Throughout the generations, God aligns with the oppressed and sends prophets to speak of justice:
Micah 6:8: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Isaiah 58:6: Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Amos 5:24: But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Matthew 23:23: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.
2 Corinthians 5:17: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
And in this time and place, in this generation, we hear the prophetic cry echoing
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.
Christian Understanding of Justice
As Presbyterian Christians we believe that justice is not criminal accountability alone – nor is justice the end goal. Justice is, we hold, more comprehensive and more meaningful than that. Justice is God’s restoration of all creation – God’s restoration of the fallen world. This restoration involves healing humanity’s corrupt and broken social relationships and institutions, as well as the human heart.
As a church, in the presence of the Holy Spirit we engage in justice work as a sign of what God is doing in the midst of creation today. Patterning our hearts after Christ’s own love, we labor in hope of a more just and peaceful social order. And, while we do so, we strive to live peaceably in anticipation of God’s new creation.
To learn more about what Presbyterians believe about Biblical Justice, visit: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/biblical-justice/
History of the Slogan
Since the mid-1980s “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” has been a protest chant to denounce racism embedded in the American criminal justice system. It first came into the lexicon following the racially motivated murder of Michael Griffith – a Black man killed at the hands of a group of white men in Queens in 1986. But it became codified as a protest chant in 2014. Civil Rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton heard it cried out at a protest, and since then it has been incorporated into all protests of grave miscarriages of justice against Black people and people of color in America.
How and Why We Chose this Slogan for our Sign
When it became apparent that we wouldn’t be worshipping together at the church this fall due to the continued spread of coronavirus, our leadership began thinking about how we could use our space to share our faith. This moment coincided with the protests of racial injustice across our country following the deaths of George Floyd – a Black man killed by a White police officer – and Breonna Taylor – a Black woman killed by White police officers in her home, among many others.
We brainstormed all kinds of statements and images that could be installed artistically on the front lawn of the property – perhaps a fist, doves, or silhouettes of kneeling bodies. As a predominantly White church, we felt it would be disingenuous to install a fist, the symbol so closely affiliated with Black Power. Doves are deeply spiritual and important symbols of peace, but we felt they didn’t quite communicate the fervor and passion called for by the time. And, similar to the case of the fist, we recognize kneeling as a deeply patriotic symbol of the Black community and our goal is not to colonize symbols or actions of our Black neighbors. But standing side by side with neighbors of all races, we, as a predominantly White community, boldly lift our voices with others to proclaim “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.” Without justice for Black, Indigenous and People of Color, there is no peace. And, as Christians, we persist in the one hope of our calling, “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:3)
Our Commitment to Becoming an Antiracist Church
As a predominantly White church in a predominantly White denomination, it is incumbent upon us to learn more about Whiteness as a racial identity and to repent our complicity in building and upholding White supremacist structures in the church and society. To learn how we must hold ourselves accountable, we gather in small groups to read scripture and books like Waking Up White by Debby Irving, The Person you Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh, and Dear Church by Lenny Duncan. We are committed to reflecting on how we, in our personal and collective lives, can turn away from the sin of White supremacy and turn towards a more just and peaceful life. We believe our actions in the world make a difference.
The sign is an interactive installation – it is not only visual, but also participatory. We believe that the work of justice is accomplished in a variety of ways, and to sustain hope and perseverance, it is important we all know we are not alone in this endeavor. Therefore, all who feel called to do so are invited to write in chalk a symbol or description directly onto the sign of what you are and what you are committed to for the pursuit of justice. Writing in chalk reminds us of the fragility of our commitment – and our need to recommit to the work over and over again. All are encouraged to come back time and time again to reaffirm your commitment and to be inspired by others doing the same.
Response to Vandalism
Over the summer, the sign had been vandalized. False statements were written in permanent marker that have no place in the discourse of racial justice. Rather than erase the vandalism and deny its presence completely, we decided to respond in faith – we decided to participate in the conversation as a body and continue to nurture discourse in the community.
The Belhar Confession – a confession of faith that we profess as Presbyterians – says:
We believe that the unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways;
in that we love one another;
that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another;
together know and bear one another’s burdens,
that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another;
that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity.
In permanent lettering adhered to the “NO”‘s, this statement of our collective faith will remain on the sign. It is a commitment we make in faith to practice what Jesus teaches us and it stands true even as our individual commitments remain fragile. Meanwhile, on the freshly painted words “JUSTICE” and “PEACE”, all who feel called to do so are invited to write in chalk a symbol of what you are and what you are committed to for the pursuit of racial justice.
How We Feel About the Sign
“Every Sunday, we receive and then pass the peace of Christ to one another – but if I say ‘peace’ to my neighbor, I must say ‘justice.’ For me to give the peace honestly, I must be committed to justice.” – Rona J. G.
“As followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we acknowledge that his mission cannot be fulfilled on earth without justice. This compels me to recognize that our work for Jesus needs to be tied to the work of justice.” – Tim M
“This is the church speaking.” – Sue B.
“We cannot be simply ‘not racist.’ We must be ‘antiracist’ and this means that we must be more active in the work of justice for Black neighbors.” – Marcia M.
“We hope this will bring comfort to some who pass by. We really mean it. We hope they know it.” – Dick H.
“This sign puts the onus on us in following through to be active in seeking justice. These are not just words. It is a mandate for the work we have before us.” – Tim M. (yes, we have 2 Tim M.’s!)
What We Think About the Sign
Together, let us confess, let us lament, and let us learn so that we might more fully live into Christ’s commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as Christ loves us.
As a predominantly white community, we have more to do as anti-racist community of faith. We have more bias to unearth. We have more fear to quell, more false anxiety to quiet, more uncomfortable conversations to have with white siblings about what we can do to eliminate white supremacy. And, friends, this is our work as white people to do – it is not the responsibility of people of color to educate us about our bias, about our racism. While we need to read authors of color, listen to the perspectives of people of color, it’s not the responsibility of people of color to tell us how not to be racist. We need to root that out ourselves – understanding what it means for us to confess our complicity. We need to reject white cultural norms that value civility and niceness over speaking out about racially biased thoughts and actions when we see them expressed by white people we know and love. And we need to live with humility, being open to others calling us out on our own expressions of white privilege and racism. Jesus engaged with the world, not by being nice, but with radical love and truth telling to bring people ever closer to the kingdom of God. And, the other Advocate that accompanies us, it is the Holy Spirit – a fire that transcends place and placidness.