was sitting inside her home in New Jersey.  In his post, my friend called out the leaders of Black Lives Matter to say that they should be marching for the injustice in the killing of Jenetta just like they were for the other instances of injustice because  her life mattered, too.

Today, the topic of injustice has grabbed the headlines and is on the minds of many people.  Millions have protested the lack of fairness we still have in our country.  Unfortunately, the voices of peaceful protest have been mixed with violence and the destruction of property, and even the loss of life, which has made it difficult for people to hear and empathize with those that are suffering.

It’s difficult to hear the cries for justice when a business is looted or burned down or it makes justice seem so much further alway when peaceful protestors are attacked.

Even so, millions have recognized that we say we are a county that was founded on the principal, “justice for all,” but that’s an ideal we have yet to reach.

As disciples of Jesus, we must always be on guard against our own prejudices, and let’s not pretend that we don’t have them.

So, how can we do that?  How can we guard our hearts against treating others unfairly?

Jesus taught that we should treat others the way we want others to treat us.  It’s one of the simplest, yet most profound ethical formulas for living.

What would our world look like if we lived by this formula that has been called “The Golden Rule.”

Long before Jesus lived, a prophet spoke to Israel about the unjust ways they were treating the people around them.

His name was Amos.  He was from Tekoa, an area near Jerusalem.  He made his living raising sheep and taking care of sycamore trees.

As a farmer, Amos was very familiar with trade.  He had to trade his goods for other items to support his family. Making a fair trade for his products was the key to making a living.

As he did this, Amos became aware that the social systems around him were corrupt, not just in Israel but also in the nations around Israel.

Amos began to speak out.  At first, he spoke out against the nations around Israel for the human rights abuses they inflicted on humanity.

He said God was going to bring judgment on Israel’s neighbors: Damascus, Aram, Gaza, Ekron, Tyre, Edom, and Ammon.

All these people had committed human rights violations.

In Damascus, equipment used to cut straw into pieces was used to drag people on the ground, leaving them in a mangled pile of flesh. (3:1)

In Tyre, a great trading center, people were enslaved and sent to Edom.

Through Amos, God said, “I will not turn back my wrath, because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom, disregarding a treaty of brotherhood.

I will send fire upon the walls of Tyre.” (1:10)

In Ammon, the wombs of women from Gilead were ripped open, killing both mother and child.

In Moab, they desecrated the dead, turning the bones of the dead into lime.

Amos channeled God’s wrath and said that Moab would go down in great tumult amid war cries and the blast of the trumpet. (2:2)

It’s very difficult to talk about issues of injustice in this country without it sounding political.  However, injustice should be a spiritual matter, not just a political one.  Injustice should be about human rights.

If everyone would put politics aside and put ourselves in the place of the person seeking justice and applied the Golden Rule, justice would have a chance to prevail.

However, most of us do not tend to get involved in issues of justice unless we are suffering or unless someone in our world has been treated unjustly.

When I was in the ninth grade, I discovered there was an initiation to get into the FFA.  However, the invitation came with an initiation, except the initiation was actually a hazing by upperclassmen.

The ninth graders were taken into the shop class, and the upperclassman had a massive block of ice that they made us sit on for a prescribed time.

Once our back sides were frozen, they set our mouths on fire by giving us some olives to chew up that had been soaked in a vile hot sauce.

With our mouths on fire, they offered us some gum to chew to cool off our burning cheeks and gums.

We later learned that the gum wasn’t gum.  It was X-Lax.

I had just gotten over the stomach flu.  The next day I back in the bathroom for most of the day.

There no wrath quite like a mother who wants justice for her child.

My mother wanted justice.  Her son was suffering, and she was mad.

She directed all of her, “I want something done about this injustice” directly at Mr. Stewart, the agriculture teacher.  I think the principal got a visit, too.

That was the last day for the initiations of new FFA students at my school.

As long as Amos was preaching about the injustices of all the other nations, the Jewish people thought Amos was a mighty good preacher.  But those nations were too far removed from the people for them to care or do much about their problems.

Things changed when Amos began to warn the people that God was going to come and judge them if they did not change how they treated other people.

We can talk about the injustice of others all day and it’s just an intellectual exercise, but when we begin to talk about our own injustices toward others, and even each other, that’s a different matter.

If you get called out for treating someone unfairly, your first reaction is likely to try and silence or discredit the messenger, rather than examine the message.

The people didn’t believe Amos’ message because they were materially blessed and they saw that as affirmation that God was pleased with them.

They interpreted their prosperity as evidence that God’s favor rested on those that continued to prosper.

So how do you convince people to change the way they are living if people believe that God is blessing them for living the way they are living?

Money seems to cloud our judgment and break down our ethical standards about what we consider right and wrong.  No doubt, this is why it took so long to end the injustices of slavery in America.

Amos came along at a very crucial time in Israel’s history.

He was not influenced by money, power, or social status.  He spoke to the elite and said that God was going to judge them because of their injustices.

He told Judah, the Southern Kingdom, that God’s wrath was coming.

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
 Amos 2:6-7a (NIV)

Our problem with prophecy is that it is challenging to acknowledge our sin because of our pride.

We always want the preacher to preach, but we don’t want the preacher to say anything that makes us uncomfortable.  As soon as he/she does that, we want to escort the preacher to the brow of the hill like Jesus’ hometown people did to him.

Or in the South, people are just less direct.  People send threats through anonymous words or letters and try to kill the preacher with gossip or indirect threats.

