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Making attempts at acting justly and loving mercy

I was gearing up my paint roller, ready to apply a second coat to a very needy section of ceiling in our living room, when I heard it. My ears perked up because it’s the kind of adjective more likely to show up in a catechism than in secular circles, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear it on the true crime podcast I was listening to. But there it was, loud and clear. Once. No, make that twice.

“Depraved. How could anyone be so depraved?” the witness wondered aloud, referring to a killer who had become the stuff of nightmares in Washington, D.C.

How indeed, I wondered myself. But words like “depraved” and “depravity” are about as common these days as a floppy disk. Who among us can even define them?

Most of our society denies an inherent bent toward badness, insisting instead that people are fundamentally good. We can thank the echoing words of folks like 18-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and more than a few college professors for reinforcing that idea through the ages. I prefer to go with what the Bible says on the subject, things like “none is righteous” and “no one does good.” It then adds “no, not one” for the hard-to-convince.

Aside from depravity, how else can you explain what happened to George Floyd? Or the looted jewelry store on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia? Or the burned-out church in Holly Springs with the graffiti “hypokrits” bowtie?

How else can you explain why in 2020 we’re still debating why it’s wrong to kill a black man in Minneapolis but OK to kill a thousand black babies at that pink abortion center in Fondren?

The truth is, only God can change that innate bent toward evil, and when he does there is an expectation. Among a host of commands to steer clear of stealing and murdering and the like, we are to act justly and love mercy while walking humbly with God. Yes, and amen. Attempts at acting justly can take many forms, though. As well-meaners hit the streets and tweet stances and post views, they should be careful to do their research and align themselves accordingly. 

What they find on an organization’s website may surprise them. The national leaders just might be into things like dismantling “cisgender privilege” and any environments in which “men are centered.” They may have an objective of disrupting “the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and fostering “a queer-affirming network.” They may have a beef with “white capitalism” and make an unapologetic call for “vigilantes.” And they may prescribe a Pollyannaish plan of defunding police based on that “people are basically good” fallacy.

Detractors of the defund movement seem to have a better understanding of depravity. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the city’s police union, said budget cuts would be dangerous.

“Cutting the LAPD budget means longer responses to 911 emergency calls, officers calling for backup won’t get it, and rape, murder and assault investigations won’t occur or will take forever to initiate, let alone complete,” the union’s board said in a statement last week.

Wow. That’s a scary prospect. 

It’s also scary to hear fellow citizens pin all of society’s ills on law enforcement and all of society’s hopes on empowerment organizations. I’d rather tune in to someone with a better endgame in mind.   

Pastor Irwyn Ince is director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission. He helped organize a march in Washington this past weekend specifically designed for Christians. He told reporters, “God’s throne is founded on justice, so we are people who are passionate about justice and about righteousness. We also understand that mercy has to be a part of our message. So we’re not simply looking to condemn, but we want to see the renewal of minds and hearts and the reunion of peoples.”

(I sure do like those words “renewal” and “reunion.”)

When asked how individuals can make steps toward that kind of reconciliation, Ince offered some ideas. First, he said we need to learn to really lament over injustice. That means we must notice it, address it, and mourn over it. Second, we should seek to build relationships across ethnic lines that become deep, especially in our churches.

I don’t know about you, but both of those suggestions sound pretty doable to me.

You can contact Kim Henderson at kimhenderson319@gmail or follow her on Twitter at @kimhenderson319.