EngagePerspectivesThe Relationship Between Truth, Love, and Justice
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The Relationship Between Truth, Love, and Justice

This week Reverend Dr. Chaz Howard, my husband, and I were honored to be on a podcast hosted by Rabbi David Ackerman of Congregation Beth Am Israel.  Rabbi Ackerman asked us to reflect on this verse from the Torah.

Justice and Mercy statue by Glynn Acree

Justice, Justice you shall pursue, that you may thrive…

—Deuteronomy 16:20

First, we pondered the repetition of the word “justice” and how it both serves to provide emphasis as well as to draw out the many meanings of the word. By pairing it with the word “pursue” other associations come to mind. We pursue truth and we pursue what we love. Truth and love are folded into a robust understanding of justice.

Justice and the Civil Rights Movement

Rabbi Ackerman recalled a phrase he heard recently “Justice is love with its boots on.” Immediately we thought of the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis who, as a Civil Rights leader in the 1960s so embraced nonviolent resistance that even when his body was violently attacked, he kept marching in Selma. Something beyond the legal-rational definition of justice has to be happening for you to continue to pursue it even in the face of great personal harm. Something as strong as love.

Representative John Lewis embodies the connection between justice and love that is evoked in the statue “Justice and Mercy” pictured here. The statue shows justice as blind but mercy (love) whispers in her ear, imploring with an outstretched hand and concern-marked face to stop and consider love first. The original, adorns the courtyard of the Samford University’s Cumberland Law School in Birmingham Alabama. In 2018, my family attended an event honoring my mother in law, Audrey Lattimore Gaston, who over 50 years earlier, in 1967 attended the law school as the first African American student and in so doing she integrated the entire university.

Though I never got to meet my mother in law as she died when my husband was young, she is someone I deeply admire. I get chills when I imagine her, in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, entering law school in Birmingham as the only African American student with only one other white woman in her 90+ person class; all the rest white men.

While she never got to see this statue as it was commissioned in 1995, this picture includes my husband’s shadow. His mother’s great courage, her love and pursuit of justice inspires hope and perseverance in her future generations.

The portion from the Torah which is also in the Christian Bible says that pursuing justice, robust justice, justice mixed with love/mercy will allow us to thrive. Representative John Lewis and Audrey Lattimore Gaston’s examples are woven into my definition of justice, and thanks to them, I am hopeful in this current moment.

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