Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

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Delivered on the Lord’s Day | November 7, 2004

Amos 5:16-24 Matthew 6:24

“Take away from me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Amos 6:23-24

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24

This familiar phrase from Amos, a prophet and sheepherder from Tekoa, a town at the edge of the Judean wilderness about five miles southeast of the city of Bethlehem, is a clarion call for justice. Amos prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah who was king of Judah from 792 to 740 B. C., and Jeroboam II who was a king of Israel from 792 to 753 B. C.

“The main theme of the Book of Amos is God’s passionate concern for justice. As a messenger of God, Amos understands how redemption for Israel is intimately tied to the idea of justice. Justice here is not an abstract concept. Justice is not a principle realized only in the realm of private morality. Justice is relational and spiritual; justice is social, economic, and political. God is concerned that everyone is treated fairly. The concept of justice as expressed by Amos promotes good relations between people and between groups of people. Justice promotes harmony, peace and understanding in the social and spiritual order.

Conversely, injustice breaks down good relationships and breeds anger, hostility and violence. God created the human race to enjoy good relations with Him and with each other, therefore injustice breeds alienation and in all of its varieties goes against the purpose of God and ultimately breaks the heart of God.

Amos prophesied during a time in which Israel had experienced new prosperity and wealth to the upper classes under the leadership of Jeroboam II. They used that wealth to enlarge their land holdings and to build great houses for themselves. They violated the rights of the poor and the landed peasants by throwing many of them off their ancestral lands. Through God’s providence in the Mosaic covenant, the landed peasant class had been the foundation of Israel’s society. But under Jeroboam’s rule, this class virtually disappeared. As the rich became richer and the poor became poorer and more numerous; many were sold into slavery. Israel’s social structure then became very unstable.

The immediate purpose of Amos’s prophetic ministry was to call the leaders of ancient Israel to repent and reform. Amos warned them that if they did not heed his call, their injustice against the poor and the weak would destroy the nation. God would not allow them to continue in their unrighteousness. They were arrogant and non repentant. They disregard the needy and were corrupted by power. Repentance and retributions were the only alternatives to remedying this situation. Justice would have to prevail in all aspects of life for the nation to experience redemption.

When we think of God, we know that God represents the values of love interpersonally, justice socially and peace globally.

In searching back through the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is always concerned about justice, about the needs of the poor and oppressed and how people are treated by each other and by those in ruler ship and power. One might venture to say in fact that all of the world’s major religions have a concern for social and personal justice and that one cannot understand God without considering God’s compassion and concern for all people. God therefore wants to right all wrongs. God wants to bring peace, harmony and tranquility to the social order through justice.

In the Christian tradition alone, God is most concerned about the poor, the oppressed, the despised and rejected; the widows and orphans and outcasts from society. God is concerned about rich people too, but his concern has to do with their wellbeing and their souls; whether rich people will share their wealth with those who do not have and whether they will allow their own personal greed to desensitize them to the needs of the poor and suffering. There is nothing wrong with wealth. Wealth can be a gift if it is used properly.

In reading the Synoptic Gospels of Jesus Christ, we see that Jesus had a ministry to all people, but specifically to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The bible says, “When he looked upon them he had compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. We see that when he took his ministry on the road, it was designed to help those in need; to help people overcome spiritually, psychologically and physically the wrongs committed against them and to provide them with hope as they sought refuge from the tumult and trouble of their times. Jesus understood how injustice could be the source of the people’s pain and suffering and he wanted to give them relief.

During this past presidential election, certain Christians have tried to isolate the teachings of Jesus by ignoring his call to justice and by giving his teachings a Republican slant, which is an insult to many believers who know and understand the Gospel and have a broader interpretation of the traditions that inform and give rise to the Gospels.

A document was sent to me recently apparently developed by so-called evangelical, conservative Christians that stated “How Jesus would vote on certain issues. ” Now don’t get me wrong, people have a right to choose whatever party affiliation they want. America is a free country and the beauty is that people have some semblance of choices. People have a right to choose their issues and side with the candidates they believe best represent their issues and interests. The problem is when information is circulated about how Jesus would vote on certain issues that are ostensibly Republican or slanted in that direction while ignoring or omitting other issues that may be viewed as part of a Democratic agenda.

