Tag Archives: justice

We Zombify Those We Want to Hate

“As Christians, we can’t preach about the cross as a life-giving moment, while continuing to participate in the same dehumanizing, degrading, and justifying of violence that allowed Rome to nail our Savior to the cross.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore crimes when they occur or cease to hold people accountable for their actions. But as Christians, regardless of the circumstances, we are to love both neighbor and enemy alike, not strip them of their humanity and justify their oppression whenever we see fit.”

– See more at: http://theamericanjesus.net/2014/12/10/thugs-illegals-king-jews/#.dpuf

Christians must deal justly with abuse

I don’t like the narrative that demands we live our lives in fear.  Our 24/7 news cycle promotes a creeping terror that turns parenting into jail keeping and long nights of anxious terror about the “unknown unknown” about to destroy our families.

But churches can be very resistant to implementing the kinds of “best practices” for child care which businesses in general have adopted (either because they’re “good sense” or maybe to avoid lawsuits).  Yet the continuing stream of ugly stories of abuse happening amidst Christians demands that we change.

We don’t need suspicion or blind faith; we need sensible policies and structures in place.

Boz Tchividjian wrote a great post this weekend which puts in front of our faces the reality: Church is a great place to hide abuse.  (Boz is the head of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, abbreviated G.R.A.C.E., a consulting nonprofit that assists ministries and churches in auditing their policies and practice.

Sex offenders, faith communities, and four common exploitations | Rhymes with Religion.

Take time to read his post….. I’ll wait.

In addition to developing sensible safeguards for those who work with children in churches and Christian schools, church leaders also need to move investigations of child abuse and family neglect into the realm of the God-designated authority for issues of justice:  the government.

Stop hyperventilating, conservatives.

It’s hard to cut through the “government is evil” rhetoric that swamps our political discourse these days, but it’s the Church’s job to declare what  Scripture actually SAYS.  And God designated governmental authority to handle justice, punishment, and the law.

(Clarification: I’m not saying “check your judgment at the door”; I’m not saying the government should take over vital services like caring for victims; I think there’s a lot of value in the nonprofit / private sector running ministries like Calvary Home for Children.  So don’t assume what I’m not saying.)

Government is no more or less evil than the people who comprise it, despite the current political rhetoric that demands a small government in the name of God Almighty. *coughs*

God’s commands to government officials cover a constellation of human needs.  From punishing murderers/criminals or waging war to standing up for the oppressed and poor and marginalized, the government stands responsible before the Lord to handle questions related to justice.

As evangelical Christianity has become all the more aligned with the conservative political spectrum, the “government is evil!” narrative has tainted our theology.

So when someone whispers that “Susie” claims “Pastor D—-” acted inappropriately, our church organizations turn inward, circling wagons to protect reputation and PR and brand rather than pulling these questions into the God-approved light of legal investigation.

The word “investigation” makes us nervous. We don’t trust our governmental officials because
1) politicians are creepy and self-serving and slick and feel like used-car salesmen;
2) our political process rewards attack ads and sound bites, not thoughtful discourse;
3) sometimes our laws are just absolutely stupid because laws, by nature, must deal with lowest-common-denominator behavior;
4) America isn’t really that corrupt, all things considered, but the “good ol’ boys” network and back room dealing and ALL THE MONEY that now controls the political sphere sure feels corrupt to most of us;
5) we all know cases where the legal system failed, where a victim wasn’t given justice or where an innocent person was found guilty.

I get that.

But it is the very nature of legal investigation (done rightly) to protect victims and also to protect innocent people from having their reputations destroyed due to  “he said-she said” accusations, for just as many people of power abuse that power to victimize others, accusers sometimes betray justice by lying to destroy someone.

Neither the victim nor the accused benefit when the due process of law is replaced by back room deals, sweeping things under the carpet, or trying to handle an accusation “in house.”

The very nature of abuse is insidious because in many cases, abuse is tied to the wrongful exercise of “power.”  And, as Boz discussed in his  post, our Christian assemblies often deliver power structures and ready authority to any person interested in taking advantage of children or the weak.

