Let justice roll down like a river - by Richard Gammill

    Last Sunday, our pastor brought a powerful message from Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Toward the end of his message, he asked, “Would you like to know how many times in more than 40 years I have preached on the subject of justice? The answer, I am ashamed to admit, is this is the first time.”

    I suspect he is not the only preacher who has just joined the cry for justice. The pity is, it has taken days of massive demonstrations, violence and destruction to awaken God’s spokespersons to address an issue that has dominated the lives of so many of our black neighbors for so long.

    Last week, a police officer pulled me over for running over a curb. She took my license, went to her patrol car and called it in. She returned to my vehicle in a few minutes, handed my license to me and said to this old white man, “Have a good day, sir.” That was it and we went our respective ways.

    If I am a young black driver today, it is a different scene. The officer orders me to show the registration for my nice shiny pickup. I step outside, turn around and place my hands on the roof of my vehicle that is burning hot under the brutal Phoenix sun. Do I have any drugs or alcohol in my possession? A breathalyzer test or walking a straight line will determine whether I am impaired.

    All the while, I remember “the talk” my daddy had with me when I entered my teens. I say, “Yes, sir,” without any trace of sarcasm. I make no sudden move of my hand toward my pocket. I keep calm and take slow and deliberate breaths. With luck and with written citation in my hand, the officer allows me to drive away.

    However, I am an old white driver and the only way to imagine this alternative scene is to picture it the way I have heard or read. How long have I known about this disparity without acknowledging the pain of prejudiced unjust treatment? Years ago, my young black secretary told me police pulled her husband over — again — for no cause. I make a sound of sympathy without giving it much thought. That’s right — thoughtless.

    Today, we must think about it. Can we work toward a solution without the extreme measures taken in Seattle, my hometown? A friend of mine, a retired Seattle police officer, posted this on Facebook: “Tonight my heart is heavy because of all the hatred for the Police Officers on the streets who are doing their very best to protect you and your businesses and trying to keep the peace in our city. [During] several decades in this business, I have always personally tried to go ‘the 2nd mile’ to help citizens who depend on me to keep them out of harm’s way … I personally want to step up and thank all my ‘brothers and sisters in blue’ who put their life on the line everyday just for you! …”

    Many black demonstrators put themselves in danger to stop the looters. Many police officers are “taking a knee” and putting their arm around angry demonstrators. Compassionate humanity is on both sides of the lines — and people with courage can find ways to identify with one other.

    Preaching is one way for ministers to address the crisis — but not the only way. A friend of mine was a pastor in the Los Angeles area during the Rodney King riots in 1992. He and other ministers instigated the formation of a “Clergy Police Council.” More than 100 pastors came together as a clergy response team. They met each month with police officers. They facilitated conversation between the police force and members of the community. They rode in squad cars with officers and volunteered to be on call to assist at times of need. They enabled a higher level of mutual understanding and respect.

    Today my friend, Ian Robertson, is a retired pastor in Spokane, Wash. He is currently meeting with county sheriffs and city police chiefs to form a similar “Clergy Peace Officers Council.” He is recruiting his clergy friends to join up and work together for solutions. Ian has acted out his love for his community for many years, causing Spokane to name him “Citizen of the Year” in 2008. Activism of his kind is needed everywhere.

    We tend to hear just the second half of the verse in Amos: “… righteousness like a never-failing stream.” It is time to act on the first part of the prophetic call: “But let justice roll down like a river …”


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