"No justice! No peace!" "No justice! No peace!" We have heard the cry at countless demonstrations. It is a plea not for the mere absence of violence, the silent, complacent peace of the graveyard. It is, rather, a call to the peace of Shalom that rests on justice and that encompasses a shared sense of well-being in the community.
For too long now that sense of justice and shared well-being has eluded us. We have experienced forty years of endless war – overlapping, futile, and, for the most part, unworthy wars…wars that have left us mired in Afghanistan and facing perceived enemies on every continent. We are suffering the consequence of decades of rampant greed and reckless risk-taking that have produced a Great Recession in an America we hardly recognize any more.
And the powers-that-be of this world stand athwart the need for change - banks that gambled with our savings and took our homes, corporations that export our jobs, politicians who spout focus-group tested one-liners and fiddle while a nation burns, a corporate media that would distract us from the fire with daily offerings of circus-like "infotainment." The results are an income inequality not seen since 1928, in which 40 percent of the nation's wealth is held by one percent of our people; real unemployment near 16 percent; an increasingly less progressive tax system unworthy of a civilized society; rampant cuts in programs for the suffering among us; a people on its knees.
No wonder, at this moment of crisis, that the national mood is one of fear, the worst fear being that we might not be up to the task – an "uneasy feeling," a "sinking feeling," as the erstwhile New York Times columnist Bob Herbert put it, "that important opportunities are slipping from the nation's grasp." We are, he said, "squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society," adding, "If America can't change, then the current state of decline is bound to continue."
Indeed it will…if we don't change. But we have had our cold shower. Our eyes are wide open. We are poised to act. Our hour has come. We dare not squander this opportunity to build a better society. As people of faith and as Americans, we are a people of hope. We must give voice to our longings and aspirations. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said about a war, "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come again in America. We are at another moment when silence is betrayal. Our old ways of doing things no longer work. We must find new ways…new ways that reflect our faith in God and our concern for one another.
As people of faith we must now speak truth to power – in Wall Street and Washington – and stand in solidarity with those in the Occupy movement who seek a more equitable society. We are mindful that we are called, in the words of Micah "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" and strengthened in the struggle by the promise of Jesus that "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."
Mindful also, as Walter Rauschenbusch said, that such righteousness is "not a matter of getting of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming life on earth into the harmony of heaven," we must insist that "the highest type of goodness is that which puts freely at the service of the community all that man is and can be" and that conversely, "the highest type of badness is that which uses up the wealth and happiness and virtue of the community to please self."
As people of faith, we must seek a seat at the table and help shape solutions consistent with our values of justice, equality, charity, and solidarity with our fellow human beings. We must not shy from the political fray, for both politics and religion concern themselves with social relationships, how we relate to one another, how we will shape our societies. And good politics, like good religion, seeks to shape a just society.
Finally, we must be diligent in the effort and impatient with those who would temporize. In the words of Dr. King, "Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy."
Only when we redeem that promise will we enjoy the true peace of Shalom.