good mediocre progressive Christian , I have a different view of justice and mercy than someone with a more conservative outlook. That difference of opinion is a pretty stark highlight of the distinction between the two views. This week, I’ve seen two examples of that difference and I want to share them with you.
First, a more conservative view of justice and mercy. In an article on the American Conservative website about Fred Phelps’ declining health, Rod Dreher said “One tear of repentance from the vicious old preacher will open the floodgates of the divine mercy he spent his life trying to deny to others. I pray for that tear”. Now, if he’d stopped there, I wouldn’t have a problem. Sure, it’s not exactly complimentary, but he does seem to hope God cuts the old dude some slack. But then, he ends with “And I hope no one pickets his funeral, giving to his family the mercy they do not deserve.” That is awful harsh.
Now, for the progressive side. On the Emergent Village Facebook page, I was following a conversation about an unrelated topic when the subject of justice came up. Some incredibly enlightened progressive commented “Whenever I see people talking about justice this way, I am reminded of a quote from Madeleine L’Engle: “Absolute justice? Don’t you feel the need for the weensiest, teensiest bit of mercy? I mean, me, I want lots and lots of mercy.” Okay, I admit it; it was me. And, while I am an imperfect progressive (I think the Toyota Prius is an abomination before God), the concept of mercy over justice is a progressive one. At least, I think it is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that progressives are better Christians than conservatives. Nor am I saying that we’re right and they’re wrong (this kind of ambiguity is another aspect of progressive Christianity; one that drives conservatives crazy). I’m only attempting to point out one of the differences between the two groups.
Do I believe that I’m right? Well, yeah; it’d be kind of stupid to put this out there otherwise. But, the emphasis is on “believe”, because I don’t think you can know this kind of thing. It’s a “take it on faith” deal. So, whether or not it’s true, I can’t say. God knows I hope it is.
I do have to admit the conservative fetish for justice confuses me. Most conservative Christians I know believe that humans are filthy sinners who are a stench in the nostrils of God. You’d think they would be the biggest proponents of mercy on the planet. Instead, they seem to believe God is a wrathful, bloody-minded despot who punishes trangressions with a justice that is swift, harsh and sure. I prefer to believe that God is love and that love is expressed by God’s mercy in forgiving those transgressions as soon as they are committed. Before you ask, even.
Sure, I find justice (i. e. everyone gets what they deserve) to be an attractive concept…, until I consider that “everyone” includes me. I mean, it’s not really justice if you get what you deserve and I don’t. That’s why, like Madeleine, I want mercy, lots and lots of mercy.