Monday, 6 October 2014

Seeking Justice for God’s People – a Biblical Perspective

“For I, the LORD, love justice.  I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” Isaiah 61:8 NLT
The following narrative’s origin, while birthed out of an actual dispute amongst Christians and Christian organizations, does not pertain to any specific situation.  Rather, I have endeavoured to take a fresh, Biblical look at what Christians should do when Christian to Christian negotiations fail and justice has not been served.  The fundamental question being addressed here is, “Should Christians take other Christians to court; specifically secular courts?”
As you read through these thoughts please do so with your Bible at hand.  
While grappling with this issue I have had to contend with supposedly Bible-based and/or church traditions, and with serious questions such as “How can God possibly be glorified through this?”  Seeing as it is the most important, I will try and answer the last question first.  
I have struggled through many sleepless nights trying to discern whether actions being taken are appropriate.  Yet, it was when I was challenged by this most fundamental question of all, “How can God be glorified through this situation?”, that I realized the course of action decided upon could and hopefully will bring glory to God.
I have become convinced that God can be glorified through difficult and sometimes controversial situations by:

  1. Being obedient to God’s leading as we discern it through His Word, prayer, the Holy Spirit, affirming circumstance and His people (none being acted upon in isolation of others).
  2. How we conduct ourselves in any specific matter.  Holding one’s head high (as in trusting God), not falling into the trap of spreading rumours, exaggeration or speaking untruths, etc.
  3. Opposing and exposing evil.
  4. Seeking justice, especially for the orphan and widow.  
  5. Carefully and faithfully upholding what we learn in Scripture and applying it in context.
  6. Not becoming judgemental.  God is the judge and will have the final say in any given situation. 
  7. Trusting God to defend one’s cause when others falsely accuse or spread lies, rumours and innuendos.
  8. Praising God and giving Him glory regardless of any specific outcome.

I further believe that when a Christian(s) finds him or herself in an adversarial situation he or she can wave the banner of godliness and be an encouragement and example to those who have likewise been oppressed and/or wrongfully treated by others within the body of Christ.    The more I have meditated on these matters the more I have become convinced that those who are unjustly treated need to be defended in the presence of God and man.  It is a serious relinquishing of Biblically ordained responsibilities by Church leaders who fail to seek and uphold justice.  God did not call us to be dish rags – simply wrung out and thrown away.  No!  God Himself is the greatest proponent of justice – Jesus sacrifice is absolute evidence of that.  Peacemaking [Matthew 5:9] should not be confused with seeking justice [Isaiah 1:17].   The difference is often overlooked to the detriment of the church.

This brings us to the second major topic, contending with traditions.
Two key passages of Scripture are repeatedly quoted in situations where there is conflict within the body of Christ; Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 6:1-7.  In both instances as I have read and re-read these passages in context a whole new understanding has been realized. The importance of having a Berean attitude is of paramount importance. Verses or passages of Scripture read and quoted in isolation and out of context can establish dangerous precedents not supported elsewhere in Scripture.
The narrative in Matthew 18 actually starts off with disciples asking Jesus who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven and ends with Jesus telling Peter the parable of the unmerciful servant; the issue of ‘if a brother sins against you’ is placed in the middle of this extensive narrative.  Having reflected on my personal experiences, I found myself more and more identifying with the servants in verse 31, “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.”  In 1 Corinthians Paul chastises the church for their gross behaviour including sexual immorality, etc.  One of the offences that grieved Paul was taking their brothers to court over ‘trivial matters’ (6:2).  The words ‘trivial matters’ must not be overlooked and be used as an argument against taking appropriate action in the secular judicial system when matters of a serious legal or criminal nature arise.
Paul appealed more than once to the legal system, exercising his right to defend himself under Roman law (Acts 16:37–40; 18:12–17; 22:15–29; 25:10–22). In Romans 13 Paul taught that God had established legal authorities for the very purposes of upholding justice, punishing wrongdoers, and protecting the innocent.
The following are just a selected few of the hundreds of passages of Scripture concerning God’s perspective on seeking, applying and upholding justice:
The significance of justice
Isaiah 9:7 "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." 
Psalm 89:13 "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face."
Proverbs 1:2-5 "To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion— a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,..."
Seeking justice
You will note that there are thirteen imperatives in the following two passages.
Isaiah 1:16-17 Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.   Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow."
Psalm 82:2-4 "How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked?  Selah.  Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy.  Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked."
Applying justice
Deuteronomy 16:18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment."
See also Romans 13: 1-7 below.
Upholding justice
Deuteronomy 27:19 ‘Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.’ [One can ‘pervert justice’ by simply failing to provide it.]
2 Samuel 8:15 So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered judgment and justice to all his people.
Psalm 10:17-18 LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; you will prepare their heart; you will cause your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more.
Isaiah 56:1 Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, And My righteousness to be revealed.”
The Neglect of justice
Isaiah 1:21-22 How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water.
The secular judicial system has been established by God
Romans 13: 1-7 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.
This viewpoint is further reinforced in 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king who has supreme authority, or the governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong...”
As one considers a choice and course of action in a dispute or confronting an adversary, one should ensure that prudent steps have been taken:
  • Endeavour to find a ‘peaceful’ solution.  Matthew 5:9
  • Seek the counsel of the wise and godly.  Proverbs 9:9
  • Study the Scriptures so that you can be confident in your actions. Acts 17:11
  • Present your petition to God.  Philippians 4:6
  • Seek professional [legal] counsel so that you can act knowledgably and wisely. Proverbs 4:7
  • Be prepared to submit your case to a tribunal of godly Christians and accept their judgement.  1 Corinthians 6:4
Having endeavoured to follow through on each of these steps, the right action may be to plead your case before the judicial courts so that your case may be determined by those who are skilled and knowledgeable in law to make a right judgement.
Even though you may be willing to abide by the aforementioned principles one cannot necessarily force one’s adversary to do so and, though you may feel uneasy about doing so, to neglect the seeking of justice cannot be biblically justified.
Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. Proverbs 28:5.

