He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
Christians are to be people of justice, kindness, humility, and righteousness. We don’t always live up to those virtues. There have been times throughout history when people claiming Christ have been unjust, unkind, unhumble, and unrighteous. When we sin against other people, we’ve likely left at least one of these requirements behind.
When we look specifically at “justice,” the Hebrew word in both these verses is dealing with fairness and integrity, governing or executing what is right, and justice is that which fits with God’s standards. Part of why the Old Testament Israelites were punished by God was for oppressing the poor and marginalized; they did that by favoring the rich or what would benefit them.
The verdict in the case of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is over a week old now, but I’m writing this the day after it came out—when the jury found him guilty on all three charges related to the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd. I watched online the proceedings from the opening arguments through the closing arguments and rebuttal. I tried to have the mindset expected of the jurors—viewing the evidence, listening to arguments, recognizing how I was persuaded either way at different times. When the verdict had been reached by midday Tuesday, based on the speed, I assumed they had come to the answers that were announced.
I watched some of the celebrations at “George Floyd Square” and downtown Minneapolis. I’ve read the quote that this is “not justice, but accountability.” I’ve seen social media posts from Christian friends, family members, and others celebrating the verdict, feeling that for once the justice system worked, and alluding to verses like Amos 5:24. I understand how those who believe law enforcement officers are absolutely against them or certain parts of the population can feel joy, as well as how George Floyd’s loved ones feel grateful.
I’m torn, though. I recognize that’s likely not popular, but I doubt I’m alone. I’ll be honest about my background: I have extended family members and friends working in various law enforcement agencies, my college major was criminal justice. And, yes, I have a thin blue line flag. I also know police officers are humans. They can make mistakes and commit errors with or without intended consequences. They may appropriately or inappropriately bring biases or prejudices based on prior experiences into their work. They are accountable to the law. Looking at Chauvin’s case, the vast majority of people agree he shouldn’t have put his knee where he did for so long. He should have given medical intervention, in accordance with his training. When I process the jury instructions, I think I would have differed on some of the charges.
As a Christian, I need to check myself. Am I torn, is my mind twisted, am I unable to put feelings into words, because I differ about the serving of justice or because I feel like my answers to the jury instructions are right and therefore the verdict is wrong? This wasn’t one person’s view of things, it was a whole jury that decided this together. People can debate, as the defense did at various times, if the threat of civil unrest affects the jurors’ decisions, or other factors. As I said before regarding Floyd’s loved ones, if any person played a role in taking the life of one of our loved one’s, we’d more than likely want them held accountable and punished, too. My wrestling, though, also wonders about the role of police, the perceived threats to their lives, that they are responding to reports of the law being broken. I’m not arguing police can do whatever they want or that Chauvin was righteous, just, and innocent in all he did. But the role of law enforcement officers is not simple.
Whatever we feel about the outcome of this trial, let us as Christians keep wrestling for justice. Let’s hope police do their duties justly and with integrity. Let’s desire people to honor authority, even when they feel wronged. Let’s pray that victims would be treated compassionately and protected. Let’s keep growing in understanding and seeking God’s justice.