June 18, 2020
Let me clarify at the outset that I abhor racism in any form. I am opposed to brutality regardless of who the perpetrator or victim may be. I oppose injustice wherever it may rear its ugly head. Unfortunately, as a believer in God’s Word, the Bible, I am forced to recognize that all men are sinners. They are born with a sin nature, and they therefore are predisposed to injustice in their relations one with another. This is not meant to excuse bad behavior, but to explain it.
I recently attended a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest. The protest was relatively small and was held near where I live in the town square area of our local county seat. The protest was passionate but peaceful. Both protesters and police intermingled and there was no overt animosity. I do not know if the protest was officially connected to the BLM national organization. My purposes in being there were to hand out water, represent one of our local churches, support our local law enforcement, and provide pastoral ministry as I might have opportunity to do so. I fully support the first amendment rights of the protesters to peaceful assembly and expression of their concerns.
I listened attentively to the ardent rhetoric of the lady who was the apparent leader and organizer of the event. She was clear in her desire that the protest be orderly and peaceful. The crowd of protesters included several different ethnicities and colors of skin. Some carried signs and wore clothing expressing their views and concerns.
The leader declared at one point that she agreed that all lives matter. But she made it clear that the present protest was focused on the value of black lives and that protesters did not always feel black lives were included in the lives that matter to some. All lives do matter, especially to the Christian, because the sanctity of all human life is a clear biblical principle (Gen. 2:7; Jer. 22:3; Acts 17:25-31). I concur that black lives matter to God; they should matter to the church and to the individual Christian, as well as to any good citizen in America. They matter, like all lives do, because God is their creator and Christ is offered freely to them as a Savior, just as He is to all others who will receive Him by faith (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10).
The leader reasoned that the current racial tension in our nation was something that people of color had been fighting for many years. She made several references to the non-violent civil rights movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (MLK) and others. She indicated that there had been little progress in the fight against racial inequality and that the reason for the current protest was in the hope that 20 years from now her children and grandchildren would not have to continue such protests.
The protesters were led in several loud declarations expressing their grievances. The chants included, “Black lives matter;” “I can’t breathe” (a reference to the tragic death of George Floyd – for more on that read here); and “No justice, no peace.” I heard both pain and hope in their pleas.
As I mentioned, the protesters included both blacks and whites. I was impressed that the protest leader pointed out that truly there is only one race, the human race. Again, I could wholeheartedly agree. This is not only true, but it is clearly stated in God’s Word (Acts 17:26). Any suggestion that people of a different skin color or ethnic background are somehow inferior in intellect, ability or worth is antithetical to God’s Word. Worse would be a suggestion that someone whose skin is different in color has no soul. That such suggestions have been made in the past is well known. That reasonable and civilized people reject such notions today is also a generally recognized truth.
I would take exception to the protest leader’s suggestion that little or no progress has been made in the struggle for civil rights in our country. I may not be the best judge of age but I’m certain that I am several decades older than her. My experience has been that much progress has been made. I remember the race situation in America in the 1960’s. We are well beyond those days. Attitudes have changed for the better. Of course, we must remember that men are sinful by nature. Are there still people who behave in racist ways, who look down on others because of their skin color? Certainly. But I believe they are in a minority that grows smaller by the day.
While I have some theological issues with MLK, I firmly believe that his work in the area of civil rights was much needed and overtly successful. I’m sure at the time of his death many felt the cause was lost. It was not. I am grateful that over the years of my life I have been blessed by having numerous black friends, many of whom were fellow church members or my fellow sports officials on the field. I can say without hesitation that several black men invested in my life and made me a better person. I am grateful for my years serving in the military alongside outstanding, godly patriots, of numerous ethnicities.
While, in my humble opinion, progress has been made, it is clear that we have work to do. Our efforts, however, must be accompanied by talking to one another and working together for solutions that benefit our society as a whole. If we are going to resolve the issues we must start at a point of honesty. The statistics simply do not bear out the allegation that systemic racism remains.
Acts of injustice against people of color should be actively investigated and prosecuted as the law requires. What is needed in polite society is that the rule of law be equitably applied to all persons without partiality. This is the demand of Scripture. In fact, Scripture goes both directions, stating that neither the poor nor the rich should receive preferential treatment (James 2). The foundation of our constitution and the other governing documents of our country fall on the just rules of law established in God’s Word. With regard to justice I believe we would be best served to look at it from a biblical point of view.
In retrospect, I was struck by one of the phrases used by the protesters at the event I attended, and one that has been in use for many years at similar protests, “No justice, no peace.” This seemed to me to be the primary rallying cry of the protesters. I must confess that I was not exactly sure what was meant by this phrase. On researching it I found that it goes back at least as far as the LA riots of 1992. Some believe its roots are found in terminology used by MLK.
The Secular Understanding of “No justice, no peace.”
I admit that assumptions about what people mean by what they say can be very different. Two people can say the same words and mean something entirely different from one another. I had not thought through this phrase copiously until I heard the passion in the protesters’ voices the other night. The first meaning that came to mind was along the lines of a threat. In other words, if there is no justice, if the perception is that black lives are not being treated justly, then throngs will come out to disrupt the peace. We cannot deny that such has been the sad result in many cases recently.