So, as Christians, we  need to

  • get involved in politics to the extent that we can stand it 🙂 — because we need people voting in not-corrupt politicians and judges with good bench records
  • contact our local legislators on the state and national levels to ask for better laws to protect victims and more support for victim support agencies
  • implement clear, common-sense policies in our church children’s ministries, Christian schools, and parachurch organizations to protect children from abusers, run all personnel through background checks, clarify who can be where with kids, and mandate reporting charges of abuse to legal authorities
  • ask our denominational authorities to pass resolutions asking congregations to develop better policies, and provide leadership on this issue

Again, there are many ways to misunderstand what I’m saying, so feel free to ask questions in comments rather than just assuming you know what I mean.

And really,  do read Boz’s post.

Take action: South Carolina’s prison abuse

A couple days ago I mentioned this article published in The Atlantic covering the APPALLING treatment of mentally ill patients by the South Carolina prison system.  I’m not talking about making people uncomfortable or refusing to coddle criminals. This is criminally inhumane and I’m pretty angry.

The judge’s statement about the case (in his decision) emphasizes the fact that South Carolina legislators and government officials KNEW about the inhumane treatment of the mentally ill prisoners and did nothing.

I encourage you to read the article (really, why haven’t you?) and then do something about it.

I have emailed the following to my reps.  Plagiarize if you want — I don’t care. Just DO something.

Dear Legislator,
This weekend I was stunned and sickened to read The Atlantic’s article about the horrifying treatment of mentally ill prisoners in South Carolina’s correctional system: “Where Good People Do Nothing.”

The author of the article linked to Judge Baxley’s ruling in full, highlighting the judge’s disappointment that South Carolina continues to fight against a clear judgment of guilt against the State.

For years now — and repeatedly through reports and recommendations received in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2010 — committees and regulators have warned the SC legislature that our prison system leaves mentally ill patients in deplorable surroundings, sometimes subjecting them to excessive solitary confinement or physical restraint, all accompanied by poor medical care, a lack of standard treatment, and an ineffective and pathetic record-keeping system.

Legislator, we are responsible for the lives of the humans under our collective care.  To neglect and abuse the mentally ill — and then LIE about knowing it was happening — is a massive ethical and moral failure that demands swift justice.

But instead of humbly accepting Judge Baxley’s ruling and “repenting in dust and ashes,” the state of South Carolina has chosen to appeal the ruling,  thus entangling any meaningful reforms for months or years.

How can this be anything except hard-headed and wrong?

Please, for the love of all that is righteous, would you use your power and influence as a lawmaker in our state to
1. demand that South Carolina stop denying our culpability in this case, drop the appeal, and begin to reform the treatment of the mentally ill in our prisons;
2. restore funding in general for the social services which have been eviscerated during the past decade or so in South Carolina politics.

We have cut beyond the bone in the past several years. The patient is mortally wounded.  Our state lacks funding for even basic public health and safety initiatives.  Our prisons are overcrowded and (as it seems) hellholes of abuse.  Our public schools have seen nearly all funding for the arts evaporate in the midst of a miserable pursuit to let standardized testing teach our kids (instead of paying teachers well and giving them the freedom to teach).  Our mental health services have essentially vanished.  Probation and parole offices have operated under hiring freezes for many years now.  Generational poverty grips most rural areas of the state.

South Carolina needs to repent of its sacrifice of the weak and needy (even when those in need have broken the law) and force a change in our political values.  For such a “pro-life” state, we sure don’t seem to give much care for the living.

Sincerely,
[Me}

When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons – Andrew Cohen – The Atlantic

Disgusting.  Appalling.  Excruciating.

Please take time to read the article and then do something about it. If you live in South Carolina, talk to your legislators. If you don’t, call someone here anyway.  This must stop.

Willful abuse of the mentally ill, even if they have been convicted of a crime, is inhumane and despicable.   And I’m not surprised that it’s happening here, a state that values its social services so little I’m amazed we even have infrastructure left.

On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state\’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the \”most troubling\” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It\’s heartbreaking.

