Monthly Archives: April 2010

On Obeying God Rather than Men

The recent immigration law enacted in Arizona has enraged tens of millions of Americans across the country. It could also offer a moral dilemma for Christians, especially those who minister to the undocumented. The new law makes it a crime to conceal, transport, harbor or shield an illegal immigrant if the person knows or recklessly disregards the immigrant’s legal status. (It does create a legal defense for someone providing emergency, public-safety or public-health services to illegal immigrants). How exactly does that square with the Bible’s concern for the foreigner, the poor and homeless? The problem is complicated, of course, by the fact that illegals have committed a crime. But does that mean Christians should be obligated to turn them away without food, shelter or services, especially when a now hunted people seek sanctuary in the churches? What makes the law even more repugnant is the likelihood of its encouraging racial profiling on a massive scale, as its first victim, a US citizen of Hispanic ethnicity, found out just the other day. Now seven other states, from North Carolina to Utah, as well as local governments are threatening to follow suit.

Arizona has a huge immigration problem on their hands, but such draconian measures may prove more hindering than helpful. Not only is the federal government considering a law suit against the state, even one of its own Congressmen Rep. Raul Grijalva is calling for a nationwide boycott of Arizona products and tourism. In addition, the new law is also estimated to cost Arizona $26.4 billion in economic activity, $11.7 billion in gross state product, and approximately 140,324 jobs. Perhaps that is a call to compassionate immigration reform that even the governor can understand.

Sojourners author and speaker the Rev. Jim Wallis said Monday on MSNBC that he has heard from many evangelical clergy in the state who refuse to comply with the new law on the basis that it constitutes a “social and racial sin.” Are Christians bound to obey such laws? On that topic I thought it would be interesting to see what some theologians and saints of the past have said about unjust laws and Christians’ non-compliance.


From St. Augustine, On the Free Choice of the Will (AD 388-395):

“It seems to me that an unjust law is no law at all.”


From St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (1265-1274):

Human laws are either just or unjust. If they are just, they have the power to bind our conscience because of the eternal law from which they are derived. As Proverbs says, “Through me kings reign and lawmakers decree just laws” (Prov. 8:15).

Laws are said to be just either because of their end, when they are ordained to the common good; or because of their author, when the law does not exceed the power of the lawmaker; or because of their form, when burdens are distributed equitably among subjects for the common good. For since a man is part of the multitude, whatever he is or has belongs to the multitude as a part belongs to the whole. Thus nature inflicts harm on a part in order to save the whole. Accordingly laws which inflict burdens equitably are just, bind the conscience, and are legal laws.

Laws are unjust in two ways: First, they may be such because they oppose human good by denying the three criteria just mentioned. This can occur because of their end, when a ruler imposes burdens with an eye, not to the common good, but to his own enrichment or glory; because of their author, when someone imposes laws beyond the scope of his authority; or because of their form, when burdens are inequitably distributed, even if they are ordered to the common good. Such decrees are not so much laws as acts of violence, because, as Augustine says, “An unjust law does not seem to be a law at all.” Such laws do not bind the conscience, except perhaps to avoid scandal or disturbance, on account of which one should yield his right. As Christ says, “If someone forces you to go a mile, go another two with him; and if he takes your tunic, give him your pallium” (Mtt. 5:40f.).

Second, laws may be unjust because they are opposed to the divine good, as when the laws of tyrants lead men to idolatry or to something else contrary to divine law. Such laws must never be observed, because “one must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

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The Real Beatitudes
May Change Our Attitudes

It only takes a cursory look at the two different versions of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to plant the idea that the Evangelists may have used a common source. Called Q by scholars (for quelle, German “source”), this long lost, if hypothetical, Aramaic document may have been the first written “Gospel”– although in its original form it may have more resembled one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament than our four canonical Gospels. A few scholars even go so far as to claim that this prototypical Gospel might be that penned by the real apostle Matthew, who according to the Early Church Fathers was the first to write down Jesus’ sayings in the Hebrew (Aramaic) language. (Note: Jesus spoke Aramaic, the language of his native Palestine, not English, and the Four Gospels were composed in Greek. So the words of Christ that appear in our English Gospels are perforce a translation of a translation.)

Yet comparing the two versions of the Beatitudes as presented in Mt 5:3-12 and Lk 6:20-26, one notes as many differences as similarities. It is often explained that, being a Jew, the writer of Matthew used an Aramaic copy of Q and made his own, somewhat freer, Greek translation, while Luke, a Gentile, would have depended on a Greek translation of Q currently in circulation.