The conflict came for me when I realized that this was very likely not how the protesters I heard the other night meant this statement. I believe they meant it in the way MLK stated it outside a California prison where a Vietnam war protest was in progress on December 14, 1967. There was no indication Dr. King was trying to incite a riot. But here is what he said, “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.” This was quoted in an article written for Big Think on December 5, 2014, where Steven Maize analyzed the meaning of the phrase and how it could be taken out of context.
Maize was writing at the time in response to the Ferguson, Missouri, riots of August 2014 related to the death of Michael Brown, and the New York City grand jury which failed to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner that same year. The article, referenced above, is worth the time to read. In it, Maize said that a former Republican congressman had taken the phrase to be a threat of revenge. The author argues that this was not “the most plausible reading” of the phrase, instead invoking King’s statement as the better formulation. MLK’s view, according to Maize, “contains no threats of violence, veiled or otherwise.”
King was juxtaposing the civil rights protests (justice) with the Vietnam war protests (peace). In the political context of that time the two movements were understood by King to be mutual efforts at the same goal. A lack of justice in any context would be a threat to peace. Maize summarizes, “Without justice, the thinking goes, peace will be an elusive goal. And without peace, injustice is bound to continue.”
To be clear, the pacifist understanding of the phrase has not always been the end result of protests. We could list the numerous times vandalism and violence have marked protests using this phrase, “No justice, no peace,” and the looting and riots in so many major cities of late would be prominent exhibits in that list. While the violence and vandalism must be a major concern, it is my belief that the vast majority of protesters intend by the phrase exactly what Maize surmises that MLK meant, that where injustice is allowed to go without challenge there can ultimately be no peace for those who are the recipients of unjust treatment. Further, I think it stands to reason that an overall sense of peace in a community cannot coexist where injustice is allowed to run amuck.
The sad reality we are required to face is that the protests resulting from the George Floyd death in Minneapolis have turned violent. I noted a social media post recently that advocated supporting the protests in the spirit of the principle of Black Lives Matter without adopting the organization’s full agenda. I think doing so proves very difficult. How do you accomplish that and effectively maintain your Christian values?
Let me clarify. The BLM organization is not a group a Christian should support. Dr. Josh Buice has done an excellent job of exposing the real agenda behind BLM and the reasons Christians should not support the organization. He concludes, “Black Lives Matter is an anti-gospel movement fueled by postmodern social justice. The Black Lives Matter organization will never lead communities to peace, harmony, and unity.”
“Do Black lives matter? Yes, in fact, all lives matter and we see this clearly articulated in the pages of Scripture. All people are created in the image of God (imago dei) and all human life should matter to the Church of Jesus.” (DBG, June 5, 2020)
MLK’s View of Nonviolent Protests
We agree that black lives matter, but we do so in the manner of all lives mattering to God. As Christians we preach the true Gospel because we care about the eternal destiny of all lives. We preach the Gospel of Christ because we believe that apart from Him no one can live in a way that ultimately pleases God. I have tried to live by the phrase, “I’m not concerned about the color of a man’s skin, I’m concerned about the condition of a man’s soul.”
The question for the church in the current chaos centers on whether or not it is advisable, or even permissible, for Christians to support the principles of the simple protest statements, “Black lives matter,” or “No justice, no peace.” One of the stated propositions for supporting the principles is the work of MLK in his non-violent approach to demonstrations. We have already clarified what King likely meant in his version of the “No justice, no peace,” expression.
The BLM movement and its connection to MLK is deeper than some may realize. King’s theological position was one of Liberation Theology, a form of cultural Marxism with some Christian terminology thrown in. Peaceful protesters will quickly appeal to the nonviolent aspects of Dr. King’s approach, claiming kinship with a philosophy of peaceful protesting. This manifests a belief that, in the words of President George W. Bush, “lasting justice will only come by peaceful means,” adding that “looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress.”
The quote from President Bush was cited by Asad Haider, a blogger from Viewpoint Magazine, a publication that “aims to understand the struggles that define our conjuncture, critically reconstruct radical history, and reinvent Marxism for our time.” The article which can be found here, takes issue with the view of MLK’s protest policy being entirely nonviolent.
In fact, the slogan in question, “No justice, no peace,” is said by Haider to be “… in tension with the voices of self-appointed leaders and media representatives who insist that protests must remain ‘peaceful.’” He notes that MLK is “… frequently invoked today as a moral authority on the struggle against racism.” But he also believes that there was more to the philosophy of King’s method and clearly claims him as an ally in the work to reinvent Marxism in our day.
Haider asserts that King was a revolutionary. While not denying that MLK was a leading promoter of the necessity of nonviolence, he also points out that King was a “sympathetic critic of the urban rebellions of the 1960’s.” He believes King was misread. He uses several quotes from King that indicate his revolutionary perspective. He particularly notes King’s connection of unemployment issues in the Black community with the “rage and rebellion” that was revealed in the riots.
