But I didn’t do anything! | Thinking about Justice, Part 2

Last time we looked at the concept of value or worth, and how justice involves attributing to persons the proper value; injustice occurs when people are considered as “marked down” or cut-rate. This seems to have some pretty obvious applications to how we treat “the other” (i.e., people who are “not ‘us,’”) but I’ll leave that to y’all to work out.

boris and natashaToday I want to think a bit about a second word: complicity. We typically think of something criminal when we use that word. I’m complicit in a crime if I know it’s happening, I have the ability to report the crime, but fail to do so. As such, I effectively allow criminals to carry out a crime despite possibly being able to stop them, either directly or by contacting the authorities. To do this makes me a de-facto accessory to the crime rather than an innocent bystander.

So, complicity isn’t always something active. Often, complicity takes the form of inactivity, passivity, silence. It can SEEM like, if I’m not DOING or SAYING anything, then I can’t be doing or saying anything wrong. That’s just not so.

ropeThe Latin roots of complicity are illustrative. Complicit means to “be folded together with” evil, with those who are the destroyers. Think of a thread in a fabric, or a strand in a rope. Where it goes, you go. What it does, you are doing. That’s legal complicity. What does it mean to be complicit in the spiritual sense?

mcgregor path bunniesAs Satan goes about claiming bodies and souls to which he has no right and tossing them into his sack, where are we? Are we challenging his bold claim against the Bestower of divine image and likeness? Are we defending the honor of Christ? Are we opposing truth with error? We could do so.

Or we could choose to “not get involved.” If we can avoid recognizing any personal “direct connection,” then perhaps we can conclude that it is “not our problem.”

Consider the impact of the Old Testament’s shortest book… Obadiah prophesied against the Edomites. They were (or at least saw themselves as) mere bystanders as the Israelites were being carried away… they weren’t themselves the actual perpetrators. They apparently took the attitude, “Hey, WE didn’t do anything!” However… consider how God judged the Edomites for their complicity:

Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.  … your deeds will return upon your own head.” (Obadiah 11, 15)

The Flight of the Prisoners by James Tissot

Emphasis makes all the difference: Where they defended themselves saying, “Hey, we didn’t do anything!”, God accuses them: “Hey! You didn’t DO anything!”

Proverbs warns us: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Prov. 24:11-12)

This indicates that knowledge of evil around us can affect our relationship to God. If knowledge brings responsibility, should we seek more knowledge about those being “led away,” or avoid it? Does that affect how we as Christ-followers respond to the daily news?

In light of the burden of this verse, I just don’t think we can get away any longer with saying I didn’t know that buying a $2 T-shirt fostered slavery.” Our world of globalized consumerism makes this an unavoidable issue.

Isaiah, in chapter 58 challenges us about those whose wages we have held back. Is there anyone reading this who thinks they oppress no one? Are you wearing a shirt or a blouse? Did you grow the cotton out of which it’s made? You see where I’m going…

I’m not trying to make anyone feel “guilty”! (Although, any call to honor a legitimate obligation is often met with the “objection” that “they’re just trying to make us feel guilty!”) Is a “call to worship” a guilt trip? “Come to worship, how can you NOT worship God after all He’s done for you…

Actually, this whole deal is about worship, about responding to God’s initiative and revelation in faith and submission, trusting and obeying, so that the rhythm will continue…

rope2To me, complicity compares interestingly to integrity: again, think of a rope… “Structural integrity”: means that something is intact within itself, uncompromised. I believe the Gospel, is such an integrated unity. Thus, more than just seeing our walk with Christ as a solitary stroll through “the garden,” the integrity of the Gospel through which we have been saved places us in dynamic relationship to the triune God and His body, making us complicit with Him as we follow Him into the world.

This post is the second in a series about justice. It begins here and continues here.

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