David Harrison © 2010

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Colon [ : ] and the Charter. The most important punctuation mark in Canada

A colon is a punctuation mark used to identify a major division in a sentence; to indicate that what follows is an elaboration, summation, implication, etc., of that which precedes it.
There is a single introductory clause at the very beginning Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It reads, Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:
It is of the most critical significance that this controversial clause ends with a colon [ : ].  What this punctuation mark means is that this is not a completed sentence that ends at this point; rather this clause is the contextual introduction to the list which follows.  Everything that follows these two small, vertically aligned dots must be read, evaluated, understood and acted upon in light of the words that precede them.  Without the words that precede the colon the articles listed in the Charter have no context, e.g. one cannot enforce a section of the Charter without the recognition of the rule of law.

The introductory clause is often referred to as the preamble but this is to dilute the essence of what is written. This clause is the very heart of the Charter.  The heading that precedes the the introductory clause reads, "CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982 (80) PART I CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS".

A charter is the grant of authority or rights, stating that the granter formally recognizes the prerogative of the recipient to exercise the rights specified. It is implicit that the granter retains superiority (or sovereignty), and that the recipient admits a limited (or inferior) status within the relationship, and it is within that sense that charters were historically granted, and that sense is retained in modern usage of the term. (ref: Wikipedia)
The controversy surrounding the introductory clause, with its all-important colon, almost exclusively appears in relation to recognizing the supremacy of God and [apart from anarchists] not to the rule of law.  Here is the dilemma though, however controversial it might be, recognizing the supremacy of God is the most important and fundamental aspect of the Charter.  God’s supremacy cannot simply be ignored because it is controversial.  It simply is.  If these three words are ignored the Charter is invalidated in exactly the same way as if one removed recognition of the rule of law.  It is God’s supremacy that gives the rights listed within the Charter their context and it is the rule of law which upholds these same rights.
The supremacy of God is an indelible statement in the original document signed on behalf of all Canadians by the then prime minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau.  The removal of God’s supremacy from the Charter would require cutting a physical hole in the document to remove it.  Likewise, an amendment, even sanctioned by all the provinces and territories, would not erase it.  It’s there in indelible printers’ ink.  As long as there is a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, God’s supremacy in its interpretation must remain.  In 1999 NDP MP, Svend Robinson, proposed in the House of Commons that the mention of God be struck from the preamble and he was relegated to the backbenches for his efforts.
Some have suggested that recognizing the supremacy of God actually contradicts Section 2 of the Charter (which it does not) where it upholds freedom of thought, conscience, opinion and religion. The Charter specifically says that one has the right to freedom of religion – not freedom from religion.  In the same vein, one is free to have the opinion that the Charter may be poorly constructed but not have the lawful right to ignore it.  At the Alberta Court of Appeal, Justice Belzil, wrote "...the preamble to the Charter indicated Canada had a Christian heritage and thus courts should not use the Section 2 right to freedom of religion to eliminate the traditions of this heritage."  
The Supreme Court of Canada considered the preamble's mention of the rule of law in reference to the case re Manitoba Language Rights (1985) and thus confirmed the Charter's preamble's importance by writing that "The constitutional status of the rule of law is beyond question."  One cannot simply negate one half of the preamble while endorsing the other.
Theologian Douglas Farrow noted: “The word ‘Whereas’, moreover, indicates all sections of the Charter should be read in light of the principle recognizing the supremacy of God. This includes the ‘rule of law’, which comes after the ‘supremacy of God’ in the preamble, and that the rule of law is hard to account for, to interpret, or to sustain without reference to the supremacy of God, as the rule of law developed from the religious backgrounds of Canada.”  In other words, one cannot have a consistent moral law (or right) without a Moral Law Giver.
The Canadian Secular Alliance asks on their website, “If Canada officially recognizes the supremacy of one particular God, in what sense are Canadians free to choose their own religion and follow their own conscience?”  In asking this question the Alliance misses the point that one is free to exercise and follow one’s religion [or lack thereof] and conscience within the confines of the Charter, e.g. one is free to practice witchcraft or Satanism but not to offer child sacrifices as an expression of it.  The law recognizes the Biblical principal ‘You shall not kill [murder]’, Exodus 20:13, which obviously and reasonably places limitations on the rights of those who practice such cults.
Section 7 of the Charter states that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” And Section 15 states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
Unfortunately, the Government of Canada still fails to recognize and include the unborn child in the ‘Everyone’ protected by the Charter; that they be given right to "life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof…”  Unborn children are hugely discriminated by age (their rights are only recognized [typically] at the age of nine-months), sex (gender selective abortion) and by mental and physical disability (in Canada ninety percent of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are killed in the womb).  And no, before you go looking, is there anywhere in the Charter that explicitly gives anyone the right to kill that which has been conceived in a woman.
God, who is supreme, says of the unborn child, “Before you were in the womb I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:5.  
We would be a much more virtuous country if we took the Charter’s colon seriously (no pun intended).