Thursday, September 29, 2011

Justice has been done

September 29, 2011

“Justice has been done” declared President Obama when he announced the successful raid in Pakistan which led to the killing of Osama bin Ladin. I began to understand my discomfort with the idea that this death was “just” as I read Michael J. Sandel’s Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009). He outlines various philosophical traditions of justice, and while he does not name a specifically Christian ethical tradition, we fall clearly into that strain of ethics that considers justice as having to do with virtue or character. This coming Sunday (October 2nd) The New York Times will be publishing letters debating the question as to whether or not the killing of a prisoner can or should be considered ‘just’. There are those who consider justice to be about the welfare of the most people and others who think of it primarily in terms of freedom or liberty and who find that within a social contract the taking of a life for certain dreadful crimes is ‘just’ even while recognizing that uneven application with a majority of those receiving the death penalty are poor and black is unjust. It will be an interesting conversation.

I was accused recently of “using a couple of Bible verses to justify a political position” from the pulpit when I thought I had preached about the predominant biblical concept of ‘justice’ in distinction to other philosophical traditions. The trigger that caused my parishioner’s comment was that I talked explicitly about capital punishment at the end of a week in which there had been the publicly and internationally discussed execution of a man called Troy Davis about whose guilt there was significant public doubt. A number of our parishioners had participated in protests and vigils, asked for prayers to be said and were otherwise struggling with a profound sense that a wrong was being perpetrated by the state in our name. For some (probably many) this death seemed profoundly and absolutely wrong. For others (self included) it seemed as though every legal avenue for review of the original conviction had been used and the law followed in a state who have decided that certain crimes (in this case the killing of a police officer) deserve or merit death.

I oppose the death penalty on the basis that it is manifestly unjust in its application. Until now, I have allowed for the theoretical possibility that it could be the ultimate sanction and possibly a deterrent preventing some heinous crimes. I’ve changed my mind about that possibility, partly through understanding that the utilitarian deterrent argument is not supported by the facts and partly through revisiting the tradition of Christian ethics and its more recent expression in Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue (originally published in 1981).

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Intercessor: In peace, let us kneel and pray to the Lord.

Most gracious God, we lift before you the poor of the world, for whom your Son, Jesus, showed particular care and concern. Grant us grace that we be not indifferent neither to the poor in our midst, nor those who live in poverty far across the world. Grant us grace that we may also recognize and address places of impoverishment in our own lives, especially those that are hidden from us by our wealth.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
People: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Intercessor: O God of mercy, surround all who mourn this day with the assurance of your love, most especially those for whom grief is awoken anew by the remembrance of those who lost their lives in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania ten years ago. Grant us all grace to find in grief the seeds not of burning rage, but of compassion from springs that overflow.

Blessed are those who mourn
People: For they shall be comforted

Intercessor: God of love, it is your love that makes it possible for us to be better than we are and calls us into meek and right relationship with you. Help us, and all whom you have made, to be faithful stewards of what you entrust to our care. Aid us in our care of your whole creation, and help us recognize righteousness in our midst as we discover anew that it is in giving that we receive, in service to others that we are freed and in dying we live.

Blessed are the meek
People: For they will inherit the earth

Intercessor: As we remember the wrongs in this world, we recognize our own sinfulness, holy God, and yearn for that day when justice and peace will be made manifest in your presence. Look with mercy on the hungry of this world, on those suffering from drought, on those oppressed by tyrants and on those oppressed by war. Grant them and us together what we need for life, creating in us generous hearts, and a passion for righteousness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
People: For they will be filled

Intercessor: Thank you, God, for all that sustains our lives and our common life. Thank you especially for your gift of forgiveness of our sins which we neither merit nor deserve. Help us find with in us the desire to forgive seventy times seven and beyond. Turn our hearts toward your love that we may more fully love others, forgiving as we have been forgiven. Spare us from hypocrisy, vainglory, revenge and greed, that we may be effective witnesses to your grace and love.

Blessed are the merciful
People: For they will receive mercy

Intercessor: O God of unutterable grace and goodness, make in us clean hearts and order our desires toward what makes us more the people you have created us to be. Let not our passion for all that is right and good and lovely and holy become the means of separating us one from another; and let such purity of heart as we may be granted be marked by a passion for justice for all your people.

Blessed are the pure in heart
People: For they will see God

Intercessor: O God in whose presence there is peace with justice for all; you know how the burdens of enmity, fear and war touch all of our lives. Look with mercy on those who fight far from home and all whose lives are touched by the immediacy and proximity of war. Spare them and us from being overtaken by rage and a thirst for bloody revenge. Help us, in our time, to accept the burdens of paying for the conflicts we engage that our children may know freedom from fear and freedom from the tyranny of indebtedness. Turn the hearts of those who plan and execute acts of terror that their and our swords may be turned into plowshares. Grant diligence and wisdom to those who seek to prevent such acts before they occur, an especially those for whom such work takes them into harm’s way. Make us all into instruments of your peace, sowing the seeds of love, pardon, union, faith, hope, light and joy.

Blessed are the peacemakers
People: For they will be called children of God

Intercessor: In all things turn our hearts toward what really matters in and for life. Keep us mindful, gracious God, of life and opens the possibility of our walking in that way. Help us remember that death is not the worst thing in life. Spare us from persecution for insisting that we strive for righteousness in all things, but grant us strength and courage to bear witness to your love should the threat of persecution ever loom. Look with favor especially upon those who are even today persecuted for their faith in you in Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan and everywhere where your love is considered subversive and your people share in Jesus’ sufferings day by day.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
People: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Intercessor: O God, in response to the contemplation of terror, destruction and death born of hatred and a thirst for power, sometimes we have no words to express either the groaning and sorrow of our hearts or our reasonable and holy hope in your love, so now we come before your throne of grace in silence imploring that you grant us, those in any need or trouble and those we love whom we name before you silently in our hearts what we need for life with peace and justice for all.

Two minutes of profound silence follows

Intercessor: Lord, hear the heartfelt prayers of your people and what we ask faithfully grant that we may obtain effectively. Shine a light on the paths prepared for us to walk in and grant us grace and courage ever to walk those paths in the assurance of your love for us; in the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.

People: AMEN.