“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and perhaps, we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
-Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
I am starting to read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson and plan to watch the new movie after reading this book. Just reading the first few chapters, it is so sad to see the blatant racism in the Deep South, especially when it directly affects the life and death of African Americans in the United States.
The quote above is a powerful statement about judgement and grace. It is a statement that without mercy and compassion in our society, corruption by the most powerful among us runs rampant and it is our social status, not our unalienable rights as human beings, which decides our guilt or innocence in a rigged judicial system setup to oppress the poor and weak and favor the rich and powerful.
Another telling quote regarding Stevenson’s experiences defending the poor and weak and helpless at the hands of the US judicial system, he declares:
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”
His words are familiar to me based on the teachings of the Holy Bible. James 2:1-13 warns and specifically forbids injustice and oppression based on wealth and social status:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:1-13 NIV)
I am deeply saddened by the state of my country and the deeply ingrained racism and prejudice that still exists today in some part of the country. It is sad that a spirit of “less than” that dehumanizes people, created in God’s image, and judgement continues to persist when what we really need is mercy. Mercy for one another and God’s mercy to cleanse our sins of the past.