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Justice – A Reflection

February 17, 2020

Today Denise and I drove down the mountain to see the movie, “Just Mercy” which is based on the story of Walter “Johnny D” McMillan who was wrongfully put on Death Row for a murder he didn’t commit. Bryan Stevenson, a newly minted lawyer from Harvard took on Johnny D’s case and eventually beat the racist and corrupt legal system to have the charges dropped and Johnny D released from prison. To say that it was gut wrenching would be a massive understatement!

Part of what made it even more poignant was the fact that we had visited the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama as a part of our Civil Rights Trail journey from Selma to Montgomery last September. We walked through exhibits in “The Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration” which is housed in a warehouse where slaves were kept prior to their being sold in the nearby square. The above picture is from the Museum. We also went to the “National Memorial for Peace and Justice” which was a stunning memorial and sculpture remembering the thousands of lynchings in the US between 1877 and 1950. In 1950 mass incarceration became the new form of terror against the African-American community. Each jar (there are over 1,000 jars in the museum and at the memorial) represents dirt collected from the sites of lynchings along with the name of the man, woman, or child who had been lynched. Few States were immune… my home state of Minnesota was sadly included.

This is a picture of a small portion of the hanging steel rectangles with the names of lynching victims by county. There are a total of 805 rectangles representing the counties in the US where lynchings occurred between 1977-1950.

A quote from Bryan Stevenson that sticks with me is this: The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. As we watched the movie unfold, this became brutally clear. Sadly, with the resurgence of out in the open racism we are seeing the divide grow even wider. As I continue to walk with Thomas Merton, I often wonder what his response would be to this national horror today. In his book No Man Is An Island, Merton said the following: The God of peace is never glorified by human violence.

As I continue to process the story of Johnny D and others who have been wrongfully incarcerated (and the large number of innocents who have been executed) my heart aches. At the same time, his story challenges me to do more as a Christ-follower and pastor. God help each one of us to be the difference in this world.

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