KEY TEXTS //
“The same law shall apply to him that is a native and to the stranger who sojourns among you” [Ex. 12:49, MEV].
“You shall do no unrighteousness [injustice] in a court. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person who is great, but in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” [Lev. 19:15].
“Does God pervert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice?” [Job 8:3].
“Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore injustice proceeds” [Hab. 1:4].
Our Father and God: we ask and pray that you would equip your Church to advance biblical, social justice in the land. We lament the tragedies of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd—to name only but three recent cases of injustice. There are countless, and we find this both disturbing, and maddening. Father, would you comfort those families; may they know the peace of Christ. And may justice proceed in the land. We ask and pray for your Church to repent of the great apathy that is racial injustice, abortion injustice, statism, pietism, and so on. In Christ’s name I pray, AMEN.
The title of the this message is ‘Black Lives Matter’, and I want to start by shooing away the vultures who will no-doubt attempt to besmirch and sully this type of effort. Anti-social justice warriors, antinomian, premillennial dispensationalists, southern sympathizers, cop worshippers, respect for authority purveyors, stand-for-the-flag fussers, public school defenders, generally authoritarian patriarchalists, anti-empathy Reformed Protestants, obtuse kinists, Everyone’s-A-Marxist-If-I-Disagree bossy-pantses and—lest we forget—thin blue liners, are all those who will be quick to dismiss preaching such a sermon. Their reasons for decrying such measures may seem logical to them, but they are deluded. And delusions and blind spots—inadvertent or not—are not ethically neutral; they are based on idolatry, a false view of righteousness and justice, and the only remedy is repentance. But ultimately, I don’t care what they will say, so here we go.
SUMMARY OF TEXTS //
The Bible speaks of justice and injustice in many places and in many ways, with one underlining, objective truth and foundation: God’s law-word. As is to be expected, the fact that something can be properly categorized as ‘just’ or ‘unjust’ depends on its congruity with, or deviation from, the law of God. We don’t qualify something as ‘just’ or ‘unjust’ by deploying the presuppositions that led to the mess, nor do we adopt a statist-collectivist mentality in order to determine the righteousness of a thing. Rather, we do the hard work of developing an ethical/judicial view of the world; that is to say, a covenantal, non-neutral view of the world. Everything is covenantal, nothing is neutral—something I’ve said for years now.
In order to deal with the thing, in this case, we’re speaking of police brutality and the inherent systemic injustice that it participates in and perpetuates, we need to be familiar with what it is God expects from the world. For example, God expects the world to bend the knee to Christ (Hab. 2:14; Phi. 2:10). This bowing before the Lord of lords is for the good of everyone, for God’s grace is the only thing that changes the hearts of men, restoring to man the image of God and granting to an individual self-government under God. God expects repentance from the world, indeed he gives it to the world through the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom, and with this repentance comes faith. Our faith isn’t merely a set of intellectual dogmas that we put on some paper and call it good. No, our faith is action oriented, because the faith God gives is a faith that works. Remember: God doesn’t give people dead faith.
Not only does God expect the world to bow before Christ the King, he expects his people who do bow before him to be adamant in pursuing the Kingdom. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you” (Matt. 6:33). The word “righteousness” can be translated as ‘justice,” and indeed ought to be understood as such. The righteousness of the thing is the ethical quality of the thing; therefore, the justice of the thing must align with the righteousness of the thing. The two go together. So, if we want the kingdom, we better thirst for the righteousness and justice of God.
When it comes to our texts, I have just a few short observations.
1) It is assumed in the law of God that every human being whether home-born, stranger, immigrant, or refugee, has equal footing under the law of God. (Ex. 12:49) // There is one law, not multiple ones that have equal weight or legitimacy. God’s law is the standard, and God’s law alone is the standard. God’s law is higher than man’s law, and it is certainly more equitable. Because there is one law to adhere to, the appeal of all individuals rests on this law and whether or not it is carried out. The State does not provide protection, security, or safety, the law of God does.