Translation from one language into another is hardly an exact science. Rather, the translator is often pressed to look for “dynamic equivalents”; that is, instead of rendering a phrase literally into another language (“functional equivalence”), he tries to think as a speaker of that language and to express the same thought, although in different words.

Sometimes in translating or editing Q, Matthew and Luke expand or condense a saying in an effort to elucidate the meaning for their particular audiences, or they may substitute a word for the sake of clarity. Again, the goal being, not a wooden, word-for-word rendering, but a faithful representation of what they believe is the intended thought or meaning. Sometimes, where the two Evangelists disagree in their translations of Q, the problem can be traced to an original Aramaic word with multiple meanings, or to the peculiar thematic emphasis they wish to give the text.

To account for the discrepancies between their respective Beatitudes, some scholars have assumed that Luke, whose version is more concise, gives a more faithful or literal rendering of the original Aramaic, while Matthew tends to expand the text, at times perhaps for liturgical purposes (as with his Lord’s Prayer). Of course, it may be that each depends upon a different textual tradition of Q. (Since three or more decades might have elapsed between the composition of Q and that of their own Gospels, we must allow for the possibility of the development of manuscript “families” or traditions.)

As the late renown Aramaic scholar and textual critic Matthew Black writes in his seminal work An Aramaic Approach to the Gospel and Acts, “That our Lord’s Beatitudes were originally cast in poetic form, in Hebrew or Aramaic, is obvious from the parallelism of lines and clauses still discernible in Matthew and Luke….” (Black, AAGA, p.156). Parallelism is of course the most striking and common element of ancient Hebrew poetry: instead of rhyming couplets, as in English poetry, we have pairs of verses which mirror each other, the second repeating the first thought, though in different words, or building upon it. For example,

“I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the LORD answered him;

he saved him out of all his troubles.”
(Ps. 34:4-6, TNIV)

According to Black, for example, there is strong textual evidence for taking Matthew’s first and third beatitudes together. Note that even the Aramaic words for “poor” and “meek” mirror each other (both come from the same root which means “to be bowed down, afflicted”).

Blessed are the poor [Aram. ‘anayyin],
for theirs is the kingdom of God [or heaven].

Blessed are the humble [Aram.
‘anawin],
for they shall inherit the earth [land].
[brackets mine]

At least hypothetically, therefore, and based on what we know of 1st-century Palestinian Aramaic, it may be possible to continue to reconstruct the Beatitudes as Jesus may have originally spoken them, and Black is able to do this for eight beatitudes, making a series of four stanzas consisting of two verses each.

Blessed are they that mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are ye that weep now,

for ye shall laugh.


Blessed are the merciful,

for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they shall be called the sons of God.


Blessed are ye that hunger,

for ye shall be filled.

Blessed are ye that thirst,

for ye shall be sated.

Although Black goes no farther, we also ought to include the blessings of purity and persecution, which could form the fifth and sixth final stanzas. Purity of heart is mentioned in Psalm 24, along with “clean hands,” as a qualification for those who would enter God’s sanctuary and stand in his presence. If there was originally a parallel verse to Matthew’s “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” it may have been lost. But it is also possible to pair the verses in other configurations to avoid this conclusion.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men hate you, exclude you, insult you and reject you
because of my name.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,

because great is your reward in heaven.

For that is how they treated the prophets.

Coupling the verses in this manner would seem to make sense of the different versions in the two Gospels (Matthew has nine beatitudes; Luke four). Luke also includes what looks like an original series of woes (Lk 6:24-26), which in turn mirror the blessings– woes being a common element of Hebrew prophetic poetry.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

It is important to keep in mind (as both Mt & Lk emphasize) that Jesus was speaking directly to his disciples on this occasion. Indeed, in Luke the Lord addresses both the Beatitudes and woes in the second person plural, while Matthew uses the third person. Did Jesus use both? Verbs in Hebrew poetry often shift between persons (e.g., from third to second and back again). This shift may seem awkward or odd to us in English, but ancient Hebrews no doubt considered it elegant. So it is possible that the Evangelists chose one of the other while writing in Greek.

You say, well this is all very interesting. But what does it tell us about the Beatitudes, about Jesus, about God’s kingdom? Much indeed.

First, it shows us a Jesus whose teaching is more firmly embedded in the OT prophetic traditions and Hebrew poetry than is suggested by the Greek translation.