The evidence is now sadly familiar to anyone who follows these cases: South Carolina today mistreats these ill people without any evident traces of remorse.  Even though there are few disputed material issues of law or fact in the case, even though the judge implored the state to take responsibility for its conduct, South Carolina declared before the sun had set Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling—and thus likely doom the inmates to years more abuse and neglect. That\’s not just \”deliberate indifference,\” the applicable legal standard in these prison abuse cases. That is immoral.

But what makes this ruling different from all the rest—and why it deserves to become a topic of national conversation—is the emphasis Judge Baxley placed upon the failure of the good people of South Carolina to remedy what they have known was terribly wrong since at least 2000. Where was the state\’s medical community while the reports piled up chronicling the mistreatment of these prisoners? Where was the state\’s legal community as government lawyers walked into court year after year with frivolous defenses for prison policies? Where were the religious leaders, the ones who preach peace and goodwill?

via When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons – Andrew Cohen – The Atlantic.

Zero Dark Thirty : Hamlet :: Revenge : __?__

Zero Dark Thirty has garnered nearly everyone’s attention this winter. Kathryn Bigelow directed the film, her second outstanding film that takes a look at war (or situations related to war). Her first, The Hurt Locker, ranks on my list of best films ever. The Oscar committee stunned everyone by giving her Best Director, snubbing Avatar (directed by her ex-husband James Cameron).

But having a woman director isn’t the controversial point of the film. ZDT tells the story of the hunt and eventual killing of Osama bin Ladin. Everything about this film hit the stride: pacing, scene-writing, overall story arc, sound design, visual storytelling, emotional hooks, rising action and climax and resolution. I highly recommend seeing the film, and not just because “it’s a famous story” or “you should really go see it to know what happened.”  It’s a great film, and a strong contender for Best Picture.

The debate has raged over whether the film portrays the facts accurately, or whether millions of people will see the film and walk away thinking torture is a great tactic because it gets results.

The Economist magazine presented my favorite counterpoint to that pragmatic line of thinking: There are two problems (at least with torture) in the name of good: 1) there’s no way to know if the suspect is giving accurate information; and 2) as the leader of world democracy, we lose too much credibility when we bloody our hands. It’s a great article and I recommend taking a few minutes to read it.

 

Anyway —

As I sat in the theater and watched a fictional woman (the combined force of all the actual CIA agents who did the footwork to find bin Ladin) devote every inch of her being to having bin Ladin killed, as I saw through the green-tinged night vision goggles of Seal Team Six the moment when the men put a bullet in one of the wives and then tried to shush the screaming children … I found my meta-brain churning away about the idea of revenge.

The Seal officer was trying to soothe the screaming kid. “It’s ok! It’s ok!” He pulls a lightstick out of his pocket, snaps it to bring up an orange glow, and waves it in front of her. “See? Cool, huh? It’s ok. We aren’t going to hurt you. ….Who’s this man over here? what’s his name?” (They were trying to get a positive ID on the body of the man shot on the 3rd floor, which turned out to be bin Ladin.)

But it wasn’t ok.  Flip the tables, walk in their shoes, and those kids had just watched armed intruders shoot down their father (or uncle or whatever) in cold blood.  Were the men in the house guilty? Absolutely.

Then why does revenge feel so empty?

My mind traveled over to Hamlet. (Any discussion that ends up in Hamlet is an extra-good discussion to me.)  Among the many themes woven into that incredible work is an intense study of the fine shades of difference between lawful passion and consuming revenge; between justice and vengeance.  At the end of Hamlet for the audience, despite knowing that Claudius has finally got what was coming to him, the pile of dead bodies on the floor robs the audience of a true satisfaction.

I fount Zero Dark Thirty stirred the same emotions for me.  I thought back to the day bin Ladin was killed, and a roomful of curious but troubled seventh graders asking me whether we should be happy that the arch-terrorist had been killed.  Yes, I believe that justice is a godly virtue. The psalmist prays for God to shatter the teeth of the wicked and break the arms of people who abuse the poor.

