The link between the Kingdom of God and justice
Father Sean Major-Campbell's message for International Human Rights Day delivered on Sunday, December 8 at Christ Church, Vineyard Town.
ON this second Sunday of Advent, we observe International Human Rights celebration, which is actually scheduled for December 10.
May we pause for a space, as we remember the exemplary life of the man, Nelson Mandela, who said, "To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity."
Advent is a time when the church calls into sharp focus the matter of the Kingdom of God. It does this by using lessons and imagery which are apocalyptic in nature. In other words, dramatic language is used to grab the attention of the reader or hearer.
In times of persecution, apocalyptic thought was often used to speak to the forces of oppression, while giving encouragement to those who found it difficult to keep hope alive.
The term 'Kingdom of God' is a theological one which means 'the reign of God'. It is very timely that we speak to the matter of human rights, especially since the celebration of advent and the lessons of advent are inseparable from the matter of justice.
As many are aware, the lections or readings for the service are set, and as such I am able to tell you what the lessons would be for any Sunday 10 years from now or beyond. The lessons for today were not chosen by me. They are the lessons you would hear today in the Anglican or Episcopal Church anywhere in the world, and anywhere the common lectionary is used.
Our text for today's reflection is set in Psalm 72:1-2 — "Give the king your justice, O God; and your righteousness to a King's Son. That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice."
In homiletics, which is concerned with the art of preaching, students are taught to use a process known as exegesis, where the original intent and meaning of the text is sought. The exegesis is about taking from the text what it is actually saying. The student then moves on to exploring a hermeneutic or interpretation of the text for the time, place, and people who are now hearing the word.
In the context of Israel, Psalm 72 was integral to any enthronement ceremony of a king. Such an enthronement ceremony would be somewhat akin to our swearing-in of the prime minister and the Cabinet. It was an occasion when the people of faith would acknowledge that the reign of the king is for the righteousness, peace, and justice of the people. If the people were not being served in this regard, then the king was of no use!
We do not live in Israel. We live in Jamaica. It therefore behoves us to note that we neither have a king nor a queen. Our easy task is to identify the Hebrew equivalent of king in Jamaica. So who is king in Jamaica?
'King' represents anyone who has been appointed with the sacred charge of governance and leadership in the political affairs of any realm, dominion, or country. In Jamaica, our prime minister, leader of the opposition, and all members of parliament would constitute the political leadership of our land.
In any context where people often talk about God, it is common for political leaders to affirm the notion of divine will and purpose in their intended political leadership. They often affirm their dependence on God.
On September 16, 2007, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding stated: "I ask God's blessings on our nation. I ask for His guidance on the Government that I will lead as we face the challenges of the future. I know that we can't even walk without Him holding our hands."
In his inaugural address (October 23, 2011), then Prime Minister Andrew Holness stated: "I pledge to give my best, and with faithful prayers and hard work, we will succeed. May God bless you and may God bless Jamaica."
In her inaugural address (January 5, 2012), Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller stated: "Together we shall rise, and together with the guiding hand of the Almighty, we will succeed."
Our text: "Give the king your justice, O God; and your righteousness to a king's son. That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice." Maybe a Jamaican Psalmist in 2013 would say, "Give queen Portia your justice, O God; and your righteousness to her son, Andrew; that they may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice."
God's will and purpose are always within a context of justice. God's kingdom is about the reign of justice. Today, there are persons in Jamaica who are hungry, do not know where their next meal is coming from, and probably have no recollection of the last one.
However, it is not the hunger pangs which hurt many poor Jamaicans as we sit in church today. It is the very strong sense of injustice. It is the sense that some persons have better access to justice than they do. It is the sense that there is no regard or respect for them, since they do not live within a particular residential zone.
Human rights are the bedrock of any modern democracy. That is why constitutions and charters guide governments to do what is in the interest of the common good. That is why human rights are a vehicle for justice without fear or favour. Human rights ensure that those with power and authority exercise justice for the voiceless and the powerless poor.
In Psalm 72, the psalmist prays that justice be given to the king and righteousness to the king's son who, as a matter of course, will one day become king.
Verses 12-14 tell us: "The king shall deliver the poor who cry out in distress; and the oppressed who have no helper. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence; and dear shall their blood be in his sight."
Since in Jamaica we determine who makes up our Parliament, to what extent should you and I take some responsibility for our Government's actions since Independence? And especially when we remain silent, is it sufficient for us the voters to just absolve ourselves of some of the blame? Every day our culture of silence plays out until one lonely voice cries out for justice, because today, the challenge reached their house.
Do not take my word for it. Tomorrow evening, turn to TVJ and CVM, and another silent voice will become vocal in a lonely way. Crying for justice. Thank God for the media, at least some lonely voice was given some audio, if even for a few seconds or minutes.
Can we see the link between the Kingdom of God and this thing called justice? Do we understand that every time we pray, "Thy Kingdom come" we are praying for the reign of God?
Has it reached home to us that too many of us as Christians are too preoccupied with such pettiness as people's clothes, or their food, or their so-called day of worship, or who understands a particular doctrine in a certain way, or who is married or not married, born in wedlock or out of wedlock? And the list cold go on.
Has it reached home to us that we are to be agents of justice, a major criterion for an experience of the Kingdom of God at work in Jamaica?
