Monday, February 27, 2006

Do Justice and Love Mercy

Obadiah, an Anglican in Australia, recently left this comment:

...I will offer the testimony of a devout anglo catholic and liberal anglican friend of mine who has spent extended periods of time in the states, and had an long time as a member of a leading TEC church in NYC. He feels that TEC in some places has become overly politicised and acts more like a political action group than it should...
There's been a few responses to this, specifically one from Paul suggesting we need to define "politics" before we can weigh the merit of this critique.

In response, Obadiah offered a link to a thoughtful post from AKMA, Unsatisfactorily Superficial Prescript on Justice. Here's part of it:

...The matter of justice must not be minimized in dogmatic or doxological theology. When we address “justice,” however, the reflexive recitation of the apotropaic formula “justice” neither absolves a theologian of the obligation to work out the meaning of that topic in conjunction with Scripture and the church’s inherited wisdom — not solely in terms of a liberal progressive nostalgia for “the good causes”...

...My considered intuition suggests that many of the hymns and prayers that tag “justice” into a laundry list of things “we” support, or that compel congregations into implicit endorsements of policies from which they may be inclined to dissent, do not advance the gospel. In such cases, “justice” no longer bespeaks the love, equity, and mercy of God, but only serves the cause of partisan cheerleading; it makes of “justice” a fetish, a keyword which, if cited often enough, absolves speakers from critical reflection and practice...
So, what do you think? Does TEC engage in too much politics based on "a liberal progressive nostalgia for good causes"?

To prime the pump, here's a couple of thoughts that come to mind. When I'm new to an area, which seems to have been the case much too often over the last decade, there are two criteria I use to select a community of faith; worship and acts of mercy.

My experience of TEC is that we embrace the concept of "lex orandi, lex credendi", the law of prayer is the law of belief. The way that we worship expresses what we believe, and, to some extent, can form our beliefs. If the worship is at least from the BCP (you'd be surprised how often this is not the case!) I then want to see evidence that their worship is not simply lip service. Do they live what they profess? I want to see the fruit.

There's another tension involved here that I want to mention, between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right action). Especially among Protestants, it seems that orthodoxy is the primary focus, while orthopraxis almost seems, in some places, to be an afterthought.

To approach this tension from a more objective perspective, it might be helpful to recall the five pillars of Islam: Shahadah, the profession of faith in Allah; Salāt, prayer; Sawm, fasting; Zakāh, the paying of alms and Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Note that only the first is concerned with "right belief". The rest are focused on "right action".

There is no question that right belief is the essential starting point if we are to engage in right action. But it seems to me that often we get stuck on that first step.

Personally, I find my "marching orders" in Matthew 25:

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
But maybe I'm just engaging in "a liberal progressive nostalgia for good causes"?

The other thought that comes to mind is the illustrated manuscript I have hanging on the wall in my living room; the text from Micah 6:8...

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
When we speak of the justice of God, it is usually a harsh term. Justice is balanced by mercy. The goal of engaging in "justice issues" is to reestablish balance, not to "win", and thus create new victims.

Are we too "political"? Is "justice" a term that has lost it's meaning today?


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