For example, the document contained a statement about how Jesus would vote on Gay marriage as a moral issue or how Jesus would vote on abortion but completely ignores how Jesus would vote on war or the expenditure of billions of dollars on an unjust war. It failed to address the issue of hunger while one and five children go hungry in America.

Would Jesus approve unjust war as a moral principle when thousands of men, women and children; thousands of service men and women die needlessly in that war?

In Christian thinking, there is the concept of Just War; which is war as a last result; war after all avenues have been explored; war as alternative to protect a nation from invasion, devastation and tyranny; and not war that says, “Do unto others before they do unto me or war that strikes at the heart of nations on a hunch or an assumption or false information. Why didn’t the document have a statement on preemptive war in the eyes of Jesus? Would war be a priority with Jesus or would feeding the hungry and clothing the naked be a priority with Jesus?

If were one to take an honest look at the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, one would see that a salient theme in his ministry is health care. The fact that Jesus had a ministry of healing for those who were blind, lame, sick and afflicted means that he inherently had a concern for the health care of the people to whom he ministered. He probably got into trouble with some people of the so called religious health care professionals of his time because he wanted to give free healing health care to the people of his time; the blind, lame, deaf, dumb, lepers, paralytics and demoniacs. How would Jesus vote on that issue? Were some of the health care professionals angry because Jesus might have been infringing on their health care profits?

Moreover, how would he feel about the millions squandered in political advertising and muck racking and mudslinging by political opponents while people go sick and without the basic health care they need to survive? How would Jesus feel about the amount of money needlessly spent in this regard? How would Jesus vote on lobbyists who spend billions to influence congress and the senate when those billions could be spent to help people in need?

How would Jesus feel about our service men and women; veterans who fight in wars to protect our freedoms who can’t even get health care for their families? Ask the service men and women who have come back from this war who can’t get health care how Jesus would vote on health care reform! We can spend billions every other day for the war but service men and women can’t afford health care for their families because it would drain the profits of insurance companies?

Post election polls reveal that George Bush won the election on issues of private morality and that evangelical Christians won the day for him. I clearly understand how in our pagan culture where sex, violence, greed and the lust for power are glorified, where religion is being attacked on every front, how private morality can be of utmost concern. God bless George Bush and God bless evangelical Christians and the rest of us who have this concern, but my question to evangelical Christians is how can you talk about private morality just in terms of Gay rights and abortion which is important to discuss but ignore a public morality that has to do with the richest nation on earth not caring for the least of these and not bringing about social and economic justice in every aspect of society?

How can we talk about private morality when we have a regime that seems only to be interested in helping the rich get richer; where the little man and woman; the common man and woman are almost completely ignored and overshadowed by big the interests and greed of large corporations? Who represents the little people; the grass roots, the common man in Washington?

How can we talk about private morality when leaders lie without remorse and mislead the public? How can we talk about private morality and ignore the public interests and the public purpose; ignore how public servants irrespective of party should have the interests of all Americans at heart? The irony is we talk about private morality which is important but then elect leaders who appear to have no shame in saying what they want to push their agenda.

You talk about how Jesus would vote on those issues how would he vote on these issues? How would Jesus vote or feel about the numbers of Americans who stood for long hours in line to cast their vote in a free democracy only to be intimidated by people who are questioning their right to vote? How would Jesus feel about the 140,000 African Americans who were purged from Florida’s voting rolls in 2000 because they were mislabeled as felons? How would Jesus feel about irregularities in the voting process?

Let me say that Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat. If one were to give an honest reading of the Gospel, and I mean honest and not biased, one might discover that his teachings and ministry would probably espouse only the highest altruistic principles that happens to be embraced by both parties. One would discover that Jesus was probably a mixture of conservative and liberal. This attempt to identify Jesus as exclusively favoring a Republican point of view is a misleading and an outright misrepresentation of the Gospel. It is an attempt to politicize and depoliticize the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus had a ministry that embraced and espoused universal human values that are not monopolized by one political party over another. But even if we were to go there and say that he might choose affiliation with one party or another, what party do you think best represents the values of Jesus; the party where the rich get richer or the party where the poor get richer?

