April 12, 2012

Trayvon Martin and individual justice


The Trayvon Martin murder is a powerful illustration of just the kinds of things we’ve been talking about in church lately and it serves as a great litmus test to determine how much individualism (our European heritage) shapes our worldview. Those who see things through a corporate lens see Martin’s killing and Zimmerman’s non-arrest as symptoms of a greater problem of racial injustice in America. Many, however, see such a systemic perspective as race baiting hysteria. For them, the Martin killing is an isolated event, tragic but not representative of larger dynamics.

This second group has had to take on the awkward position of defending "the system." In a number of discussions I’ve read, the people who most insist that it was an isolated event resort to saying things like, “the police acted according to the law,” or “let the process run its course and we’ll find out if Zimmerman is guilty.” (-and point to the fact Zimmerman is now arrested as proof the system works, despite the fact it didn’t happen until national public outrage reared its head).

Isn’t it funny that a worldview of individual responsibility must defend the justice systems righteousness? Doesn’t this betray how much of a power and principality the individualism of the dominant culture in the US is? What a demonstration of the corporate power of individualism! We see things as individual events and cases but are unaware that we have learned to think this way systematically. To get to this point we have already been shaped by the power of a corporate system of thought, a discipleship, into individualism.

And that’s part of the problem with our justice system, I think. It is conceived of as a way to protect individual rights, but has no greater vision – it is entirely atomistic. The good of the country, of real people and real people groups, can only be conceived of an aggregate of individual rights. We have lost a sense of corporate good. The presidential campaign paints the same picture - all anybody talks about is the economy and how to get a bigger, protected share, as opposed to acknowledging and lifting up those already cut out. Elections aren't won by "we have a duty to one another," they are won by "I will keep them from taking your money!"

Isn't this individualism itself an abstraction? It must conceive of disembodied individuals detached from social location and broader forces. Now I wouldn't want individual responsibility to be ignored ever, but when does corporate responsibility become an equal partner? When is there an obligation to listen to outsider viewpoints? And why aren’t Christians more concerned about corporate responsibility and the public good? I mean, Christians are very proud of their civic concern for abortion and creationism, why not the little things like murder and morality…..? We end up defending a system in light of a bleeding dead child.

-Yes, you should read that in light of Good Friday passed and remember that the powers and principalities are the things Jesus cast down.

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