Many years ago, Ann and I were members of Westminster UMC. This was long before we went into fulltime ordained ministry. During those early years at our new Methodist church, we were involved in an adult study class and we were looking for a Bible verse that would set the vision of the class. It was an exciting time and one of significant spiritual growth for both of us. We selected Micah 6:8. In fact, with the Trustees permission, we painted it on the wall of the room so that we would be remined of this powerful statement about our Christian faith — to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God! The verse from Micah is a foundational call to live a life that is deeply connected to the relationship with God and humanity. The three attributes help to define who we are as people of God.
As the on-going protests about the killing of George Floyd spread across the country there is the repeated cry for justice. Signs, slogans, bull horns and chants repeat the call – “we want justice”. As a teenager in high school, we would repeat the pledge of allegiance — remember how it goes? “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”. (BTW, today — June 14, 2020 – is Flag Day!) There are the words again – that just roll off our tongues with hardly any thought or reflection — with liberty and justice for all. Ever wonder what justice really means?
As I sat in classes at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore, I was intrigued by a class that I took on Ethics. In that class I was exposed to the Veil of Ignorance about our biases and an interesting thought appeared by Philosopher John Rawls. He was addressing how people in the world could work together. Philosopher Rawls suggested that we should imagine we sit behind a veil and we see shadows of two people engaged in a situation. The veil blocks any identifying characteristic of the people – such as gender or race or age or religion or position in society. The veil keeps us from knowing who they are, and we have no ability to identify either of them. By being not able to identify them, we can more objectively consider how societies should operate.
There are two primary principles in Rawls’ veil of ignorance: the liberty principle and the difference principle.
- According to the liberty principle, we should try to ensure that everyone enjoys the maximum liberty possible without intruding upon the freedom of others.
- According to the difference principle, we should guarantee that everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper. In other words, if there are any social or economic differences, we should help those who are the worst off. And, any advantages in the contract should be available to everyone.
So, according to Rawls, approaching tough issues through a veil of ignorance and applying these principles can help us decide more fairly how the rules of society should be structured. And fairness, as Rawls and many others believe, is the essence of justice.
As all of us know very clearly, the last several weeks have been wrenching and difficult. We have the Coronavirus pandemic to deal with and then the protests. America seems split in many different factions. What do we do? In today’s Carroll County Times, Rev. Dr. Lou Piel, Pastor of Mt. Zion UMC in Finksburg, Maryland wrote an article on healing of America. Here are the concluding list of suggestions that Lou has made.
What would it take to heal America? More and more Americans of all persuasions have recognized that our nation is sick and needs healing. A number of suggestions have been offered by both sides of the aisle and by people of different races, religions, backgrounds and economic situations.
1. We need national leadership that honestly recognizes the deep division/divide that exists in our country. We can’t sugar coat it any longer.
2. We need to recognize and admit we have a problem and it has existed for a long time and will continue to get worse unless we do something about it. As someone wrote “we need to do more than simply keep the peace with armed forces; we need to learn how to live with ourselves and others armed with the force of peace.” Striving for peace does not mean we sweep all the issues that divide us under the table.
3. Peace does not mean uniformity. Diversity can be healthy if we treat teach each other with respect. Maybe it even means we treat each other as an essential child of God.
4. We need to recognize that none of us has all the answers but together we can move ahead assuming (and that is a big assumption) we want to move ahead.
5. “America first” means that starting the process of healing is more important than being elected or reelected. It is putting the healing of the nation first.
6. Healing means that someone who has a different opinion than I have is not my enemy to be taken down. It might even mean that the different opinion might be better than my own.
7. It means that while all might be suffering some are suffering far more than others and their suffering can lead to death or even tragically the death of those around them.
8. Healing begins when we begin to talk less and listen more. This sounds good but many believe in the cultural division of our time so healing is not possible.
9. Healing means that while the Creator has given us the day by day responsibility to find answers the Creator is still with us, all of us, working to find healing.
Micah 6:8 God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
 Is it possible to heal America’s virus and racism? Carroll County Times, June 13, 2020 by Lou Piel