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Justice that restores

In Christ, God modeled the kind of justice that heals

On a recent Saturday, I didn’t speak to my husband for a whole day. Something had happened that triggered memories from our first year of dating, fanning a dusty cloud of hurts and wounds that I had assumed were long ago swept away. But no, there they were, settled in the dark corners of my heart, and all it took was one forceful blow to blast them out into the open. 

My husband, David, and I had a very rocky start to our relationship. We said things, hurt each other, shed barrels of tears. But we pushed through together, and three years later, we got married. Everything seemed fine, except I had unconsciously carried into our marriage a secret sack full of dust from the past—not just from our dating relationship, but from all the way into my childhood and teenage years—shovelfuls and shovelfuls of trauma, insecurities, and semi-healed wounds that leak easily when poked. We could be so full of laughter and love one day, and the next day, something happens that reopens 15-year-old and 3-year-old wounds that bleed into each other and become one big, messy, sticky gash.  

That’s what happened that Saturday when I woke up with a wounded heart and sought to draw blood from my own husband. I was cold and withdrawn, answered his efforts to make me laugh with curt responses, sat next to him but let my mind roam in the past and thought of all the times David had failed or wronged me. The person I love and committed to love became my adversary. Having no advocate except myself, I sought to enact my own form of justice on him. 

The justice of a hurt, unhealed person can be mean and reactionary. In my mind, I was righting a wrong—justice. But the problem was that it was a very retributive form of justice, one that sought to hurt the other to soothe my own hurt. By pushing David away, I ultimately hoped to punish him, even if that wasn’t a fully conscious intention. As much as I thought punishing the other would satisfy me, it only hurt me more to see him hurt. All my “justice” accomplished was more pain and turmoil for both sides. 

Like many others, I’ve been thinking a lot about justice—what it is, how it looks, where it comes from, and whose justice it is. I’ve been studying the Bible and praying for a godly understanding of justice, and I saw that word everywhere in the Scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament. I don’t recall learning much about Biblical justice from the church while growing up. Any mention of “oppression” was almost always over-spiritualized, having little or no relevance to societal or systemic oppression. So it was eye-opening to recognize how deeply God cares about justice, to see Him not just as a personal God who saves and loves and comforts me individually, but as a God of justice and righteousness who cares passionately for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society, who desires His people to do justice. Justice originates from God, and only God is inherently, perfectly just. 

One term I’ve heard secular groups use a lot is “restorative justice”—a theory primarily used in criminology that emphasizes a cooperative process between both victim and perpetrator to repair harm done. But that’s actually a Biblical idea: The Bible refers more to restorative justice—one that makes room for recognition of wrongdoing, repentance, material restitution, and reconciliation—than retributive or punitive justice (Numbers 5:6-7, Leviticus 6:1-7, Ezekiel 33:11, Isaiah 53:5, Micah 7:18, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 19:8, 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, 10-11, Galatians 6:1). 

These comprehensive, holistic, beautiful principles of restorative justice culminate on the cross, where the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ made the restoration of our broken relationship with God possible. We became right with God and were made righteous due to His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. But it still came with a price: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ who willingly died for our sins. This mystery and power of the cross must become our model and framework of how we view, comprehend, and do justice in all sectors of our lives, from self to family to community to the world, from criminal justice to racial justice. Biblical justice doesn’t put one down for the sake of the other—it makes everyone, both wrongdoers and the wronged, whole. 

This is where we cross-bearing Christ-followers can lead the way to a fuller, richer, more satisfying model of Biblical justice. The entire narrative of the Bible points to God’s restorative justice at work in the world—restoring our relationship with Him and one another, directing us to see each other as image-bearers of God and to treat everyone with equality, fairness, and justice. We are tasked to create, restore, and sustain dignity in relationships with the same grace and love that God gave us.

But we don’t always do a good job at that. Today, we are seeing intense divisions and chaos in the United States not just because Marxism or critical race theory have indoctrinated minds, or simply because white supremacy has soaked into our institutions, but because we human beings—and I mean all human beings—have not followed the life-giving, wrong-fixing, reconciling justice that God displayed through Christ. Throughout history, we humans have taken advantage of people more vulnerable than us, or remained apathetic or oblivious to the injustice around us. Yet nobody is immune to committing injustice: We all share that sinful desire to be greater and better than others. One day the oppressed will cry out and in comes retributive justice: “You hurt me. I’ll make you hurt so you feel my hurt. I’ll make you pay.” 

