Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Only One Table: The Justice and Mercy Linkage Again

A dear reader has contacted me to ask if I can include more gaiety and levity in my postings.

Well, not really: (s)he asked for more humor.

As dear readers may have begun to suspect, humor is not my strong suit. Alas. I take after my mother’s family, who are gloomy, eremitical, reading-and-thinking people, rather than talkers and laughers. My brother Philip is far more like my father’s family, who have keen, sharp wits and a rapier-like ability to imitate with devastating success.

My father's family are readers, too (and writers), but far less inclined to brood over slings and arrows, much more stoical, inclined to shrug their shoulders at the price we all must pay, and head back into the fray.

So all my jokes are borrowed. I do recall one I read not long ago on the Internet—I think, on the wonderful Clerical Whispers blog, to which this blog is linked. This is my rendition of it, perhaps flawed by poor memory.

Ms. Sue De Nimm, the following grotesque attempt at jocular gaiety is for you:

An Irishwoman dies and goes to heaven. She arrives at the gates of St. Peter, and Peter tells her, “All you must do to enter the gates is spell a word.” She presents herself and asks to be assigned her word. Peter asks her to spell “love.” She does so and waltzes through the pearly gates.

A year later, Peter is tired and asks her to do sentry duty at the gates on a particular day. As she stands there, who should come sauntering up but her husband.

She asks how things have been with him. He peers through the gates and sees her family all gathered eating a feast. He asks how he can get in.

She tells him he must only spell a word, but meanwhile, she’d like to know about the past year without her.

“Oh, it was a grand year,” he tells her. Soon after you died, I married my young assistant and we went on a cruise around the world. That’s why I’m here now. The ship got caught in a storm, and I drowned.”

“But how about that word, so I can enter?” “Ah, yes,” she replies. “Spell Czechoslovakia.”

And I hope I myself have spelled it right.

And now for my usual ponderous reflections . . . . As I was saying day before yesterday, my understanding of the Jewish and Christian scriptures is that they couple justice and mercy. We cannot practice mercy without giving justice. We do not love in a vacuum. We love others, specific others with the specific burden and contour of their unique humanity.

As Gustavo Gutierrez says somewhere, one of the greatest injustices Christianity has ever done is to tell us we can love the sinner but hate the sin. Gutierrez notes that this attempt to separate some dirty (in our judgment) aspect of the humanity of another from her real, total humanity inevitably allows us to worm our way out of the obligation to love that person—just as she is, warts and all, in her full, entire human nature.

As my story in the same posting reflecting on mercy and justice notes, most Christians have no problem at all with being told to love. It is when a careful, justice-oriented analysis of their particular socio-economic world tells them who needs their love, that they (we) balk.

Justice spells out for us who and how we must love, if our love is to have any real meaning in the real world in which real people live.

These meditations are framed against the backdrop of an article I read recently on the website of the Florida United Methodist conference at The article, which is by Sarah Alsgaard, reports on two Florida United Methodist clergy who recently attended a conference on justice ministry. One of the clergypersons is quoted as observing that the United Methodist church has done an exemplary job at mercy ministry, but now needs to turn its attention to justice ministry.

The uncoupling of justice and mercy strikes me as dangerous. When we believe that we are merciful, that we are living mercy, but we do no justice-centered analysis of how we treat others who are denied justice, right in our midst, we deceive ourselves. We remain content that we are good, merciful people . . .

While right outside our doors, at our gates, stand people begging for our mercy, whom we do not see, because we do not recognize their claims to our justice.

As dear readers of my blog know, I have a “thing” these days with Methodists, and, in particular, with Florida Methodists, after dismal experiences of injustice Steve and I experienced at

since the churches in the United States—which are long on the rhetoric of mercy, but often very short on talk about justice—need (I suggest) to hear more about the indissoluble biblical link between justice and mercy.

A link I find mentioned today in the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) newsletter “HRC Religion and Faith News” e-newsletter for 9 April at

The newsletter reports on a new book by Tony Campolo entitled Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics. The book notice says that Campolo is an evangelical Christian who wants to find a way of discipleship not dominated by religious right talking points. Campolo proposes that Christians become Red Letter Christians—that is, that they take seriously the actual words of Jesus (which often appear in red print in bibles), rather than a culturally determined canon within the canon spoonfed to believers by neo-conservatives.

If we do this, Campolo concludes, we will arrive at the conclusion that “justice for gays and lesbians should be on the political front burner for Red Letter Christian . . . because it is impossible to tell people we love them if we deny them the basic rights we enjoy.”

“It is impossible to tell people we love them if we deny them the basic rights we enjoy”: churches, are you listening? You do not have the luxury of claiming that you engage in ministries of mercy when you trample on the human rights of LGBT persons.

The unjust are never merciful.


Dad said...

I saw your comments on NCR cafe and was impressed by how cogent and well-written they were. I look forward to reading your blog when time permits. (I am the father of three young sons...) I am also a member of a Lutheran-Catholic church in Portland Oregon. We recently became members of Reconciling in Christ, a Lutheran ministry which encourages churches to welcome ALL of God's children. Last year we also had a visit from a recently ordained woman priest.

Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

William D. Lindsey said...

Michael, thank you for your encouraging comments. I'm glad my postings at the NCR cafe have led you to the blog. I really appreciate NCR for permitting me and other posters to air viewpoints that may not always toe party lines.

I'm really interested to hear of your Lutheran-Catholic church in Portland. I've read about several such churches, which join Catholic parishes and Lutheran congregations.

As a gay person and believer, I'm also grateful that your church has joined the Reconciling movement. Though I criticize the churches stringently on my blog, I'm also aware, as I do so, that there are many churches around the world that are trying to find more gospel-centered ways of relating to gay persons.