God is concerned about justice and peace and these issues are not confined to any political party. Love, justice and peace are universal principles that transcend the agendas of political parties and thus to isolate certain principles such as gay marriage and abortion and then say that Jesus would vote “no” against them while overlooking other important issues such as war and health care and poverty is a travesty of the highest order.

My problem is not with the evangelical Christian point of view, or people who happen to vote Republican, my problem is when agendas are created that serve the interest of one party over another in the name of Jesus; or that Jesus is made to look like a Republican who represents private morality while ignoring the completely public morality. Do you think Jesus would only be concerned about Gay marriage and abortion with all of the other hell and all the other problems we face in our nation and world? How dare you narrow the scope of concern while public moral issues also weigh in the balance? It’s not only about how private citizens act in private but how public servants act in public and in private. It’s not only about what we do in our bedrooms but also what we do in our boardrooms.

When the prophet Amos issued his divine call it was for justice in every aspect of society, private and public, and that leaders on all levels should have a concern that justice is given to the least of these as well as the most of these?

Where is justice? Is it justice when the common man is arrested and sentenced to jail terms for petty crimes and people who still billions from corporate coffers walk away virtually scott free? Is it justice when billions are spent for war and people go homeless and hungry and sick in this country? Is that justice?

How dare we narrow the interests of Jesus Christ to the realm of private morality while ignoring more critical issues that affect the nation and world en masse? Homosexuality may be condemned by the Bible, but does that mean that we repudiate all homosexual persons; treat them like people with a plague and not extend to them the love and grace of Christ? Does it mean that we banish them and treat them like the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany? Where are the voices of public morality; where are the voices of protest that exclaim, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream? ” Yes, God hates the sin and loves the sinner, but the same rules should apply to fornicators, adulterers, warmongers, liars, cheaters, embezzlers, and exploiters of the poor and oppressed. Sin is sin. Whether it is big sin or little sin and we are all sinners.

Some of us try to act as though we have cornered the market on morality; like we are free from sin; that sin is something for folk who don’t look like us or act like us. The greatest sin of all is to accept certain sins as ok and then condemn other sins because it is politically in our best interests to do so. There is something hypocritical in human nature where we wink our eyes at certain sins that benefit us and bat our eyes at others that don’t.

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream? If it’s wrong or sinful for gay people to marry is it wrong for them to receive the financial benefits that other cohabitating, unmarried couples receive as a result of being in a life time of sinful partnerships? If it’s wrong or sinful to abort a child before it is born is it wrong or sinful to kill an innocent child after it is born in wars of lust and greed that are unjust or cannot be morally justified? If it’s wrong or sinful for people to get paid overtime for their work is it wrong or sinful for people to outsource jobs to get richer from work for which workers are paid less? If it’s wrong for people to get paid a higher minimum wage is it wrong to hire people at below minimum wage to work in sweat shops at slave wages just to maximize profits? How would Jesus vote on this?

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream! No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon.

If we as Christians are going to take a stand based on morality be it private or public, and if we are going to use the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a moral compass by which we are to conduct ourselves as individuals and as a nation, then we must be consistent in our approach. We must not take hermeneutical license that twists, slants or nuances the gospel in the interests of one political party or another.

The danger of proof texting; that is to say taking a text out of context and applying in ways that serve or prove a particular point or personal interests is dangerous. Any body can take the Bible and apply it any way he wants it to serve his agenda. We must remember that slave masters during American slavery took certain portions of the Bible to justify slavery. The famous scripture was Colossians 3:22 which morally justified slavery with the words, “Slaves obey your masters. ” Not only was this scripture taken out of context, but slave masters completely ignored the Book of Exodus whose passages read, “Let my people go! ”

As Christians we must be very careful in taking scripture and the universal principles of morality and faith and applying them unilaterally to fit a particular political point of view.

God is concerned about universal and particular principles of morality such as love, truth and justice and how they are actualized in the personal and public arena. Jesus was not a Republican. Jesus was not a Democrat. The fact that the Republicans have taken over the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House does not mean that God is in the White House or the legislature. Stop saying that because George Bush is a man of faith, and I believe that he is, that “God is in the White House. ” Stop your blasphemy. No man is God, even the president of the United States. To say that is blasphemy and idolatry of the worst order and is to turn a blind eye to that’s mans actions and give him license to play God.

