A couple of months back I wrote about the issues of school-based violence and how it is killing our school system and our students. I noted that over 857 students drop out of school each hour of the school day and that some 4,500 commit suicide each year as a result of this violence.
To combat this, I proposed the use of Collaborative Justice principles that marry Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice practices so that victims are given an actual voice and that offenders atone for their offenses through the use of Reintegrative Shaming techniques among others. Finally, I suggested the use of my own Shalom-centric Holistic Intersocial Forgiveness Transformation (S.H.I.F.T.) Theory. Specifically, S.H.I.F.T. is a three-fold understanding of forgiveness based on three distinct definitions of forgiveness as it relates to the three parties to an offense: the victim, the offender and the community. In regards to S.H.I.F.T., I contended that all parties had to forgive in order for them transcend past the conflict.
Since that time, it would appear that I have struck a chord with multiple groups. Non-Christians want to ignorantly throw Deuteronomy in as an alleged "Christian" way of handling conflict and therefore claim that my position is "un-Christian" – which is both absurd and laughable. Some Christians disagree with my stance only because I suggested treating others more as Christ would rather than converting them to Christianity – a difference in theology where I contend that people must see Christ in you so that they can see a compelling justification to turn to Christ as their one and only Savior. Finally, actual professionals in the field of Peace and Forgiveness Studies took exception to by my S.H.I.F.T. Theory because they felt that the use of "must" can easily be translated to mean "forced" in regards to forgiveness – which is a valid point but any forced forgiveness is truly no forgiveness at all if it does not come from the heart.
To that end, with all disagreements accounted for, I wanted to talk about what it means to be Christian in a free republic and how that must translate into daily life. In particular, I want to refer to the book of Ephesians.
Many people do not know how this book came to be. You see Paul, an apostle of Jesus, was imprisoned. The Christians at Ephesus went to seek Paul and gave him a list of questions that they had about Jesus and the Christian faith. Hence, the entire book of Ephesians is Paul's response to their specific questions. This book is therefore, quite arguably, one of the most powerful and concept-rich books of the New Testament. Paul tried to merge where the Old Testament gave laws and Christ gave grace by being fulfillment of the old laws. Christ was not a re-writer but rather the law made flesh and fulfilled. One contemporary theologian summed up what Paul was trying to say in Ephesians with grace by saying that grace really could be seen as an acronym for "God's riches at Christ's expense."
In Ephesians, Paul used two Greek words that have been mistranslated over the years. The first word used for Jesus, and His sainted followers, is "poima" which means "masterpiece." Where Deuteronomy was showing only law, Ephesians noted how the law was fulfilled by love and grace through the masterpiece of God which was Jesus and those who used their free will to seek to be more like Jesus as a sainted follower. The other word used was "ekklesia" which erroneously has been used to mean "church." In reality, it is a term meaning "a called-out and select people to do a given task or function or role."
In Ephesians 4:1-16 Paul told how Christians are supposed to act and why to do such as a called-out and select people. Verses 17-19 go on to explain how non-Christians think and act and why they do so. Finally, the rest of the chapter speaks to the transformation of the criminal, speaking honestly to one another, not giving in to rage, building others up, and the power of forgiveness.
I bring this up because the Church, as a world body, has routinely failed in our efforts to build and transform criminals into meaningful followers. This is because we no longer see ourselves as being set apart and called-out people. Many now consider church to be a building, not people, and that "holding church" is just a "thing to do" one or two days a week rather than being worshipful followers always. We are quick to wrath and slow to forgive – an anathema to Christ's teachings.
Truly, this world needs to see Jesus, and I am not talking about His second coming.
For example, in regards to juvenile offenders, my own home state of Florida ranks number one, of the ten most populous states, for our rate of arrests. In 2012, while legislators and local governments were fighting over proposed septic tank laws, the State was arresting juveniles at a rate 48 times higher than the national average with some 58,000 total juveniles being incarcerated. That same year, in Santa Rosa County, where churches are literally found every half-mile, a 15 year old juvenile detainee, at the Milton Girls Juvenile Residential Facility, was savagely attacked by guards for no apparent reason. In West Palm Beach County, at the Palm Beach Regional Detention Center, an inmate, Eric Perez, passed away due to a massive brain hemorrhage while guards looked-on and refused to take action. The sad part about these offenses against youths is that Florida law often protects state and contracted juvenile workers from child abuse and neglect laws. With the Perez case, the grand jury, while noticeably angry at the Department of Juvenile Justice, were helpless to levy any charges. Sadly, churches have been noticeably absent from the discussions on juvenile crime and therefore this issue can only gain support secular groups.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as Paul wrote to Ephesus, we must be the set-apart and select few in this world that shows Christ's love. We can only do this by our actions and by being involved. The early Christians had to worry about prisons and lions and stoning. What do we contemporary Christians have want to worry for?
There will always be public disagreement to anything Christ-centered. I say to embrace that as a sure sign that you are most likely following the right path. Listen to the opposition but do not be wrongfully dissuaded just because they protest.
My issue and ministry are about helping juveniles. However, in truth, we have the elderly, babies, homeless, minorities, etc. in abundance that are frail and powerless that are being abused and harmed by our government, our corporations, our schools and colleges, our society, and by individual peoples. At a time when we are the most free to speak, we have increasingly become the most silent. Verily I say that true Christians must start to speak out if meaningful change is ever to happen.