What Is Justice?
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8
The book of Micah is a rebuke against Israel before the Northern kingdom was captured by Assyria, between 740 – 686 BCE. God tells Micah to prophesy to Israel because “they devised wickedness and were scheming evil on their beds, and at daybreak they put their plan into action…” (Micah 2:1). While both Kingdoms were not worshiping their God appropriately, this indictment comes in the next verse:
“They covet fields and take them by violence,
Also houses, and seize them.
So they oppress a man and his house,
A man and his inheritance.”
– Micah 2:2
The St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint words it a little differently:
“They coveted fields and plundered orphans; they oppressed families and plundered a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.“
– Micah 2:2
Stolen property through violence, plundered orphans, oppressed families, and robbing a family of their inheritance seems to be on the mind of God. This is what Micah spends his time addressing. How often do we hear this message when we’re in church? The Hebrew Scriptures can feel distant and out of touch, but we have more in common than you might expect.
America was founded on Manifest Destiny, the idea that the land was given to British settlers by God and required the removal of the Native Americans. The wealth that was made in the early years of the colonies was a direct result of chattel slavery. Many of these slaves fought for freedom against the British. America was booming by the abuse of it’s ‘free labor’. As the nation grew, there was a growing number of people that wanted to abolish slavery. This led t0 the idea of “states rights” – the right to continue to enslave black people. In a nutshell, the fight was if the country should advance slavery west.
Once slavery was abolished, racism moved through Black Codes, Jim Crow, and hundreds of lynchings. During WWII, black and white soldiers fought but received vastly different compensation when returning from war through the practice of redlining and the inability to receive bank loans for homes and businesses. The Civil Rights Movement faced major resistance from both outwardly racists as well as those who did nothing. Throughout the following decades, black and brown people in America have struggled to obtain an equitable status in society.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people
but the silence over that by the good people.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
In A Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King laments his ‘White moderate’ counterparts. After years of working to bring civil rights to the Black population, he is thrown in jail in Birmingham. His reflection on where the movement has been, where it is now, and the ultimate goals, he sees the White Moderate as a stumbling block. For King (and for myself), the inaction of the White Moderate in America during the Civil Rights Movement is worse than those who were openly against the movement. Why would he say that?
Do Justice – It’s an Action
Justice is not an end but it is an action, a forever walk towards equality. It is the hard work of finding the poor, the needy, the disinherited in whatever society you are in and in whatever community you visit. The abolition of slavery was not justice, it was a step in the walk of justice. The end of segregation was not justice, but another step. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 was not justice, but yet another step towards equality.
The problem of equality is that equal access is not the same as equal equity. Let’s look at the wealth gap. White Americans, on average, are 6.5 times more wealthy than Black Americans. While this number is skewed by the upper 10% of wealth (White Americans are 5.2 times more wealthy in this bracket) the gap is real and we should wonder why. Native Americans have the highest poverty rate at 25.4% and have a median household income almost half of the national average. This systemic inequality cannot (and should not) be attributed to an inherent lack of ability or motivation.
One of the greatest ways a family accumulates wealth is through inheritance, and in most cases this inheritance includes property. How can a Black family pass along an inheritance when they were redlined into poor communities or their mere existence in a suburb would cause the property values to decline? This is the systemic inequality minority groups in America face generation after generation.
How do we do justice in America? How do we take the voice of Micah into the present day?
- Vote! The way we can make a change in America is to vote. We should vote in a way that helps the most people that are in the most need. Vote to help poor communities get better healthcare, housing, or education.
- Donate! There are several national charities like The Poor People’s Campaign or the ACLU that work towards equality. If you’d rather focus on your own community, donate time and/or money to a homeless shelter or domestic violence center. You probably have a desire to help a certain subset of people – go do it!
- Share! Using your social media platforms to raise awareness is a great way to help and give the disinherited a platform. Even if you don’t think it’ll help, your sharing a story or article may be the thing to energize a family member or friend to do the same.
Whatever you do, do something! Justice is not a destination but the act of walking. Find what motivates you and go for a walk!