Over 3,000 coalition military personnel have died in Operation Enduring Freedom, the optimistic moniker given by the US/UN to the mission to break the Taliban, kill bin Ladin, decapitate al-Qaida, and restore America’s security in the world. That’s a lot of dead bodies piled around on the stage as we get ready to let the curtain drop. And we’re still coming to grips with our own civil rights abuses that can’t be swept easily under a cry of “Tu quoque!”

Perhaps if humans could be truly righteous, someone would figure out how to engage in military combat without the mess. I don’t know.

But ten years after we invaded Afghanistan, the victory seems hollow. “We’ll show them!” served as enough of a rallying cry in the wake of 2011 (by the way, Bigelow does an amazing job of evoking all those 9/11 emotions for her film with just audio recordings of that harrowing day). Tobe Keith reminded us all that if you mess with America, “we’ll put a boot in your ass — it’s the American way.”

 

Is the only biblical avenue given to fallen humans in a wrecked world the hollow tang of revenge-justice?

Review: The Debt (2011)

debt_movie posterRarely can I say a film manages to be satisfying and UNsatiafying at the same time…..but The Debt succeeds at this paradox. It also serves up an excellent example of 20th century Jewish literature meanwhile.

The story revolves around a set of 3 Mossad agents in two different times, 1966 and 1997. The 1997 frame tale takes all its motivation from the events in 1966, so the movie spends quite a while in the flashback. Both stories are superbly acted. The trailer revealed the 3 agents had traveled to Berlin to capture a notorious Nazi doctor, the “Butcher of Bierkenau.” Things didn’t go as planned; the trio lied to cover up the truth.

(SPOILER: the 2 men and 1 woman find the Nazi doctor and kidnap him, but they miss their pickup with the other agents through their own misfortune. The men could have made the drop if they’d abandoned the woman, but the more tender-hearted of the two men-David- had a soft spot for Rachel and refused to abandon her. the Nazi eventually escaped, but the 3 agreed to create a tale in which the injured Rachel manages to shoot the guy as he tried to escape. Afterwards, having returned to Israel and a hero’s welcome, Rachel hooks up with Stephan because David can’t live with his conscience well enough to stay in her life.)

The plot hangs on the psychological and relational effects of a lie maintained for 30 years. Having absorbed all the glory of success for most of a lifetime, letting the truth come out would devastate their reputations. Even Rachel’s daughter is at stake. An aspiring author, she just published a book about the incident.

This movie has incredible acting. Some of the best I’ve seen on screen. So believe me when I say I watched the entire film with intense interest.

(again, SPOILERS AHEAD). In the 1997 timeline, which climaxes the plot, Rachel finds the ancient Nazi stowed in a Ukrainian nursing home. Someone is threatening to publishe the truth, so she’s sent to find him and stop it. She can kill the old man right there or walk away and let her daughter be dragged down along with the whole mess. It’s a good ethical dilemma. After all, the IDEA of justice has carries them all for 30 years, not the reality. As far as the public is concerned, the man got his due. But the film begins to make a case for honesty. Ok.

This is where the ending left me with sawdust instead of resolution. I don’t want to spoil the ending …. Let me just say that we get neither justice nor forgiveness.

Like so much Jewish writing in the post-Holocaust world, the Mossad agents cannot see anything except Justice. Every character in the film is controlled by their personal sense of righteousness. Their consciences haunt them, but resolution escapes them. Either they kill the man, or they live under the crushing weight of moral failure. Somehow Justice rests on their shoulders alone.

It is this moral one-sightedness that makes the film a tragedy in the final analysis. I wasn’t hoping for forgiveness or a happy ending. But a world where crime merits only utter destruction (the alternative being moral compromise) makes for a dark film. I didn’t want the agents to forgive the Nazi. Let him burn. But the idea tha they *alone* had the power to meet out justice–and failed, so now must do a lifetime of penance …which culminates in a lie ….and then an attempt at honesty which will meanwhile destroy the innocent daughter…..? This is a brutal, cold world of Justice that I don’t want to live in.

Props to the actors for outstanding performances.
Props also to the screenwriter who created incredible moments of tension and psychological terror. The film is worth your time just for the craft.

Film Review: The Stoning of Soraya M.

soraya movie posterYou need to watch this movie.

