Saturday, March 10, 2012

Justice and Peace Shall Kiss

“love and faithfulness meet each other;
justice and peace kiss each other”
(Psalm 85:10)
The concepts of peace and justice are closely connected. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously once said, “Without justice, there can be no peace.” 

MLK without justice no peace medallion_thumb

My Lenten exercise this year is to blog each day during Lent about some issue related to justice or peace.  Lately, many of my blog posts have focused on environmental issues such as acidification of the ocean, pollution by plastics in the ocean, or mountaintop removal mining (MRM).  I thought, perhaps, it was time explicitly to explain why (or how) issues relating to environmental sustainability are related to either peace or justice.

Sometimes the link between peace and justice is obvious. If I were sitting at a banquet table feasting, while the person next to me were emaciated and starving, it’s likely there would be no peace in that situation. We have what is called a resource conflict.  There are places in  the world where there really isn’t enough to go around.  These resource conflicts are extremely challenging.  They also get worse as the population of the world increases at the same time the earth’s environment is polluted and abused so that it will sustain less and less. 

Sometimes, the link between justice and peace is a bit harder to tease out. For example, a few weeks ago I wrote about mountaintop removal mining.   The mining company has bought and paid for the mountain.  Their reply to criticism is, in part, to assert that they own a private property right to do whatever they want with their land. 

This legalistic argument fails to account for a bigger picture, however.  The ethics of a practice cannot be gauged without also taking into account how that practice affects the larger community. 

In the case of Mountaintop Removal Mining, the sedimentation clogs up local streams and waterways.  Chemicals used to treat the soil also pollute the water.  Dust from the crushing of rock causes air pollution.  Vast tracts of land are rendered un-inhabitable by wildlife.  All this, in turn, affects entire ecosystems.   Forests and wildlife habitat, liveability and quality of life, economy, and health of the people in the surrounding communities are all affected.   (For a compilation of effects, see Shirley Burns, “Mountaintop Removal in Central Appalachia,” Southern Spaces, September 30, 2009 (accessed March 10, 2012).)

Is it an issue of justice, if mountaintop removal mining results in the destruction of an entire way of life for the communities affected?  Is this a concern within the purview of peace advocacy?  In a word, yes.

The Biblical view of peace -- and what it takes to have peace individually and in community  – is that peace does not just mean the absence of war.   In Hebrew, the word is shalom (Arabic salaam).  Ann Weems has written:  “Shalom means much more than prosperity, more than a sense of well-being, and more than quiet and calmness. It is more than the absence of stress and much more than peace. It is a peace that surpasses understanding; it is a promised gift.”  Similarly, the Wikipedia entry for shalom states:
The use of shalom in the Scriptures always points towards that transcendent action of wholeness. Shalom is seen in reference to the wellbeing of others (Genesis 43.27, Exodus 4.18), to treaties (I Kings 5.12), and in prayer for the wellbeing of cities or nations (Psalm 122.6, Jeremiah 29.7). Coincidentally, the root shalem, found in Jerusalem, means peaceful (yara to mean to lay or found). Yet, its transcendence lies in its relationship to truth and justice (Psalm 85.10, Isaiah 48.18, 22, 57.19-21).
It is this last component of shalom, namely the relationship between peace and justice, that this blog post is devoted, for therein is the relationship between peace, justice, and environmental concerns.  Isaiah 32:17 describes the relationship between justice and peace thusly:

“The fruit of justice will be peace;
the effect of justice will be quietness and security forever.”

The prophetic vision of peace, of shalom, is one in which there is justice, equity, and wholeness for both individuals and societies. The vision of the lion laying down with the lamb may seem paradoxical, even unattainable, but nevertheless it sets a moral standard for us to aspire toward.   Because justice, equity, and wholeness are essential components of the larger concept of peace, a primary task of peacebuilding is to find the connections and correct root causes of injustice.  It is not enough just to put a band-aid on symptoms.  

Linking cause and effect, the Prophet Amos more clearly articulates the link between “shalom” and justice, and our responsibility to comprehend the effect our own actions have on others:
Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. . . . I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5: 11-24).   When Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor,” he was illustrating another example of the prophetic teaching that we all owe a responsibility to look beyond our own interest.  A question to ask with regard to "who is my neighbor" is also, "how big is my neighborhood?"  If God cares about the sparrow, the neighborhood begins to look pretty large, indeed!   Destruction of the environment, especially when that destruction is widespread or devastating, has much broader ramifications for communities both large and small than can be accounted for by mere recitation of property rights. We all breathe the air.  All of us have an effect on the air.  We all need to be concerned to keep it clean.

Through the link of their effect on the lived life of individuals and community, environmental issues are, indeed, significantly related to justice and peace.  My abbreviated description of how mountaintop removal mining affects an entire community and ecosystem is just one, simplified example of the bigger-picture type of thought that is required to comprehend the link between justice and peace.  

When individuals, communities, and nations are devastated by acts of injustice (no matter what the context), then by definition those individuals, communities, and nations are not at peace.  And, fundamentally, that is all of our concern.   We are all downstream.  Everything is connected.  The justice, or right-ness, of what the mining company does cannot be gauged without taking into account what is happening to its neighbors, the people (and ecosystem) downstream.  Justice requires a fuller accounting of the consequences.  Moreover, it's not enough for me to point fingers elsewhere, toward the stockholders or management for example.  A moral responsibility is owed not only by the mining company (or those in control of it), but also by those who drive the actions of the mining company.   When my own personal use of electricity in my house provides the incentive for a mining company to engage in MRM (something I blogged about HERE), then my actions even in turning on a light switch do have moral consequences. 

Food for thought, this 18th day of Lent, 2012:   I cannot make the entire world just, but I can strive to make just my little bit of it, a bit more just.  

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
photo by David Skinner, please do not reproduce without express permission

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