Second, as Black points out, Isaiah 61 (which according to Luke he preached in Nazareth) would seem to figure even more prominently in the background of the Beatitudes. Note the parallelism here, and how “poor” and “brokenhearted” are used almost synonymously (cf. Matthew’s “poor” and “humble”), as are “mourn” and “grieve.”

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair….

Third, it is all the more clear that through his coming kingdom, God has identified himself with the poor and oppressed. Very often, preachers tell us that being “poor in spirit” means having a contrite attitude, one of brokenness before the Lord (cf. Isa. 66:2), and has nothing to do with being financially rich or poor. This is partly true. The Isaiah 66 passage (“These are the ones I look on with favor/those who are humble and contrite in spirit/and who tremble at my word”) is definitely in the background here, as Matthew tries to bring out by adding “in spirit.” However, the main point Jesus makes in the Beatitudes is that real poverty and oppression, emptiness and need put one in an advantageous position for entering God’s kingdom, for generally speaking, the poor and oppressed (like little children) know they are helpless, unlike the rich and powerful who oppress them.

It has become an accepted claim among many scholars that, in adding “in spirit,” Matthew, writing for a relatively affluent community, felt compelled to make the verse relevant to wealthy people (who were also beggars before God). This explanation may sound a bit cynical, but there may be some justification in it, as Matthew may be merely emphasizing what is inherent in the text. Surely, Jesus is not saying that poverty of itself admits one to the kingdom, for pride and self-reliance do exist among the poor. Rather, Matthew highlights that it is the humble and broken attitude of the poor, who approach God from a posture of weakness and need, that makes them prime candidates for receiving the kingdom (as in Luke’s story of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector in ch. 18). Thus, while it cannot be said that poverty itself is the E-ticket in the kingdom, there are advantages that the poor share in direct contrast to the rich. Ultimately, however, it is those who know their utter poverty and helplessness before God who gain the kingdom.

Matthew’s turn of phrase may not have been motivated merely by economics. For in writing his Gospel he seeks to prevent many in his largely Jewish community from lapsing back into Pharisaism (hence the heavy invective that pervades the book). Indeed, from Jesus’ perspective in the Gospel, it was the Pharisees’ pride and reliance on keeping the rabbinical oral law and their peculiar interpretation of the Law, which effectively sought to put God in their debt, that made entering the kingdom so difficult. It may be this debate within Matthew’s community, rather than their supposed wealth, that forms the backdrop for his choice of words here.

In addition, in the context of Isa. 61, Matthew’s hungering and thirsting after “righteousness” would be a poor translation, if we are looking for its original intended meaning. For Greek dikaiosyne also means “justice.” It is the poor and oppressed who suffer the worst injustices, but God has come to turn the entire world system on its head– the Jubilee year of the Lord. God commanded Israel to celebrate a jubilee every 49 years, and during that year all land debts were to be canceled, Hebrew slaves released, and land returned to its original owner. It is this very language that Isaiah employs (ch.61), referring to the Lord’s release of Jews from Babylonian captivity as a jubilee par exellence. Jesus too, quite appropriately, both in his Nazareth preaching (Lk 4) and the Beatitudes, interprets Isaiah’s verses messianically and eschatologically, drawing a parallel between the jubilee year and God’s kingdom. And this is not merely “pie in the sky when we die,” to quote Wobbly Joe Hill; rather, the wonderful news (terrifying for some) is that God’s kingdom is already present.

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One Lump or Two?

A few days ago NPR reported how the Tea Party Movement draws its inspiration (at times erroneously) from Boston history. Specifically, it was pointed out, the original Tea Party in 1773 was a protest against, not just high taxes or fiscal profligacy, but taxation in the Colonies without representation in Parliament. Britain had incurred great debt protecting her American possessions in the French and Indian War (1754-63) and felt it only right that the colonists share in the expense. But “taxation without representation is tyranny” became the rallying cry, and soon the Mother Country had a full-scale rebellion on her hands.

In reality, taxation without representation was nothing new for Englishmen. At that time in Britain only about 3% of the male population could vote for their representatives in Parliament. The rest were considered to be “virtually represented.” As British evangelist John Wesley wrote in his “Calm Address to Our American Colonies” (1775), in which he tries to defuse bellicose sentiments on the other side of the Atlantic: “Indeed you had no vote for members of Parliament, neither have I, because I have no freehold [property] in England. Yet the being taxed by the Parliament is no infringement either of my civil or religious liberty.” Or as lexicographer Samuel Johnson had maintained earlier, “They [America] are represented, by the same virtual representation as the greater part of England.” That did nothing to satisfy the colonists, however, who saw such “virtual representation” as a mask for political corruption.

