Monday was a great BREAD Nehemiah Action, with green-shirt-clad CMCers joining 2,500+ folks from 40+ congregations around Franklin County, mixing some critical yeast with critical mass. There are many good things in motion, including the newest issue: safe, affordable housing for the 54,000 households in Franklin County who currently pay over 50% of their income toward rent or mortgage. The city of Columbus is beginning to outline a 10 year plan to address the problem, and BREAD will be at the table.
At the Action I was asked to speak about justice from a Mennonite perspective, and to give an interfaith prayer. Several people have asked for the manuscript of those words. Here they are:
When Mennonites talk about justice we often combine it with another word – peace. Peace and Justice. We say it enough that it sounds like one long compound word: PeaceNJustice.
The peace part is something Mennonites have emphasized since our beginnings almost 500 years ago. This is modeled on the teachings of Jesus who said things like “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Jesus drew his vision from the Hebrew prophets, like Isaiah and Micah, who envisioned a world in which instruments of destruction would be refashioned into instruments of creativity. “They shall beat their swords in ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”
For Mennonites, doing justice is always informed by our commitment to peaceful relationships between people and toward creation.
But here’s the catch. Injustice thrives under the disguise of “keeping the peace.” I think you might know what I’m talking about. “Keeping the peace” too often means maintaining the current distribution of power and allotment of resources. This anemic and false view of peace is often accompanied with an equally weak practice of justice. Justice as punishment. Justice as giving people what they deserve for breaking the peace.
Justice that leads to true peace sometimes needs to disturb the peace of the status quo. Mennonites believe that a fruitful understanding of justice isn’t merely that people get what they deserve, but they get what they need – which could include a shuffling of resources and power. Justice means we’ve got to lower our sword budget, and increase our ploughshares budget.
Justice is served when people get what they need.
People need safe, affordable housing. That’s justice.
People need a living wage to care for themselves and their families. That’s justice.
People need robust and compassionate mental health care. That’s justice.
Columbus Mennonite Church is a part of BREAD because this is community that moves us all toward justice.
When people get what they need, we will reap a harvest of peace.
God of many names, UnNameable, UnTameable. Wisdom, constantly unfolding. We, sisters and brothers of the same family, have been led to this place through the commands of Torah, the cry of the Prophets, the call of the Gospel, the moral compass of human reason and compassion. We gather here united in our hunger and thirst for justice. We confess our failure as individuals and as institutions to live up to our best selves. We pray for the courage and the imagination to find another way – a better way.
May our time this evening serve our intention of creating a more just and equitable society here in Franklin County.
We pray this in the name of Love. Which pray this in the name of Justice. We pray this in the many Names of the Source of Love and Justice, in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.