What Price Unity and Justice?

The first day of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity is hardly a trending topic on Twitter right now. There is much more interest in Brexit, the contents of that mysterious letter from North Korea and the Duke of Edinburgh’s car accident. Yet the theme chosen for this year’s reflections, ‘Justice, justice only shall you follow,’ (from Deuteronomy 16. 20), is certainly worth thinking about in a wider context.

For the Church, justice is a matter of right order* —the obedience of faith— and can never be an optional extra, something to which we pay lip-service but blithely ignore in practice. It is willed by God, and the full force of Christ’s prayer for unity must be felt by each and every one of us before it can take effect in our lives. As Christians we must pray and work for unity, which can only be achieved if we are prepared to let go of every personal and institutional obstacle we have put in its way. As I have argued elsewhere, that does not mean ‘lowest common denominator’ unity. Justice, right order, both require the foundation of truth and love, and we do not build well if we try to minimise these. At the same time, we must recognize that we put up barriers only grace can topple.

So, how do Brexit, Kim Yong-chol and the Duke of Edinburgh fit in? Let’s take Brexit first. If the British media are to be believed, our politicians suspect their E.U. counterparts of harbouring all kinds of wicked designs and knavish tricks intended to make life tough for the U.K. The possibility of exiting the E.U. without a deal (significantly, no one wants to call it an agreement) must be maintained, say some, as a bargaining counter. Do we really think the other members of the E.U. are, essentially, duplicitous? If so, on what grounds? Is it just to impute ultimate bad faith to another, because that is surely what one is doing if one does not accept that all parties are trying to attain what is best for everyone.

In the same way, diplomatic manoeuvres have to be viewed with caution, especially when one considers the history between the U.S.A. and North Korea, but speculation about what is intended can sometimes mislead. Justice requires a degree of open-mindedness that can be difficult to maintain. No doubt there will be much reading between the lines and calculation of risk and advantage, but it is in the world’s interest to give peace a chance, surely? And as for the Duke of Edinburgh, it seems everyone has rushed to conclude that he was at fault and should now hang up his car keys, along with every elderly driver in Britain today. Doesn’t justice demand that we wait to hear the police verdict on responsibility? One can’t deny that age does have a bearing on road accidents, but is it only the elderly who are at fault? Don’t the statistics suggest that the young are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents?

You may think I have strayed too far from the theme of Christian unity, but the point is that Christian unity does not exist in a vacuum, anymore than justice does. Both have to be lived; both have practical effects on and in society; and both exact a price. One of the questions we each need to ask ourselves this morning is, what price are we prepared to pay for a just society and for the unity of the Church. The inequalities we encounter every day in a world where some enjoy abundance while others starve cannot be brushed under some mental carpet, nor can the attitudes we adopt be allowed to run on unexamined. We are responsible beings. As we pray for unity and justice, let us remember that. We are responsible beings.

  • see Gregory VII on the meaning of iustitia, passim.
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3 thoughts on “What Price Unity and Justice?”

  1. I suppose that all of the topics you raise, deserve treatment. But the one that stands out for me in of the Duke of Edinburgh’s accident.

    Many people have jumped onto the judgement band wagon, saying that due to his age, he should be encouraged stop driving ,on public roads as he is putting the public and himself at risk. As I face having to renew my driving license this year, coming to my 70th birthday, I know that I am a safe driver, albeit, my reactions are slower than when I first started driving aged 18. y, But I am also aware of this, and tend to drive more carefully than I might have done 5 0r 10 years ago. Should I give up the freedom that a car gives me and take a risk that Public Transport can take the load, particularly as I have the pensioners travel pass – I have considered that, and in fact do use my travel pass on buses, but some people in my church rely on my ability to take them to and from church, and often to other appointments to hospital etc, which are miles away and difficult to access if you live with mobility or disability issues. So, my judgement is simple, while I can drive safely and offer a service I will renew my license and continue what I do, until I feel and know that it is time to stop. Surely, the Duke of Edinburgh, deserves these choices, without being forced to make them by public opinion. He is a fine man, who I had the privilege to meet when he was the Colonel of my Army Regiment and he drove himself to that meeting in his famous London, Black Cab.

    Our rush to judgement on him, demonstrates that perhaps we should remove the plank from our own eye, before telling him that he needs to do the same. As for the other topics, I can only resort to prayer for wisdom and discernment for those involved.

  2. I also wish to comment on the Duke of Edinburgh’s accident. Both my sister and a neighbour had motor accidents recently. One happened yesterday and her car was hit amidships, spun and is probably a write-off as all the air bags were deployed. All three involved were pensioners, and all were hit from the side, but it seems that the ones causing the accidents were not pensioners. Perhaps all of us need to exercise due care and attention both for ourselves and others when we are out on the roads.

    My sister’s car is driveable, but has been declared a write off, and the insurance company has offered £900.00 less than an equivalent car would cost to buy to replace hers. Where is the justice in that, especially as she was not the one at fault?

  3. The question of Christian unity and its intersection with everyday life have loomed large in my own life these past few months. Once a month I sing with an Anglican church choir for their monthly Choral Mass (yes, Mass – if anything they’re Higher Church than we are at my RC parish church across the road!) and I’ve been made aware that my presence there as a Catholic is valued both by the vicar and by my own parish priest. The stone in the shoe however is that I was introduced to the choir by (and still meet there) someone who was party to a certain personal disappointment of mine earlier in the year, after which I stepped aside from the choir for a time. I have however found my way back, and part of the reason for that has indeed been one’s duty to work for Church unity and my personal obligation, as I see it, not to turn bridges into walls in that context. Asking oneself “What would Jesus do?” isn’t always a simple matter, but it was this time. I leave to Him the longer-term outcome for me personally.

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