That Saturday, as I performed my own twisted form of justice on my husband, I was miserable, and so was he. I was playing both victim and judge. The result was two victims standing before one mean and angry judge when what we both longed for was a perfect, loving, righteous judge. If we had been two strangers, our relationship would have been severed long before a relationship even existed (and that’s what’s happening in society right now). But as man and wife, bonded into a lifelong covenant under God, love and trust won. 

By that night, we were talking and listening to each other. In the midst of that conversation, my self-centered sense of justice shifted to a more cross-centered one: I was honest about what I felt, but my aim was to restore—not punish. It started from a place of love, then recognition of past wounds that weren’t adequately addressed, then transitioned into David asking, “What can I do to make things right?” and me acknowledging my own failures. And then we ended the night by saying, “I love you.” 

That’s just a small example of restorative justice practiced in real life, but what a reminder that what happened on the cross is not just something that happened more than 2,000 years ago. It was a world-shaking event that should continue to shake every person, every marriage, every church, every community to the ends of the earth.

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AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill at the Democratic National Convention Thursday (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Democrats and religion, Trump and QAnon

A political convention and a presidential press briefing leave more questions than answers

Democrats wrapped up their first virtual convention on Thursday night, after four days of mostly remote programming in the COVID-19 era. Republicans will follow a similar pattern next week.

Former Vice President Joe Biden accepted his party’s presidential nomination, promising to “overcome this season of darkness” in the country. Other speakers included Sen. Chris Coons, the Democrat who fills the Senate seat Biden once held in Delaware. Coons spoke of Biden’s faith, saying it “isn’t a prop or a political tool.” He said Biden, a Catholic, is “a man of prayer.”

Democrats addressed religion in their party’s platform as well, with an interesting twist: In the party’s draft platform, the section on civil rights omitted “religion” from the list of categories the party pledged to protect against discrimination. The final version of the platform that Democrats approved this week included the word “religion.” 

The final version also talked about the importance of religious freedom: The document said Democrats will advocate for religious freedom around the world, and “protect the rights of each American for the free exercise of his or her own religion.”

But in the next paragraph, Democrats added: “We will reject the Trump Administration’s use of broad religious exemptions to allow businesses, medical providers, social service agencies, and others to discriminate.”

The document didn’t offer more details, but it does raise the ongoing question of how Democrats would handle religious liberty and conscience protections for some religious Americans.

Trump and Q

On Wednesday, Facebook officials announced they had removed 790 groups connected to QAnon and were restricting thousands more pages related to the outrageous online conspiracy theory popular among some supporters of President Donald Trump. 

On the same day, when reporters asked President Trump his thoughts about QAnon, he said he didn’t know much about the movement, but that he understands “they like me very much, which I appreciate.”  

When a reporter pressed Trump and told him that QAnon followers believe the president is “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” Trump said he hadn’t heard that, but, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do that.” 

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told The Washington Post: “QAnon is nuts—and real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories.”

On Friday, when CNN reporter John Brennan pressed Vice President Mike Pence about QAnon, Pence said: “I dismiss conspiracy theories out of hand.” But the vice president also seemed to downplay QAnon, calling it “a shiny object” the media is chasing. 

My colleague, Emily Belz, recently wrote about QAnon, including how some Christians are gravitating to the growing movement, and how churches are unprepared to respond

Donor warning

A recent survey conducted by the Cato Institute and YouGov found a sizable chunk of younger voters think donating to certain political candidates is a fireable offense. Some 44 percent of respondents younger than 30 said business leaders who donate to Trump should be fired. Twenty-seven percent said the same thing about Biden.

Bipartisan glimmer

Lest we think political differences make working together impossible, here’s news from the criminal justice front: A coalition of Christian groups including Prison Fellowship, the AND Campaign, World Relief, and the American Bible Society are partnering on a criminal justice reform push called the Prayer and Action Justice Initiative.

