Lex Rex vs. Rex Lex: Trayvon Martin and the Idol of “Justice”

the whole thing is happening again, and will keep happening again

(Note to Theologians… you need to disassociate my definitions of rex lex and lex rex from Samuel Rutherford’s work, because my premise of King is Law is based on the notion that there’s only one King whose law we must work towards and uphold, that of King Jesus)

“Lex Rex” simply means “Law is King”.  If you believe that the law of the land, instituted and enforced by fallen people, is the end of the story, then the weight of evidence would declare  justice was served in the Trayvon Martin case for several reasons:

1. We live in a country where, on paper at least, those who enter “not guilty” pleas are presumed to be not guilty, and the weight of proof otherwise falls to the team of prosecutors.  They need to show “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the crime in question, in this case 2nd degree murder, was committed.  In this case, contradictions of testimonies made this impossible.

2. In addition,we need to consider the “stand your ground” law in Florida.  The actual instructions given to the jury, based on the laws of Florida state:

If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself .

It doesn’t matter, by law in Florida, whether he baited the Trayvon or not, whether Trayvon initiated the conflict or not, whether Trayvon was armed or not.  If the defendant felt threatened, he could use force, including deadly force, to protect himself.  That’s the law.

If our world is “Lex Rex” and Law (of the land) is King – then we should all shut up and go home in my opinion.  And God forbid that we should be surprised that this will happen again and again, as it’s happening right now, in the trial of a drunk man who fired into an SUV because he ‘feared for his life’ after confronting the occupants of the vehicle for playing “thug” music too loudly.  Voices are raised, new defendant in new case feels threatened; shots are fired; defendant goes home and orders a pizza, unaware that he’s killed a man.  If law is king, and the law says that you can kill someone if you feel threatened, here we go again.

If all you want is law to be king, then justice has been served. 

The problem though, is that LAW IS NEVER KING, not for Christ followers.   We belong to a different kingdom, with a different king.  We are people of Rex Lex, people who believe that the law which ultimately matters most is the law of THE King, whose Kingdom will have no end.  Believing that God has spoken, we are obliged to examine laws through the lens of our king, and ask whether particular laws serve their purpose of ending oppression, giving a voice to the voiceless, and caring for the marginalized.  Where laws build walls or further oppression, Christ followers are called to, at the least mourn that, if not actively work to change that.  Why should we care about this law?

Because this article points out that states with ‘stand your ground laws” demonstrate an incontrovertible race bias:   For murders with a white shooter and a black victim, 16.9 percent were ruled justified in “Stand Your Ground” states.  But if the shooter was black and the victim white?  Only 1.4 percent of the shootings are ruled justified.

This double standard helps us understand the outrage and sense of injustice regarding the ruling, or it should at least.  It’s not a matter of media frenzy, or liberal media bias.  It’s that the law itself provides a cocktail for further institutionalizing racism, as evidenced by how the law is used in this and other cases with white defendants. The case becomes just another incident in a long line of evidence, as seen here, and here, and here, and here, that racism, no matter what laws or on the books, still runs deep in our nation. How could it not?  As one author writes: Our sense of self is incredible. We believe ourselves to have inherited all of Jefferson’s love of freedom, but none of his affection for white supremacy.

If it runs deep enough, we won’t even know we have a problem.  It does.  And we do.

What should be done?

1. Pay attention to the cries for justice.   If you pay attention only to the facts of the case, and not the larger issues from which the laws, and the case, arise – you’re not listening carefully enough.  I’ve been challenged precisely at this point.  I was flying home Saturday, and media free Saturday night, save a moment to check on the score of my favorite baseball team.  As a result, I didn’t know about the verdict until Sunday morning, and even then, didn’t know enough about the source of the outrage to speak to the matter when my community gathered for worship, so chose silence, which was, to some, hurtful.  I apologize.  Only now am I seeing and empathizing and beginning to understand the “why” behind the outrage. When people are upset, it’s vital that we listen, and at the least, try to learn.

2. Confess national sin.  This, of course, has precedent, in Nehemiah, and we’d do well to learn from it.  We’ve not done well, as a nation, and when the people of God have confessed that, and prayed for change, for movement, good things have happened.  They can happen again.  We can make more progress, must make more progress, if the people of God take God’s justice seriously.

3. Seek first the kingdom.  This isn’t some sort of pious call on Jesus to hide in church and pray, and sing songs.  It’s a call to make God’s kingdom visible by pursuing justice and mercy, as I write here.   Obviously, I’m still learning what this means.

Someone has said, “You should not be troubled that George Zimmerman “got away” with the killing of Trayvon Martin, you should be troubled that you live in a country that ensures that Trayvon Martin will happen” again and again.”  Christ’s kingdom people have a responsibility, at the least, to ask what next step will help heal this deep fissure.  God help us.

 

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.


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