Grand Rapids Press

ETHICS & RELIGION TALK

Can we have both Justice and Peace?

FROM the rapidian, June 1, 2020.

ETHICS & RELIGION TALK

Rabbi David Krishef ethicsandreligiontalk@gmail.com

My tradition teaches, Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue!” My tradition also instructs me to be ohev shalom v’rodef shalom, “a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace.”

My tradition teaches, Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue!” Police officers who violate the boundaries of their training when using deadly force and cause injury or death should be prosecuted. Former police officers who act in the capacity of law enforcement should be treated as civilians if their “citizen’s arrest” goes wrong.

Being suspected of forgery is not a death penalty crime, and neither is resisting arrest. Being a suspect in a series of robberies is not a death penalty crime. The loud voice of “Justice, Justice, shall you pursue” demands that murder not be covered up. It should not take the public revelation of cellphone video evidence to press officials into a fair investigation of a potential crime.

My tradition also instructs me to be ohev shalom v’rodef shalom, “a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace.” Hinduism and Christianity must contains similar wisdom, having given us Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. The principle of pursuing justice can only happen within the boundaries of pursuing peace. The Reverend King’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence could only have stemmed from their dedication to the pursuit of peace.

There is no world in which breaking store windows, looting, and setting fire to dumpsters and cars advances the cause of justice. Rather than forcing law enforcement officials to confront systemic racism and unconscious bias in their officers, widespread public violence reinforces deeply held fears that every suspect is a potential murderer and should be treated as such.

My heart broke this past Saturday night as I watched live new coverage late into the night and saw rioters destroying our beautiful downtown businesses. I saw the dreams of small business owners, many already nearly broken by the COVID-19 pandemic, shattered.

I dream of Justice. I dream of Peace. This past week, I saw neither.

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“Since August of 2015, my congregation and I have publicly supported the Black Lives Matter Movement. We have held monthly vigils in downtown Grand Rapids at Rosa Park’s statue for the past 5 years. We have done so because at the core of our faith is the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We recognize that racism is an institutionalized pattern reaching far beyond any single incident or person. Racism is systemic and deeply embedded into our culture. The events of last week are exactly the reasons why we have taken this public stance.

“Several members of my congregation took part in the peaceful protest on Saturday evening, the shear number of people coming out and coming together for one common cause was inspiring. I applaud the Black women leaders of the peaceful protest and for the record number of people showing up to join them in solidarity.

“Many eyewitnesses present have stated that the protesters were peaceful and that another group came to create chaos and began damaging property. Justin Amash rightfully tweeted, ‘Let’s not conflate the protester in GR with the rioters in GR. These are different groups with different agendas – one righteous and one perverse.’ ”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“The news of George Floyd’s death, paradoxically, was both shocking to hear and sadly, all too familiar. The words of an old song come to mind: ‘When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?’ Learn that the law must be enforced lawfully? ‘The law is good, if a man use it lawfully,’ writes the apostle Paul (I Timothy 1:8). Paul refers to God’s law, but the same holds true for the laws of men and nations.

“Or learn that violence begets violence? In this case, the violence of one man has begotten violent rage in many others. Rage, anger heated seven times hotter, is blind, irrational, and destructive: ‘The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God’ (James 1:20). Sadly, the rage of rampaging protesters will only obscure the issues of justice at the heart of this tragic event. Such rage dishonors the memory of George Floyd, who by all accounts was a man of peace and goodwill.

“But the larger burden of responsibility lies with those who hold office and exercise power in our commonwealth, the ‘powers that be’ (Romans 13:1). It’s time for presidents and governors, legislators and jurists, and all their associates in government to read Psalm ​82 and heed God’s mandate: ‘Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.’ ”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“The past couple of weeks have seen me in deep contemplation on our society and its very serious problems with law enforcement and racism. It beyond devastating what we have lived with for all these years. And one keeps thinking and hoping things will get better. But every instance we see or read about indicates that we still have such a long way to go.

“Part, but not all, of the reason for this bigotry is that there seems to be a silent permission that has been given by those in very high elected offices. This is nothing that could be proved in a court of law, of course. But those who have a predilection for a racist mindset have no problem identifying it.

“But the riot that grew out of a peaceful protest on Saturday night just devastated me. Much has to be sorted out before we will know exactly who is responsible for the destruction downtown.  Sadly, this will put the movement back a few paces. If ever there was a time for people to study the tactics of Gandhi and King it is now. Immediately. It is the only way change will come.”

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“I wish I could credit who first said the following: ‘If we seek to find justice, we never will. If we seek to find love, we’ll find justice.’

“The Way of the Cross is sacrificial love for the other. This means first of all understanding another’s experience, especially when it’s VERY different from your own. Then it takes making the sacrifice of doing long, hard and complicated work to both continue to grow in understanding as well as the trust to hear solutions that at first glance seem stupid or irrelevant. When we’ve grown enough in trust of the other, we offer each other our best, which is not easy and superficial agreement.”