2) There is to be no partiality in the law of God and the administration of justice. (Lev. 19:15) // It’s not that American citizens have God-given rights, and suddenly immigrants don’t have rights because of a well-funded Trump Wall. They are God-given, which means you don’t get to dictate the rights of another person; like you, they answer to God, too. The same is true for the application of justice for everyone: black, white, police, or military, are to be equal under the law. According to Leviticus 19:15, we should not slack in administering justice just because someone is poor, nor should we fawn over someone who is rich or popular, cutting corners because of affluence. Justice is as fixed as the Word of God, which is to say, it is immovable and perfect—no need to tinker with it. Also, judgment of neighbor, be it an acquittal or a sentence, ought to be done in terms of righteousness, which again, presupposes the righteousness and justice of God’s law. It is God who tells us what is right, and what is wrong—not the state.
3) God himself does not pervert justice. (Job 8:3) // Man, however, does. We need the objectivity of the law of God to stand firm in our pursuit of justice, and we can trust it. God does not do back-room deals in the judge’s chambers. He does not cut a deal, he does not take a monetary settlement—justice is never perverted in God’s courtroom, which is good, because we need something solid, otherwise cops are going to, you know, lynch blacks in the street.
When self-government is gone, justice is gone, and thus the law loses its power. (Hab. 1:4) // This is a judgment from God, the very thing Habakkuk spells out. Now to apply these biblical principles.
Partiality under law is an inexorable temptation; it is inevitable especially when administrative law replaces common law, and local courts are replaced by law enforcement officers and executive agencies. Whenever the state is given executive power, the state must oppress and subjugate in order to keep said power. Legislative power serves the executive power, and once this happens, the judicial power follows suits. This is a recipe for tyranny, which is most certainly a cake our government has chosen to bake. Since they are not servants of the Most High, they become servants of themselves; guardians and protectors of their own survival.
Now, the danger with administrative/executive power is absolutism: extra-legal, supra-legal, consolidated and centralized power. Let me explain. Administrative law is extra-legal in that it binds citizens not through law and equal judicial footing, but through other strong-armed mechanisms. This is not through statutes and judgment in a courtroom, it comes through over-burdening regulations (what we call ‘red tape’). Administrative/Executive law, then, isn’t about court decisions, but rather other powerful agencies adjudicating however they see fit. Think FBI arresting you and keeping you in federal custody rather than a local sheriff bringing you to your accusers and the judge for trial. In this way administrative law is extra-legal.
Administrative law is supra-legal in that it requires judges to lay aside their own minds and independent judgment before God and instead defer to the executive power as if the executive agencies were above them and are ‘the law’. This was a problem in 17th Century England, and it is something we are repeating because of collectivist nonsense. And lastly…
Administrative law is consolidated power because it actually combines the three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial, into one giant administrative agency known as the U.S. Government.
In contrast, biblical law has no need of executive officers utilizing administrative privileges, nor does it need legislation. It only needs a judicial function because: 1) No new laws need to be written because the Word of God is sufficient; and 2) No agencies should exercise coercive power because everyone is actually presumed innocent until proven guilty by a judge and jury. When executive powers take root, more and more laws are piled on top of more and more laws and suddenly everyone’s a felon at any point of any day because everything is illegal. And given the fact that our governor has mandated masks, apparently breathing clean air is illegal, too.
Part of the problem here is racism, and this problem is exacerbated by systemic injustice. Blacks arrived as slaves just a few short years after Jamestown was planted. Our entire nation’s history has been a scourge of injustice. When slavery on the plantation became illegal, slavery in the prison system became the new plantation, subjugating blacks and other minorities through the drug war. While I could spend time on racism in particular, I feel no need to do so given the fact that I have already preached on this, and it is a chapter in my Politics of Humanism book.
At any rate, part of our issue is a misunderstanding of authority and power. Authority isn’t to be physically exerted or arrogantly asserted. Jesus had authority, and the religious leaders were astounded; and this because of his teaching, not his heavy-handedness. Authority is identifiable only by people who follow and/or see it in action. Authority is always qualitatively servant-based. If you have to pronounce your authority, you don’t have any. Why? Because righteousness demands service, not arrogance.
When it comes to power, which is the only thing that can be expended, one is mistaken if he thinks he has to wield power in order to demonstrate his authority. This is especially important when we consider the black men and women who are under the boot of police today. The cop who put his knee on the neck of George Floyd was exercising power all in the name of this ‘authority’. Unrighteous exertion of power in the name of authority is never justice. This is the fruit of administrative law and executive privilege. Hence why officers will show their badge and beat you into submission. Here is the great irony: if you have to use your “power” to point people to your authority, then you no longer have legitimate authority. It’s gone. It’s proven to be non-existent in that moment.