In the Jim Crow era, it was more direct.  Intimidation came through white hoods, the burning of crosses, and Saturday night raids of the KKK.

While most of these were aimed at African Americans, the message trickled down.  There were few prophets in the pulpits across our country calling out the injustices of the day and that’s still true today.

However, Amos was not one to be bought.  He was a voice that spoke out on behalf of the poor.   He was the voice of the voiceless.  He was the conscience of a people who had lost their way.

Listen to these words: “You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain.  Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them.  Though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your offences and how great your sins.  You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.  Therefore, the prudent man keeps quiet in such times for the times are evil.” 5:11-13

Far too many of us have kept quiet when we have seen injustice. That is part of the problem.

Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, and philosopher said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

One of the most prophetic voices of the abolition movement was Frederick Douglas, a man fathered by a slave owner and given birth by a slave mother.

After learning how to read and write as a child by the wife of his slave owner, Douglass had an appetite for newspapers, pamphlets, political materials, and books of every description.

He read a book called “The Columbian Orator,” an anthology that he discovered at about age twelve, that gave him clarifying and defining views on freedom and human rights.

By slave standards, his life was not too difficult in Baltimore, but then he was sold to a plantation owner named Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had a reputation as a “slave breaker.” He whipped Douglass so regularly that his wounds had little time to heal. Douglass later said the frequent whippings broke his body, soul, and spirit. The sixteen-year-old Douglass finally rebelled against the beatings, however, and fought back. After Douglass won a physical confrontation, Covey never tried to beat him again.

Then, something happened that changed his life forever.  His former owner reacquired Douglass and told him he would set him free after seven years, which he did.

Meanwhile, Douglass’ skills as an orator were discovered. When he acquired his freedom, he traveled and became one of the greatest prophetic voices of the abolitionist movement of the 19th century.

Douglas was greatly influenced by the Bible and became an expert and defender of the United States Constitution.

He believed in the Constitution’s democratic premises.  He thought they breathed freedom, and that the Constitution needed only to be amended to be restored to its first purposes.

Rightly applied, Douglas believed that the Constitution promoted justice. (Ibid)

In a July 4 speech in 1852, Douglass begins with unstinting praise of the values and character of the Founding Fathers—the only forewarning of dissent being his speaking of the events of the seventeen-seventies in the second person: your Founders did this . . . your history says that. (Ibid)

Then he makes his thundering turn: “The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie.” (Ibid)

These are the words of a prophet, a man who had felt the sting of injustice and the whip of a slave owner upon his back.  He had every right to call men out on their participation in the slave trade, whether direct or indirect.

Finally, in his speech, he made a still more surprising swerve, back toward the American center saying that the Constitution was solid, all that needed fixing was the way it is read.

Douglas wrote: “Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? Or is it in the temple? It is neither.” (Ibid)

Again, these were words of a prophet to a people who would eventually shed blood with their neighbors over whether states had the right to enslave another human being.

Too many of the people to whom Douglass spoke would not listen, and the country broke apart in a civil war.

People that Amos spoke to would not listen either.

Biblical history seems so ancient and sometimes so unfamiliar, that the problems that the prophets faced don’t seem as real to us.

We need to see that humanity’s problems are cyclical.  We just keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Amos warned Judah and Israel that their nation would fall, that an invading enemy was coming, and that God was displeased with their lack of attention to justice, but they would not listen.

They didn’t get involved because it did not affect enough of them.  Israel and Judah would not empathize with the least of those among them.

Please, let’s not make the same mistake.

Jesus taught that we should treat others the way we want to be treated.

If we used Jesus’ principle as a true Golden Rule, we could overcome injustice.

We would treat people of other races, different economic brackets, different religious beliefs, different political parties, those who spoke a different language from us, with the same respect and rights that we would want to be given ourselves.

The protestor would respect property of others because the protestor would want others to respect their property.  Police officers would treat every person the way they would want arresting officers treating members of their family.   Police officers would be given the respect they deserve because when we are in trouble, we all call the police to protect us and help us.

Political opponents would treat each other with the respect they would want to receive from the other.

Parents would treat teachers the way they would want to be treated if they were teachers themselves.

Those of the majority race would treat minorities the way they would want to be treated if they were a minority.

Once Jesus stood between an angry mob of self-righteous men intent on stoning to death a woman they said was caught in adultery.  They were going to stone her, but not the man she was having relations with, clearly a double standard.

While stoning her for the act was technically lawful, it wasn’t just, and Jesus defended her.

He didn’t condone her sin, but Jesus sought justice for the woman and won it, as eventually all the men dropped their stones and went away as Jesus challenged them with the word, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 NIV).

As disciples of Jesus, that’s what he wants from us.

The Lord wants us to have that same kind of love and courage to stand up for others.

It’s the type of passion my mother had for me.  But it wasn’t just for me, because all the other FFA students that came along never to be hazed again at the school.

So, when we make a stand against injustice, it’s a stand for the freedom of those now and those in the future.  If you want to know where to stand, just ask, “What would I want done for me, if I were in that situation?”  “What freedoms would I want extended to me?”

If we are a country that stands for liberty and justice for all, then we need to keep working for that for all people until it becomes a reality.

Jesus taught that we should treat others the way we want to be treated.

Are you living by that ethic?

If you are not, what do you need to do?  Who do you need to stand up for?

What injustices are happening around you that you are ignoring?

Edmund Burke was right.  The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

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