This is my second post in a series of responses to a Lenten study posted by the Office of Public Witness of the PCUSA. The study is written by Blair Moorhead. You can download it here.
Moorhead begins the week 2 study with Luke's story of the widow who continually pesters a judge until he grants her justice. Jesus is telling the story. He is illustrating God's responsive to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night. "God will quickly grant justice to them," he says. Moorhead rightly relates prayer as an "active, unrelenting force for justice," but then moves completely away from prayer throughout the devotional entries for the rest of the week. Instead she makes a connection not in the scriptural text--that God calls us to persevere in political action as an act of prayer. Her point is true enough but does not flow out of the text. Where Moorhead goes is to human action from a passage that is about human beings calling for God's intervention on their behalf. Might the church sometimes be the conduit through which God brings justice to someone who is crying out? Certainly! But within the devided context of our denomination (the PCUSA) the interpretation raises a number of problems because we do not agree on the nature of justice or its source.
"Who are the unjust judges in your community? Who are the widows?" Moorehead asks. We do not have agreement and so any "prayer in action" that seeks a particular political outcome creates division. For example, I would name those who counsel a woman that she has a "right" to decide to abort her child as unjust judges. Their counsel does not reflect the justice in the pages of scripture where the weakest--and who is more weak than a baby in the womb?--are the ones most vigorously defended by God and by God's people. And widows? Who is more a widow than an unmarried pregnant woman when the father of the child abandons her and her parents put her out of her home and the only counsel from her friends is that she should violently kill her child by abortion? Justice in action would be extending nurture, care, and love to both woman and child and walking alongside her through pregnancy, birth, and lifetime of the baby that God has created in her womb and whose nurture and care he has entrusted to her.
Moorhead says that "Disturbing governments" is part of our "DNA as Presbyaterians" and notes our heritage of "speaking truth to power". The problem that has plagued us for decades, however, is that we do not have agreement about what is truth. While some study God's word to find the truth and rely on prayer in order to be led by the Holy Spirit into all truth, others look to polls or books or experts and try to find the current voice of the culture. Moorhead says, "Our Gospel tells us to keep coming continually to the lawmakers and to keep up the faith through witness." I would put it another way. Our Gospel tells us to keep coming to God through Jesus Christ and to keep giving witness about Jesus to the world. Our Gospel leads us to extend loving and sacrificial care to those in need from our own resources, not to set up a tax enforced by the government.
I can join wholeheartedly with Moorhead's prayer this week, however, and I invite you to pray with both of us:
Steadfast God of Creation,Who asks that I pray without ceasing,I pray that I might take my prayers into the world as the widow did. That I might bring the witness of your unfailing love into the halls of power.That I might take your spirit of peace into a world of turmoil.
Thank you for your care of this worldAnd for your unfailing justice.May I continue to disturb injustice where it lies,Encouraged by your ever-present spirit.