By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Social justice requires laws based on the moral principle of altruism. The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions, is a moral imperative based on altruism. It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and has been accepted by Muslims as a common word of their faith.
In ancient times, holy laws provided the standards of legitimacy. Jesus was a Jew who questioned Mosaic Law as a standard of righteousness. He taught the primacy of love over law and angered the teachers of the law when he violated the law by picking grain and healing on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6), and when he challenged Jewish dietary laws. (Mark 7:14-23)
Christianity has traditionally provided the altruistic moral standards needed for social justice in America, but those moral standards are in disarray. The church has allowed the moral teachings of Jesus to be superseded by distorted concepts of family values and a materialistic prosperity gospel. The result is a moral vacuum that threatens social justice in America.
America was founded on a secular rule of law grounded in the Constitution; but in the 1960s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. set a precedent for putting love over law when he violated immoral Jim Crow separate but equal laws to promote social justice. He was jailed for his civil disobedience, but his efforts produced a victory for social justice in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
A reform of immigration law and policies is a priority of social justice in America today. A flood of immigrants from Latin America and the failure of Congress to make the needed reforms have created a humanitarian crisis. It’s rooted in the racism of white “Christians” who either promote Trump’s xenophobic politics or ignore them by separating their religion from politics.
President Trump, like the unprincipled segregationists of the last century, has promoted his power by exploiting nativist hatred for immigrants; and his Republican Party seeks to create a federal judiciary sympathetic to their racist political agenda. But neither the president nor the courts can make or reform America’s laws. That’s the exclusive prerogative of Congress.
To restore its relevance and credibility, the church must promote immigration reform, much as it did civil rights. Shouts of “send them back” at a recent Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina may have awakened many to the evils of Trump’s racism. Maybe they will finally assume the moral stewardship of democracy and promote social justice as an obligation of faith.
Pastors who have been quiet on political issues must speak out on the moral obligation of Christians to promote the humanitarian treatment of immigrants as a matter of social justice, just as pastors supported civil rights in the 1960s. The church must affirm the diversity in our democracy by insisting on the humanitarian treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.
Jesus disobeyed the religious laws of his day to demonstrate that God’s will was to promote the common good and social justice--even on the Sabbath. A polarized Congress has failed to pass the laws needed for social justice in America. Unless and until the partisan gridlock in Congress ends, the laws needed for social justice in America will have to be provided by the states; and without an effective Congress, American democracy will fail.
This commentary relates to Lessons #4 and #5, Love over law, at pp 31-38 in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy. It is an interfaith study guide posted in Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/p/resources.html that compares the moral teachings of Jesus with provisions of Mosaic Law that were in effect during the timeof Jesus (see Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6; and 7:14-23).
During the Trump rally in Greenville, N.C. on July 17 the crowd chanted “Send them back” (referring to 4 Democratic representatives who had earlier criticized Trump). Trump relished the cheering with a smug demeanor (he would later say that he tried to stop the chanting, but he did not). Apparently publicity of the chanting awakened some pastors and congregants to the evils of Trump’s racism. They later told reporters that they had misgivings about Trump promoting such an outpouring of racist sentiment. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/during-americas-most-segregated-hour-preachers-grapple-with-trumps-politics/2019/07/21/4c0e1e74-abb8-11e9-bc5c-e73b603e7f38_story.html?utm_term=.e057dc2666f6&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
E. J. Dionne, Jr. has reported that some Christians and Jews are now relating their faith to their politics by demonstrating in favor of reforming immigration law and policies. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-a-difficult-time-for-religion-but-these-two-groups-restored-my-faith-in-faith-this-week/2019/07/21/7a14fd7e-aa6e-11e9-9214-246e594de5d5_story.html?utm_term=.4b19e548906d&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On the greatest commandment and love over law:
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(2/23/19): Musings on Loving Your Enemy, Including the Enemy Within
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?
On religion, race and politics:
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/07/reconciliation-in-race-and-religion.html
(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/16/16): The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(10/20/18): Lamentations of an Old White Male Maverick Methodist in a Tribal Culture
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America
(7/6/19): Musings on Democrats, Busing and Racism: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again
(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?