One of the leaders backing the group: Samuel Rodriquez, the head of the National Hispanic Christian leadership conference. Rodriguez led a prayer at Trump’s inauguration ceremony. 

Another backer: Gabriel Salguero, head of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. Salguero spoke at this week’s Democratic National Convention.

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AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong shows his disqualification notice during a press conference in Hong Kong, Friday, July 31. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

For Hong Kong, democracy deferred

In the latest blow to independence, the government postpones legislative election for a year

Despite the summer heat, pandemic warnings, and government threats, more than 600,000 Hong Kongers headed to polling stations last month for the pro-democracy camp’s primaries. The unofficial poll selected the opposition candidates who would run in the Sept. 6 Legislative Council (LegCo) elections. Organizers cheered the unexpectedly large turnout, calling it a referendum on a new sweeping national security law.

But on July 31, the government quashed any hopes for change through elections when Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the LegCo election would be postponed for one year ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns. But most believe the real reason for the delay is political: A day earlier, authorities also barred a dozen opposition candidates from running for the LegCo, including activist Joshua Wong.

“Not wanting to lose another election, the pro-government forces have, in effect, canceled it,” wrote pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung in a New York Times op-ed. Cheung cited the opposition’s landslide victory in last November’s District Council election and the strong turnout in the July primaries, which would have ended favorably for the pro-democracy camp vying for a majority in the legislature. (The public elects 35 of the 70 seats, and special-interest groups—many of which are pro-Beijing—select the other 35.)

The move is the latest blow to freedom in Hong Kong since Beijing imposed a national security law on June 30, which vastly reduced the scope for dissent. Even chanting or displaying protest slogans violates the law that criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

Postponing this year’s election produces a “dangerous legislative void” and “gutting dilemma” for pro-democracy legislators, Cheung explained. Questions remain if the four lawmakers who were among the barred pro-democracy candidates would be allowed to continue serving during the interim legislature. Authorities claimed the 12 were disqualified for objecting to the national security law, lobbying foreign governments to sanction Hong Kong, and intending to use filibusters to achieve protest demands.         

Without those four, the pro-democracy camp would be down to 20, less than the one-third needed to secure veto power to block controversial bills. An example of one such bill: A pro-establishment leader proposed setting up polling stations in major cities in mainland China to let Hong Kongers there vote. This would unfairly favor pro-Beijing groups: Opposition parties would be unable to campaign or send promotional material into the mainland.

The Hong Kong government has also asked Beijing’s top legislative body to settle the legal questions stemming from the deferred election, which the Hong Kong Bar Association says “degrades the rule of law in Hong Kong.” In a statement, the group insisted the issues should be resolved with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. Moreover, Lam’s postponement of the election by invoking the emergency regulations may prove unlawful.   

“There is no valid reason for such a lengthy delay,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “It is likely, therefore, that Hong Kong will never again be able to vote—for anything or anyone.” The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Lam and 10 other top leaders on Aug. 7 for undermining the city’s autonomy. The move, which includes seizing their U.S. property and freezing their financial assets, is largely symbolic since Lam has said she does not have assets in the U.S. and doesn’t plan to move there.

The election suspension came amid a flurry of arrests under the new national security law: Police arrested Jimmy Lai, publisher of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, along with six others at the publication on Aug. 10 for allegedly colluding with foreign forces. In recent weeks, police also arrested four student members of a pro-independence group over online posts and issued arrest warrants for six overseas democracy activists, including American citizen Samuel Chu.

On Aug. 3, during a livestreamed prayer meeting put on by the Hong Kong Pastors Network, Pastor Paul Ma addressed the crackdowns spreading across the city. He reminded Christians they are “more than conquerors” in Christ and that Jesus loves Hong Kong.

In the broadcast, which has accumulated 11,000 views, Ma referenced Romans 8 to assure believers: “Who shall separate us from this love? Shall tribulation, or distress, or the national security law, or Cultural Revolution 2.0, or the cancellation of elections? Nothing will be able to separate us from this love. Nothing will be able to separate us from the love for Hong Kong. Nothing will be able to separate us from true love.”

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