True leaders exercising true leadership have people following them, not out of coercion, but out of humility of heart. They recognize your authority not because of the power you have flexed, but because of the meekness of your character—you know, like Jesus.
The recent cases of injustice require us, if we are honestly preaching the gospel, to find the idolatry which have given way to the injustice. What is the idol behind the injustice we see? Power. A lust for power. If you’re going to honestly preach the gospel, then you must preach against idolatry. You simply have to find the idol. What are they saying about jurisprudence? What are they saying about God? What are they taking from God in order to assert their authority? What ‘right’ do they claim to be in authority?
The answer is legion, but we can touch on one. The Black Lives Matter movement began because blacks were fed up with the injustice, and rightfully so. They were seeing a circumvention of due process, which is inherent to the executive power position. Modern policing is all about ‘prevention of crime’, so they say, and guess what? You’ll find one whether you have to fabricate it or not. Police are notorious for springing traps.
BLM, then, was formed because blacks were tired of being singled out for being guilty until proven innocent. Even if there were some questions on the individual and his or her guilt for a crime, they don’t get due process, and the justice system is too crippled by administrative law to do it. Every time someone is executed by police, we should know that they are killing an innocent man. He was not brought before a judge and jury, which means he was legally innocent. He or she may not be innocent in the eyes of the Lord, but those are his eyes, not ours. After 400 years of oppression, subjugation, and hatred by whites, they sure as heck have a case, and if we care at all about the gospel, we will listen, and we will act.
And while were’ here… Saying “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter” is a conveniently privileged way of ignoring justice and soothing your conscience. Of course every life matters; no one disputes that. But are willing to say that black lives do? If not, check your privilege, and check your blue-colored glasses.
By the way, people will adamantly reply, “But there are good cops!” No, there aren’t. There are misguided, potentially duped cops without a racist bone in their body, people who love Jesus and genuinely want to help. But the system is corrupt; modern policing has surpassed its biblical jurisdiction, and either you are a ‘good’ cop trying to undo this perversion of justice, or you’re not actually good. The same goes for working in Caesar’s household.
The idol of power manifests itself in statism, which is the sad reality of our day. While the church bickers over the term ‘social justice’, black men and women are being sent to the executioner in the streets and the world desperately attempts to figure out a way to fix it; but they cannot. Here’s how to fix it: ditch the executive power inherent to administrative law, and embrace a new form of policing, one which reflects biblical law and role of the judiciary. One which emphasizes a decentralized view of justice: no standing army dressed in costumes pretending to have authority; no apprehending of anyone until a local judge has a charge brought to him with witnesses. No more statist protections in the name of serving and protecting; communities can police themselves. Restore the responsibility of citizen’s arrest, which should just be “arrest.”
Reminder: The ‘Breakfast with Cops’ campaign is simply smoke and mirrors—a PR stunt—to hide the relentless problem of administrative law. We have a goring ox problem (Ex. 21:29) and it’s the American police. Justice won’t prevail in society (social justice) until the death penalty is given to cops and former cops who murder men like Eric Garner, Gregory Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Philando Castile. Stop worshipping the thin blue line. They are agents of tyranny, wittingly or unwittingly. It has repeatedly proven to be an extreme abuse of institutionalized power; the only protecting and serving I can see is protecting their own and serving out death sentences.
The problem we face today is manifold, and so much more could be said, but let’s be honest: We don’t know what justice is because we don’t know who Jesus is. You want the heart of the gospel in this matter? Well here we go…
Christ is always moving towards sinners and those afflicted and oppressed by power tactics.
He is always moving towards sinners in grace and love. Jesus Christ moves towards victims of injustice, and if you don’t understand this principle of Jesus moving towards sinners, then you better take a good and hard look in the mirror, because that’s all of us.
The gospel compels us to stop with the false dichotomies. I said this last week in our exposition of Jonah 3: We don’t have to choose between preaching the gospel and the work of social justice. We don’t. When we are gripped by Christ and what he does for the sinners, the outcasts, the minorities, the down and outs, those in power, the majority—the sinners who find themselves turning to anything and everything but Christ…when we are gripped, we can be moved to action. Black Lives Matter and the sooner the Church wakes up and says it, the better.