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To Act Justly

06.25.20 | by Dave Dietz

To Act Justly

    We are continuing to share thoughts and processing from members of our church body on the issues of race and justice. This week, Dave Dietz has shared some of his own processing, and encourages us to learn from history and center ourselves on scripture as we wade through these complex issues.

    Dear Crossroads family,
    My heart has been broken by the events of the past several weeks, from the senseless murder of George Floyd to the peaceful protests turned violent all across our country. George Floyd was a 46 year-old black man accused by a store employee of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. There is some disagreement on whether Mr. Floyd was cooperating with Minneapolis police when he was handcuffed. But there is no doubt that he was murdered. As he lay on the street, face down and handcuffed, a police officer knelt on his neck as he cried out “I can’t breathe.” The officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. It may not have been premeditated, but it was murder. And there were other police officers who just stood around and let this happen. Mr. Floyd may have been guilty of a crime, but he did not deserve to be killed for that crime. George Floyd left a six year-old daughter behind.

    This current season reminds me of Chicago in 1968—and of every major city in America at that time—in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: block after block after block of burned out buildings, businesses ruined, people left homeless. My Dad’s Army Reserve unit was activated to protect firefighters simply trying to do their jobs. 1968 was a bad year for all of America. In January 1968 the Tet (Chinese New Year) Offensive in Vietnam resulted in over 3,500 American soldiers killed and over 12,000 wounded. In April, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. In June of that year, US Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. And in August 1968, the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago, resulting in violent anti-war riots. I still remember the channel 7 news films of the fights between construction workers and the rioters.

    I wrote my major high school term paper on Martin Luther King Jr. and his role in the Civil Rights movement. As I researched his life, I grew to love the speeches of Dr. King, especially his "I Have a Dream" speech, given in 1963 on the steps of my favorite place in DC, the Lincoln Memorial. Here are just two portions of that speech:

    Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

    But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

    I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
    I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification,” one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

    This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
    This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

    And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

    And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

    You probably don’t know that part of that speech was impromptu. Dr. King had told people of “his dream” before, but it wasn’t planned to be a part of this address before a quarter of a million people. But black Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, called out to King to tell the people about the dream. The rest is history.

    Dr. King did not live long enough to see the freedom he spoke about in his speech. And, in a sense, the black man still does not have that freedom today. The murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer proves that. Dr. King believed in and practiced non-violent protest. That can be seen all through his life. But he also said once that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Dr. King also left a young daughter behind, Bernice King, now Dr. Bernice King.

    I got an email a few weeks ago from Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the late Rev. Billy Graham. The email was about Dr. Bernice King—who Anne has a personal friendship with—and her powerful testimony of healing and forgiveness, in the aftermath of her father's death. At the end of her email, Anne attached a link to a video of Dr. Bernice King, recently speaking about the rioting and violent protests going on across America. I've included it below:

    All is not lost. I have seen signs of hope. My nephew posted a few photos on Facebook showing black protesters in, I think it was Louisville, surrounding and protecting a single police officer who had gotten separated from the rest of his squad. In our own city of Grand Rapids, we had a peaceful protest several weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon that, by Saturday night, had turned violent. Many stores and restaurants had their windows smashed and everything inside was stolen. But, on Sunday morning, dozens of people came downtown to help with the cleanup. They brought their own brooms and their own trash cans and swept up all the broken glass. They even helped board up windows. I saw interviews with shop and restaurant owners who said that they didn’t even know the names of people who helped them. They didn’t do it for the thanks. They did it because it was the right thing to do. And recently, I saw that the other three Minneapolis police officers, who just stood around while George Floyd was murdered, were charged with “Aiding and Abetting a Murder.”

    I took the title of this post, "To Act Justly", from an Old Testament verse, Micah 6:8:
    He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

    Our God is a God of justice. That can be seen throughout the Scriptures:
    You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. – Exodus 23:6-7

    Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. – Leviticus 19:15

    Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you. – Deuteronomy 16:19-20

    Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of Your kingdom. – Psalm 45:6

    Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; love and faithfulness go before You. – Psalm 89:14

    Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. – Isaiah 30:18

    There are dozens and dozens more examples I could show. Justice will reign in the end, you can be assured of that. But while we live in this sinful, fallen world there will be injustice, there will be racism, there will be wrongs done to innocent people. I hate the sin of this world, I hate racism, I hate injustice. I can’t wait for all of this to be made right, and it will.

    Bobby is a friend of mine. The last time I saw him was maybe three years ago. He used to drive me to therapy and doctor appointments. When the company he worked for stopped driving outside clients, I had to switch to another company. Bobby is disabled, he has a bad hip. He walks with a definite limp. I’ll never forget the last time I saw him. He dropped me off at my suburban, middle class home while he would be going to his inner-city home. Did I forget to mention that Bobby is black? He is also a brother in Christ. We hugged, told each other we loved each other, and promised, when we get to Heaven, we are going to meet up and take a long walk all around Heaven. No wheelchairs, no walkers, no canes; both of us with new bodies. I can’t wait, Bobby! I love you, my friend!

    I love y’all!
    dave dietz