You will hate it. You will writhe in your chair during the last 20 minutes. You won’t be able to get the images out of your mind.

In this case, that’s exactly what ought to happen, and you need to see it.

The Stoning of Soraiya M tells a modified version of a true story from the early post-Shah days in Iran in the 1980s. A French-Iranian journalist wrote the book that forms the basis of the film. The plot is simple: a bad, adulterous husband sets up his wife to be accused of adultery so that he can be rid of her in order to marry a 14 year old girl he’s already sleeping with. Cheery. If you’ve read the title, you know how this is going to end.

Finding out how the story went public pulls you through this dark tale of misogyny, oppression, religious hypocrisy, and ribald injustice. On the surface, some would see the film as anti-Islamic. I’d say it’s more of a piece about the way power-holders (in any culture) can abuse their authority to smash other people. The husband’s actions would be improper in any form of Islam. But the good-ol-boy network is alive and well in Iran just like anywhere else.

Rarely have I seen a story that literally turned my stomach. The rank injustice of it. The way the women were shackled with stupid laws. The abuse of those who are weak: it made me sick.

I’ll be honest: watching the stoning, I questioned how God could ever put such a horrific form of capital punishment in the Law. Coart reminded me that ancient law was often far less gracious, that stoning was a restricted form of punishment in the Mosaic law, and that public participatory execution is designed to keep people honest. (As Christ asked, are you arrogant enough to throw the first stone…unless it’s an overwhelming example of a crime?)

But I didn’t find those intellectual arguments very convincing against the ugliness of it all. I will be thinking on this point for some time. Perhaps I am a soft, Western modern, but I can’t really think of more than one or two crimes that would merit such horrific physical abuse in the name of Justice. Stoning makes the electric chair look like a hug from your grandma.

I recommend this difficult yet well-told film for these reasons:

1). Islam is foreign to many Americans. 
While I do need to caution folks not to take the story to be a representation of Islamic theology, it IS an accurate portrayal of how hyper-conservative Islam beats up on people (male and female). If you want to understand what the people of Iran or Saudi Arabia have been subjected to for the past several decades, this will do.

2). We tend to forget what injustice looks like.
Not that America doesn’t have a lot of it’s own injustice to deal with (don’t get me started on Alabama’s ugly anti-immigrant law or the way current local, state, and federal budget cuts affect primarily the poor), but our idea of injustice is shaped within a relatively just legal code. A woman in Soraya’s position if she lived here would have had some shred of hope.

3). Domestic abuse is a vile crime.
We don’t talk about it. People don’t want to hear about criminal domestic violence. But SC is 3rd in the nation for CDV. I hope a thoughtful watcher of this film would move from self-righteous condemnation of the village leaders to an appalled realization that SC “villages” don’t do a very good job of protecting their women from abusive jerks either.

While you’re at it, go make a donation to Safe Harbor here in town. Because very few people are willing to hear that we need abuse shelters in our city in 2011.

4). Biblical gender roles must not be used to justify oppression.
Sometimes the whole patriarchy movement in evangelicalism really worries me. We need to stop reacting to our culture and its perceived excesses and start teaching about relationships that are shaped by love and respect. Apart from the stoning, the women’s roles portrayed in this film match what I have read in some Internet posts by Christians in the patriarchy movement.

5). Remember that God Himself says He will avenge those who abuse, hurt, or oppress those without a voice. 
I read the Psalms to my homeroom kiddos every day. Usually the language shocks them. When David says to God, “Break the teeth of those who oppress the poor, the widows, the orphans,” my students shuffle uncomfortably in their chairs. This isn’t a typical Sunday School emphasis. Perhaps we need to dust off the truth that God gets really, really angry with people who think they can smash the powerless or poor, regardless of the reason.

6). Realize the religious hypocrisy exists in every religion.
The abusive form of religion that drives the events in the film isn’t true to Islam. Similarly, there’s a lot of abuse done in the name of Christ. In neither case is it fair to judge an entire religion based on the actions of its extremists.

So I commend to you The Stoning of Soraya M.

The violent end is very graphic. This isn’t a movie for children.