The Politics of Justice, and the Injustice of Politics

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So a court has now come to a verdict on the charges leveled against Paige Patterson. You may recall that there was no little excitement in the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago about all of this. I wrote about it here and here. This was during that heady and exciting time when the wolves were hot after the Southern Baptist sledge, the one sliding through the Night of Wintry Allegations, and in the interests of justice and fair play for women a number of people got thrown off the back of that sled. Paige Patterson was one of them.

But it turns out now that none of the allegations held up in court, and Patterson has been fully vindicated. He did not do those things that everybody was yelling about back then. He did not do the things that were the reason he was fired. Now what?

Now Southern Baptists are a sturdy and inventive lot, but it turns out that they are not any better at unringing the bell than anybody else is. That is a common problem in this fallen world of ours, but our real problem, the one revealing the ongoing presence of commies among us, is the total lack of any desire to unring any bells.

And that is what we need to talk about. We will get to it in a minute. But first . . .

Special Note: Reason #987 Why A Justice Primer Was Sorely Needed

Randy Booth and I wrote this primer on the basics of justice precisely because it is one of the central and screaming needs of our time. Parents need these principles for sorting out backyard squabbles, and elder boards need them when processing allegations of wrong-doing against anybody in their congregation, but particularly when the allegation is leveled against one of the elders.

The Lord Himself is the true place where justice dwells, and the behavior of our generation, including Christian leaders in our generation, reveals just how far away from God we are. Whaat is the Lord, the hope of our fathers? He is the habitation of justice.

“All that found them have devoured them: And their adversaries said, We offend not, Because they have sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice, the Lord, the hope of their fathers.”

Jeremiah 50:7 (KJV)

The Commie Way

It is the rare person indeed who has never jumped to conclusions. It is also the rare person who has never had to learn, usually the hard way, about the essential truth of Proverbs 18:17. Who among us has not had to apologize for being hasty in judgment?

“The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.”

Proverbs 18:17 (NKJV)

A great deal has been written over the last few years about critical theory, a Marxist construct that interprets the world with an oppressor/oppressed metric. Many conservatives have found this framing helpful, and many commies have disliked how helpful it was, and so have complained that the red state rubes are ignorati, the great unwashed, who have not read Gramsci in the original Klingon, and who have probably attended more than one county fair, at which they probably ate more than one corn dog, and doing so without shame.

But this is just the way it is. The commies have a different metric when it comes to evaluating justice. Because all of history is seen through the lens of the oppressor and oppressed, if one of the oppressor class gets “the treatment” prior to the revolution, it really is no big deal. The time is coming when all of them will be swinging from lamp posts, right? What’s a little thing like going a bit out of sequence?

This is why the vindication of Paige Patterson is not going to cause an outburst of “we’re so sorry” from any of those who were so hot for his blood. They are not sorry. They felt virtuous when they went after him, they felt virtuous when they got him, and they feel virtuous now.

And this is how we can identify the presence of the ethical standards of critical theory. When people can commit the most outrageous acts, and feel entirely virtuous the entire time, it should be immediately apparent that an alien ethical system has been dropped on top of our created nature, and screwed down tight. Now this has been done in other periods of history with other alien systems of ethics, certainly. But critical theory is the only one capable of making 21st century evangelical sophisticates feel virtuous while committing one grimy deed after another.

Now I need to make one qualification. I am not maintaining that everybody involved in this kind of thing is a commie. No. A number of Christians go along with this kind of gross injustice because of cowardice. But when you have budgeted for the commies and the cowards, you have just about covered the waterfront.

The right thing before God would be for those who organized the push for Patterson’s ouster to apologize, and to seek forgiveness. Something like “we were wrong.” Some of them might even want to do this. But here is where the cowardice comes in. To do the right thing in this moment would be to betray the cause. The subordination of basic ethical claims to “the cause” is a “tell” that the critical theory virus is doing its deadly work. The end result is that commies and cowards both are saying, in effect, that they want the cause to succeed more than they want to go to Heaven.

And what cause are we talking about? “Justice!” they all cried. When do you want it? “Now!”

Except they don’t. No, they don’t want justice. They want to look like they want justice, which turns out to be a very different thing. Looking like you want justice turns out to be in the hands of media manipulators and the boys in PR. Wanting justice is a matter of loving mercy and walking humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). And wanting justice also means that you need to be willing to have all manner of rancid objects thrown at your head. I speak of everything from dead cats to used grapefruit rinds.

I speak of this matter from experience. I have been preaching the gospel and fighting commies (in that order) since around 1968. This eventually garnered the attention of liars who, it must be confessed, know their business.

But I have opinions on this. People who have gotten the Patterson treatment themselves are people who sometimes turn a cynical eye towards those who lust after “justice now” on the Internet.

The Internet is very good for delivering some things instantly. For example, with a few clicks you can place a Door Dash order and have your subway sandwich in front of you in an astonishingly short period of time. But if someone goes online to “wrest your words” and to do so “all day” (Ps. 56:5), it is not a simple matter of clicking “refresh and restore” in order to get your reputation back.

The Right Kind of Not Caring

And this is why it is so crucial for ministers of the Word to not care about their reputation. I almost said “to not give a damn about their reputation,” but I didn’t. I held back because I care about my reputation.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. Elders are men who must have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7). Their character must be blameless (1 Tim. 3:2). At the same time, we have to remember that the man who wrote those words had been in jail who knows how many times. And Jesus was not executed because He got on so well with the Jerusalem country club set. Believers must live in such a way that they do not invite slander (in the wrong way), meaning that the slanders must not be true. But they must also live above reproach in the kind of way that exasperates the ungodly into making wild accusations, and the accusations must be seen as ridiculous as soon as you look straight at them. We can see how the apostle Peter addresses this peculiar tension.

“. . . having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

1 Peter 2:12 (NKJV)

Live out the kind of good works that provoke slanders, and they should be the kind of good works which also refute the slanders.

But why does godly living provoke slander? Politics, ecclesiastical politics included, is absolutely dependent upon the rhetoric of justice. Whether wicked or not, everybody wants to look and feel righteous. This is why that world runs on accusation. The devil is a Pharisee, and accuses the brethren day and night (Rev. 12:10). The best defense is a good offense. About the only way a sinner can feel righteous is through comparing himself to somebody else who is worse, and so you see how accusation falls naturally into everyone’s arsenal.

Because accusation is so essential to this system, there is no pest like the biblical pest who insists on things like due process, hearing both sides, presuming innocence, and all the rest of these juridical glories. When it comes to such matters of justice, the kingdom of God advances the same way so many other things in this sorry world advance—through the diligent efforts of troublemakers. This is because one of the basic traits of the right kind of troublemaker is to stand up for the accused.

And that always interrupts and disrupts the self-righteousness party. That disruption should include, in this moment, some enterprising journalist to ask Patterson’s adversaries from five years ago what their thoughts on the subject are now. But if any of them were driven by a true zeal for justice, a journalist wouldn’t have to ask. They would have already told us.