The Boston Tea Party was also the direct result of a government bailout of a major corporation. Tea imported to Britain had been subject to a 25% duty, not to mention other taxes. The high price tag had forced many Brits to buy blackmarket tea smuggled from Holland (where it was not taxed). The British East India Company had been hit hard by this turn of events and begged His Majesty’s Government for relief. This came in the form of a reduction of the tea tax in Great Britain and a refund to the Company of the duty levied on tea exported to America. (Wow, corporate socialism, even back then!) To make up for the loss in revenue, Parliament laid additional taxes on the Colonies, thus adding more tinder to an already smoldering situation.

But there are more similarities, not mentioned in the broadcast (or even in most American history classes). The French and Indian War had resulted in an economic downturn in the Colonies. Many were out of work, adding to the growing gap between rich and poor. If you asked the average working class colonist in 1763 whom he was angry with, Parliament or King George would probably not have topped the list. By 1770 wealth in the cities had become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Anger against the rich, whose increasingly lavish lifestyles drew deep resentment, erupted not infrequently in the burning of the homes of the wealthy. A bitter class war seemed likely.

Meanwhile, not only was Britain taxing her Colonies at a growing rate, but colonists could not sell the products they harvested or manufactured on the open market. Instead, they were offered a low fixed price, and the goods were then sold by British middlemen at a mark up. In addition, the British government had made a treaty with the Native American tribes that the Colonies would not expand beyond the Appalachians. That was bad news for those who had purchased land to the west or who had been given land grants there in exchange for military service. The economic elite among the colonists were outraged at these conditions, which limited both their profits and their ability to expand westward. Feeling their oats, they believed they no longer needed the Mother Country, though the Mother Country desperately needed their revenue.

The Sons of Liberty, therefore, who were agitators for separation from Britain and by no means poor or “average” colonists, saw an economic opportunity. As men of property and education, they detested mob violence. They also must have realized that to have the British Empire off their necks and out of their pockets was a capitalist’s dream, but if they did not act soon, their own interests too might be harmed by class warfare. What they needed to do was to find a way to channel the anger of the lower classes into the cause of freedom from colonial rule. Indeed, these patriots needed a groundswell of popular support to achieve their ends. As historian Howard Zinn points out, there was no covert conspiracy here, but a series of choices based on class interest, which had the same result. And that, folks, is how a class war became a war for economic and political independence. The rest, as they say, is history.

In a similar way, today the seething anger of average, hard-working Americans over the recent bank bailouts, rising deficits and unemployment, and corporate control of government has been seen as a threat to what our Founders called the “moneyed interests.” So the latter (Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Banks, etc.) have fought back by funneling tens of millions into self-serving propaganda, Tea Party organizing and the so-called Astroturf Summer, in an attempt to deflect rage away from the privileged and powerful (who caused the crisis to begin with) and to focus it on weaker or easier targets, such as immigrants, the welfare poor, minorities, Muslims, homosexuals, or progressive liberals, in addition to opposing issues such as climate change legislation, health care and immigration reform. To be fair to the Tea Partiers, I’m not saying that their sole inspiration came from the boardrooms at Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, and Exxon-Mobil, but that what may have started as a grassroots movement of outraged citizenry has been to a great extent hijacked by corporate spin doctors.

Divide and conquer. That is how the privileged class has remained in control and kept the lower classes in check from time immemorial. And you can imagine why. If the oppressed sectors of society ever joined forces again with a disaffected middle class, the resultant wave would flatten everything, making a more level playing field for all– in other words, real change. (I suppose to some I probably sound like a Marxist. I assure you I am not. I just love history.)

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Those Taxation Blues

“Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.” ~Gerald Barzan

Like many of my fellow Americans, I waited till this week to file my taxes. It’s not that I am a habitual procrastinator or a Tea Partier. Nor am I morally opposed to taxation on religious grounds. It’s just that the experience of filling out a 1040 form with all the accompanying schedules is so invariably and extraordinarily stressful. Doing my taxes appears on my Julie Andrews list of Favorite Things, right after “colonoscopy prep.” (Note that Miss Andrews never mentions Schedule D in her song. There are several reasons for that, which I won’t waste time enumerating here, except to say that Mr. Hammerstein obviously had the good sense to realize that sentimentalizing the tax code does not make for socko good theater.)

For a few years in succession, I have used Turbotax. As many know, it does tend to make a pig’s breakfast of your return, but at least you have someone else to blame. Like the man with B.O. who bought a camel because it smelled so much worse.

