On Saturday I attended a lecture at Trinity Episcopal Church where Marcus Borg spoke on the topic of justice. It was titled "Seeing God's Passion for Justice (Again)". At the outset, Borg stated that before we can even talk about how we can bring about justice locally, nationally, and globally, we must first make sure we have a reliable, workable definition of what justice even means. Borg argues that the American term for justice is "people getting what they deserve". In the bible, however, the concern is about distribution, not retribution. Biblically, this vision emphasizes economic distribution.
Borg's second point was that we must understand what the world of the bible was set in. His basic term for interpreting this context is ancient domination systems, characterized by (1) the rule by the few, (2) economic exploitation-slavery, indentured servanthood, clientage (3) and finally, the legitimation by religion- the religious structures affirmed and supported the hierarchical and political systems.
The third point Borg made was that we must learn again how political the bible was and is. Emphasizing the Exodus, Amos, Jesus, Paul, and Revelation, Borg stated that as he began to recognize this message in the scriptures, and as he began to engage this, he experienced a political conversion. What I appreciated about this part of Borg's presentation was that he didn't stress the political message so much as to exclude its deeply spiritual message as well.
Borg's conclusion sought to convey how economic distribution is the pervasive message throughout the biblical text. What it doesn't mean is that everyone gets exactly the same distribution, because that is not really injustice. What is injustice is that people don't have what they need or what is necessary for their livelihood. Justice is about people having "enough", according to Borg. Offering insight into our present situation, Borg gave examples of injustice in the United States by explaining the low median average income for families and how horribly deficient our public school systems are. But what does this mean for us? Borg believes that we must take politics seriously- at every level. And, we must delineate between charity and justice. Charity can be best understood as our personal decisions to help others. Justice is marked as a "changing of the systems".
Borg left his audience with two questions:
(1) Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior? Not in the evangelical sense, but in the affirmation that Christ has lordship over your life.
(2) Is Jesus your political Lord and Savior? Does the life and mission of Jesus, including his message on injustice, mark your life and claim lordship over your political actions.
*That in a nutshell was Borg's presentation. Borg enjoyed saying that he likes to reconstruct rather than deconstruct but in the end I wondered if his message would have had more thrust if it sought out to portray the injustice that is in the church itself and the failure of us to name injustice in America. Why not just name some major injustices that occur right now in the United States? For as controversial as Borg is to some, I feel that he really played it safe in regards to his topic. Maybe I was expecting to be offended, maybe that is what I wanted. I think that is why so many of the prophets were offensive to Israel. They "named the elephant", they exposed the problems that no one wanted to talk about because it would be convicting and would thus force change. I don't know about you, but sometimes I needed to be offended by my own injustice, about how lazy and selfish I am when it comes to my finances and my "self-donation" for others for the sake of justice.
God, give me a passion for your justice in this world…