While never endorsing the riots or the actions of looters, Haider points out that King made a distinction between property destruction and direct violence against people. In my opinion, this philosophy is something that can only be endorsed by a Marxist. Those who believe in a free society with a capitalist economic foundation, which is the basis behind the opportunity of anyone, regardless of ethnicity, or skin tone, to achieve the American dream, would never come to a position that the destruction of property is not injurious to people. Nor could one with a biblical worldview endorse such.
King came to a point of believing it was “… necessary to adopt civil disobedience.” Haider believes that King was operating from a “… strategic perspective of organizing a force that could interrupt the functioning of society.” It was here that King’s criticism of the riots was exposed, in his own words, “The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win … Hence, riots are not revolutionary.”
This, of course, did not mean that disruption of the orderly function of society was not something King felt essential to his cause. He was moving to a phase of protest that would include massive nonviolent resistance. He believed, as a good Marxist, that, “Our economy must become more person-centered than property-centered and profit-centered.”
If we are going to understand what is going on today, we are going to have settle the fact that the forces behind the Black Lives Matter organization are trying to destroy the very fabric of our long cherished moral constructs. Remember, King said, “moral questions aside.” This is at the very root of the problem. Moral questions cannot be simply set aside. As Christians, we are in a struggle for truth. The Marxist is in a struggle for power. Justice can only be found in a system that relies on truth and righteousness. The issue ultimately always comes back to a moral question of right and wrong. As the Psalmist says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face” (Psalm 89:14; Cf. Ps. 85:10-13).
The prophet Isaiah tells us that “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever” (32:17).
But Let Justice Roll Down Like Water
The starting point for a Christian consideration of the phrase, “No justice, no peace,” is to understand justice from a biblical viewpoint. As the title of my article points out, the phrase is not a biblical construct. Even we take the phrase in its pacifist meaning, where there is no justice there will in like manner be no peace, we still are hard pressed to square it with Scripture.
Amos 5:24, a favorite of Martin Luther King, Jr., says, “But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.” In the context, Amos is quoting the Lord. God was chastising the people of Israel for coming to worship, for doing all their sacred assemblies, for making their religious offerings, and yet they were living in sin and idolatry. God is declaring that His justice and righteousness will flow like water. Anyone familiar with the power of flowing water could understand this clear word of judgment. In the previous chapter the people had been given a clear call to repentance for their treading down the poor, for their inability to extend justice, for their hatred of those who spoke truth, and for collecting excessive taxes.
God declared that it was an “evil time.” He exhorted the people to “hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate.” The reward for this would be the possibility of God being “gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Alas, they failed and ended up going into Babylonian captivity.
Many in evangelical circles of leadership and influence are clamoring for attention as the most “woke” and socially just among us. But “social” is not a proper adjective for justice among Christians. The only proper adjective for justice for Christians would be biblical. Only biblical justice is truly blind, uncompromisingly true, and adequately suited for gospel presentation.
Any attempt at justice by human beings will be corrupted by our sin. This does not excuse us from making every effort to be just in our dealings with others. It in no way minimizes the absolute requirement that in all our dealings we should seek to uphold truth and execute justice, and to do so in an equitable manner so that none are favored and none disfavored, particularly on account of their ethnic or socio-economic position. Regrettably, this will never be perfectly achieved until the “kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15).
We must also, as believers, work toward mercy. While perfect justice might be a cure to many of the ills in our society such a situation would not leave us in a particularly good relation to the Lord. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). The reality is that we should be careful when demanding justice, especially from God. Were the Lord to execute justice on us it would surely mean our death and eternal separation from the Holy One. The Bible is clear that our sin deserves death (Rom. 6:23).
That’s why the starting point of God’s plan of salvation is mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. But Jesus is the reason, and the only reason, that we can find mercy with the Lord. Why? Because He was willing to be our substitute. He was willing to die in our place and God received His sacrifice in the stead of ours (Rom. 5:8). The truth is, we do not want God’s justice, we desperately need His mercy.
Regardless of what peaceful protesters, rioters, or Marxists, mean by the phrase, “No justice, no peace,” it is critical that we understand the term from a biblical perspective. Justice has some kissing cousins according to the Prophet Micah. If we are to do good, if we are to accomplish what the Lord requires of us, then we must “do justly, … love mercy, and … walk humbly with [our] God” (Mic. 6:8).
In other words, without mercy and humility, biblical justice, real godly justice, is impossible. Mercy and humility mean that we oppose brutality regardless of the victim or the perpetrator, we oppose the brutal murder of babies in the womb, and we oppose the taking of innocent life at any stage. It also means we oppose the destruction of property, the disrespect of authority and disruption of an orderly society.
It means we do what Dr. King said we should do when it comes to racism. We should judge men not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. It means we must overlook the color and look at the heart. Some will argue that I have glossed over the systemic racism and the unfairness of the system. I appeal to Scripture then. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Walk humbly. Love mercy. Do justice. Then we will have peace with God and one another.