There were certain core values that Jesus had that embraced but also transcended the principles of any particular political party and we must be careful in exclusively identifying our Lord with one political party or another.

If we want to do as Jesus did or vote as Jesus would vote, let us make sure that justice is requited in every part of our society. Let us make sure that every citizen in this nation has food on his table, running water and a sewer or septic system. Let us make sure the charity begins at Home; before rebuilding Iraq how about rebuilding parts of Detroit.

If we want to vote as Jesus would vote let us vote for decent, affordable health care for every American; and make sure that every American has a good education and a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we want to vote as Jesus would vote let’s make sure that college kids or kids in America in general can get a decent job after finishing school. Let’s rid our communities of drug dealers and other problems that destroy our families; let us improve our judicial system so that citizens, even poor citizens can have good legal representation. If we want to vote as Jesus votes lets us reform the political, legislative, judicial and penal systems in this country.

If we want to follow Jesus let us have a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources so that every citizen in every village has a right to life, can breathe fresh air, can drink clean and pure water and not have their right to such basic necessities turned to corporations driven by greed and self interest. If we want to follow Jesus truly let us bring an end to poverty, hatred, disease and division; let us end all pestilence such as war, violence, hunger and disenfranchisement.

If we want to follow Jesus let’s create a world where if the richer get richer the poor can get richer. If we really want to practice the universal moral principles of our faith; let us not say as one caller to a radio program two weeks ago said almost in her biblical justification of poverty, “Well the poor will always be with you. ” So does that mean that exploiters of the poor are morally justified in their exploitation; that the ends justify the means?

If we really want to follow Jesus let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream; lets have government that serves the interests of all Americans and not just the few, the fat and the rich.

You want to know how Jesus would vote? He would vote to end all injustice because he would echo the words of Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ” He would say, “Political capital don’t mean jack if justice can’t come from the capital in D. C.” He would vote to end all forms of injustice, all forms of injustice; all forms of injustice; disenfranchisement, discrimination, hatred, violence, poverty, disease, sin, deceit, arrogance, pride of power, duplicity; all hidden agendas, all squandering of resources and everything else!

This is what he would do and that ain’t Republican or Democrat or Libertarian; it ain’t socialist, communist, mean or Green. It’s humanity; its just serving the people as Christ would serve them; this means poor and rich, have and have not, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, atheist and other; it means young and old, black, white, beige, brown and red; it means heterosexual and homosexual; rural and urban, formally educated and unformally uneducated; it means sinner and saint, slave and free; it means “Do Got, ain; t got and don’t want; it means anybody, everybody, somebody and nobody should have justice both distributive and retributive in the words of John Rawls.

It means that justice should roll down like water; roll down from God, roll down from the highest places in government; roll down in the nation, roll down in neighborhoods, families and communities. It means that justice should be active, dynamic and moving. It means that justice in America and in our world should roll down like water; be a clear as water, as pure as water, as necessary as water, as fluid as water, as refreshing as water, as buoyant as water, as life sustaining as water, as life giving as water, as prevalent to all as water, as cleansing as water, as adaptable as water, that runs against the grain like water, that seeks its own level like water, that cannot be stamped out like water. If justice is to roll down like water it means creating a world where we cannot do without justice like we cannot do without water! This is what Jesus stands for in the best of the prophetic traditions of Judaism.

The prophet did not say, “Let justice roll down like bottled water and righteousness like a cloud of steam. ” It does not say Republican justice, or Democratic justice, but universal justice, justice that is concerned for every person on every hill and in every hamlet; justice concerned for the well being and soul preservation of every human being who walks this good earth. Justice not distributed according to what political party you or I support but justice based upon the universal principles and humanity of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Let Justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.


It’s not catering to the rich and ignoring the poor. You fool what interest is it that you should gain the whole world and lose your soul? The interest is in truth and justice for all people. Not just my truth. Not just my justice. Not just my interest but the truth, justice and interests of all.

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