It is not fashionable to speak in the interest of human rights. You could offend particular sensibilities. Similarly, it is not fashionable to speak in the interest of good governance and speak against corruption. Silence is of premium value in Jamaica.
Silence must be golden if one will lose popularity simply by acknowledging that it was wrong to reappoint a government minister on the grounds of not being charged with a crime, even though his behaviour, when judged in the court of best practices anywhere, was unethical.
Silence must be golden, if one will lose popularity simply by acknowledging that it is a lack of integrity and credibility to have senators sign an undated resignation letter.
But all is not lost. When our Government wants to do progressive work, it can do a good job at it. Who remembers that it was the Government of Jamaica — and not the church — that decided that the dignity of every child is to be respected, and none had more dignity than the other dependent on the marital status of their parents? That is leadership!
Who remembers that it was the Government of Jamaica — and not the church — that decided that the dignity of common-law unions is to be respected, and persons in committed relationships of a period of five years are to be regarded similarly to legally recognised unions? That is leadership!
Jamaica is not a theocracy. It is a democracy, and as such, government by the people, for the people, must of necessity, actively promote the human rights of all persons, bar none!
The liturgical season of advent is never complete without a reminder of the voice crying in the wilderness. John the Baptist pleads for repentance. We need to repent as church of the fact that we have too often been agents of negative silence.
I think it is a shame that in a country like Jamaica we are more likely to hear the voice of civil society speaking up for human rights, while the church remains quiet until some issue such as horse racing or lotto comes to the fore. Will John the Baptist find company in the church or only in civil society when it comes to speaking out?
I am going to send in an application to become a member of some political party in Jamaica. This is a politician's paradise if it is alright to do as one pleases! True, the economic challenges abound, but otherwise, everything is everything, and it is no big deal about what would not be tolerated in first world democracies. In Jamaica, our new motto seems to be, "A nuh nutten!"
Advent is also a time when we often repeat the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise. I would also call it a song of justice, for Mary speaking for her weakened and oppressed people, who live under the power of colonial rule, shouts to God, "You have shown strength with your arm; and scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things; and the rich you have sent away empty..."
It is not coincidental that it is the weak, poor, and powerless who are more likely to have some regard for liberation from injustice, and the affirmation of human rights. The more comfortable you are, the more you may be tempted to ignore Mary's song of justice.
The more comfortable you are, the more you may be tempted to ignore these human rights people who talk pure foolishness. The more comfortable you are, the more you may be tempted to hiss your teeth, close your ears, and turn a blind eye to cries for justice.
No wonder the Prophet Amos, in his day, found it necessary to remind the worshippers: "I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." (Amos 5:21-24)
This week Tuesday, groups such as Caribbean DAWN and Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, are holding a stand in observance of International Human Rights Day at Emancipation Park. Participants will simply wear a colour of their choice and support a cause of their choice, or simply come out in support of human rights. I wonder how many church members you think we would see out there?
Who will be the John Baptists of Jamaica, or will we leave it to the civil society groups to usher in this Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and love? How many Christians have you heard calling out for any kind of help for these young men who have taken refuge in the gully? Sure, some of them will turn to crime, and the law must deal with that, but do they have any humanity on which we share common ground?
Tell me, why is it necessary for us to be told in the media that some alleged criminals are homosexuals? And does it matter that some women who were beaten are commercial sex workers? Is it okay for heterosexuals to seek fair treatment and call on the media to also acknowledge their sexual orientation and identity when they have a run-in with the law?
Aren't heterosexuals important too? In other words, with a more consistent approach, the news would read, "Last night three heterosexual persons were taken into custody for questioning."
Have we as a society become desensitised to the plight of the homeless on our streets? Does it matter that so many children are struggling to exist when they should be in school? Does it matter when you hear the screams of a child in your neighbourhood — screams which occur from time to time? However, you remain silent. Does it matter to you, when you realise that children are being sexually abused?
My sisters and brothers, fellow Jamaicans, leaders in church and State, hear again the words of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie: "Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph."
In what is known as World Scripture — A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, the timely observation is made: "The chief of any government should be the welfare of its citizens. Therefore the ruler, and hence the government, should be a servant to the people, putting their concerns and needs ahead of his own. He is called the Father and Mother of the People in the Chinese tradition and a Shepherd in the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions — titles which express that the ruler should give the people his highest consideration.
"He should, whenever possible, lighten the people's burdens and abide by the will of the majority. He should give special governance to the poor and destitute and provide them sufficient means of support. Such a government will be respected by the people, who then will easily submit to its rule."
The church in Jamaica — the entire body of persons who would describe themselves as Christians — would do well to hear the advice of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, "Christians shouldn't be just pulling people out of the river, we should be going upstream to find out who's pushing them in."
And so, even as we commemorate that great servant of humanity — Nelson Mandela — let us move beyond words. We would have liked to confer on him the Order of Jamaica. We did not; but let us confer on Jamaica the work of justice and the preservation of human rights.
Nelson Mandela, though a man of great words, was, in this life, a man of even greater and nobler deeds of peace, forgiveness, truth, and advocacy for the good of all.
To live and practise human rights, we must identify and treat those areas where people are wronged and the travesty of justice is allowed with impunity. Yes, we too pray that God would give justice to our leaders, and righteousness to the successors. Yes indeed... we pray that justice, truth, be ours forever, Jamaica, land and people we love. Amen.