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Friday, May 14, 2010

Justice and Mercy

Justice and Mercy


War, huh, good God y’all, what is it good for – absolutely nothing.

This is a song from my childhood – and because it was in a recent movie my kids walk around the house singing it. Things get much weirder as we get older.

They think the song is funny, because the movie was a comedy, but for me it brings up memories of Vietnam and the era of war protesters. Since I was a kid I have vague memories of those days; protests on TV, images of the war, Nixon resigning, arguments at school (I was a loyal Republican in 5th grade). Today I have a better understanding of what went on. Several people I have met over the years served in Vietnam. Russ talked about terrifying helicopter rides, midnight rocket attacks and endless rain. The thing that impressed me the most from Russ was his powerful hatred of the Vietnamese. Twenty years removed and he still called them gooks. He was unashamed in his disgust for an entire people. If this is the result of war then I think that the song is true – what is it good for – absolutely nothing.

Yet, what good is the sentiment of an antiwar song when someone tries to set off a bomb in Times Square? The next time it happens I could be there, or one of my children. When I saw that story the first words out of my mouth was; kill them. Self preservation makes a person very militant. Jesus said; “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus was a man of mercy. However, Jesus also said this about people who sin and do evil; “They (angels) will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus was also a man of justice. So, when we are considering going to war against terrorists and other assorted nasties, should we follow Jesus and love them? Or, should we follow Jesus and send them to their just reward?

Justice is needed because people do evil in the world. Our country cries out for justice against the people who attacked us on 9/11. We cry out in anger because of all of the innocents hurt and killed on that day. At the same time, the world cries out for mercy. The Indian Ocean tsunami caused all of us half a world away to give all that we could to those who had suffered from that tragedy. When people suffer in a war ravaged place like the Sudan, mercy should be the principal that guides our actions.

The leaders of our world do try and avoid war. We organize economic sanctions, international tribunals and insert peace keeping troops. The history of these interventions is mixed. When innocents are attacked, justice demands that we do something, and mercy demands that we do it with love. All of us need to figure out how to balance the two. In the meantime, keep singing those old antiwar songs and, give peace a chance.

The Rev. William Whitehead is a graduate of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. He is an ordained reverend within American Baptist Churches and serves as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Rahway. For more information, go to

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