Besides the stress involved in completing such a complicated tax form is knowing that 53% of my tax dollars will go to pay for an ever ballooning Defense budget. Don’t get me wrong. Defense is a really good idea. The first duty of any government. I just happen to resent having to pay for all those padded invoices (you know, $90,000 for a flush rivet), the bloated salaries of defense industry CEOs, an increasing flood of greedy contractors in the theater that now outnumbers our soldiers, and the daily murder of scores of innocent civilians in a War on Terror that makes the Crimean War look like a tactical marvel. Why do I have to pay for that? I didn’t break it. All this while hatred of America continues to grow worldwide and care of our wounded soldiers and veterans takes a backseat to Pentagon spin.

Here is a modest proposal. How about instituting a voluntary tax (let’s call it the Patriot Tax) for those who wish to fund this war. You know, one of those contributions at the end of the tax form that asks, “Would you like $1 of your refund to go to Save the Red-Bellied Newt or the Congressional Dominatrix Pension Fund?” Or better yet, since some defense spending is certainly justifiable, how about granting us taxpayers the line-item veto? Or perhaps something like a charitable contribution:

Please apply my defense donation toward

__Defense lobbying on Capitol Hill
__Bribing a congressman
__1 machine screw
__Filing tabs
__Drone attacks
__Raking a bus full of Afghans
__Where needed most

What many Americans get wrong is that the publicity stunt staged in Boston Harbor in 1773 was not spawned by outrage over having to pay high taxes, but by taxation without representation in Parliament. I think I know how they felt.

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Living in a World of Co-Abusers

In counseling circles the term co-abuser refers to a person who knows of or willingly facilitates the act or acts of abuse by their silence, inaction or even cooperation. A mother, for example, who knows her children are being molested by the father but does nothing to stop it is a co-abuser and in most States is just as guilty under law. When the children approach the mother for help or protection, they are often told to be quiet or their pain is minimized. This is classic co-abuse.

We live in an age of co-abuse– and to some extent I suppose we always have– when institutions and individuals who should uphold the public’s trust and welfare have become angry bastions of denial, coverups and disdain for the truth. Their motto, never admit a mistake or error in judgment, and certainly not guilt. And when confronted, blame the victim.

Under Israeli pressure, last September’s Goldstone Report, detailing the war crimes of both sides in the offensive in Gaza, was dismissed by this administration as “deeply flawed.” Thus Muslims everywhere had their hopes dashed by a President who failed to live up to the very principles of his Cairo speech. Justice denied. Again.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of victims of clergy sex abuse worldwide have felt re-abused, listening to a series of mixed messages from a church reeling under the blows of scandal after scandal. And just when the odor of guilt begins to waft into the highest chambers of the Vatican, the big bronze doors clang shut: the newest charges dismissed as “petty gossip” and the efforts of the media to uncover the truth labeled as a kind of persecution akin to “antisemitism.” Seeking a reassuring embrace from Mother Church, victims have instead received the cold shoulder reserved for naughty children who air the family secrets in public.

Dissident watchdog group WikiLeaks this week released video of a bloody 2007 massacre of unarmed journalists and civilians by US troops in Baghdad. The Pentagon’s original response to the mayhem was of course to exonerate all involved– just as it initially denied all involvement in a badly botched nighttime raid on an infant’s birthday party in eastern Afghanistan February 12, which left 5 dead, including two pregnant women.

Co-abusers are always angry when confronted, always blaming the victims; that is to be expected. It’s just painful and embarrassing to watch, because if you’ve lived any reasonable length of time in this world, you know that the truth always comes out– eventually. “The arc of the universe is long,” said Dr. King, “but it bends toward justice.”

It is also deeply demeaning to those who have suffered to have their pain minimized or the reality of their ordeal denied. This kind of injustice or re-abuse can be even more damaging than the initial abuse.

Yet this week has also brought a whiff of much needed fresh air. In response to the Wiki leak, which went viral, the Pentagon has called the video authentic. They have also admitted to killing the two pregnant Afghans. And Gen. Stanley McChrystal has actually publicly acknowledged the useless carnage at US checkpoints in that country:

“…In the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing the people who are executing. I’m just giving you perspective. We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

It is indeed a strange world we live in when the Pentagon pulls ahead of the Church of our Lord in its willingness to begin to admit it screwed up.

Justice delayed is justice denied. So goes the maxim of the law. But I say no. Justice delayed is justice delayed. It will never be denied. Not while there is a just God.

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