March for our lives, seeking justice today

Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff opens one of his essays with a quote that says that in order to act responsibly in our world, we need to view it from the vantage point of redemption. This messianic light estranges the world, revealing its abnormal rifts and crevasses, and suggests ways of being that involve seeking justice, struggling towards the way the world might one day be.

 This redemptive vantage point can sharpen our perspective on the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. School shootings in the USA have had a familiar pattern: shock, grief, offerings of thoughts and prayers, push for debate on gun control, politicians wringing hands that nothing can be done, and then settling back into the status quo. Reinforcing this status quo are suggestions, such as that of Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page, to place armed volunteers in schools, so that when parents drop off their children, they can visibly see “someone is out there looking out for their safety.” Suggestions about arming teachers also reinforces this. The normalcy of gun violence, in this way of thinking, leads to suggestions that it needs to be met with even stronger violence. This solution affirms the normalcy of violence. Peace is to be achieved through forceful pacification at the end of another gun.

But when a messianic light shines on this, when we look at it from a redemptive standpoint, we can see how abnormal the status quo is. Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale relates a student’s comment, “My parents save my voice mails in case I get killed at school.” It isn’t normal for parents to be collecting voice traces of not-yet killed students in case they die by another mass shooter. UpWorthy’s Eric Pfieffer recounts a fifth-grader telling his mom that if there was a shooter in his school, he had volunteered to help push a heavy desk against the door, concluding “If it came down to it, I would rather be the one that died protecting my friends then have an entire class die and I be the only one that lived." It is not normal for a young boy to have to be faced with this decision in his school.

Canadian artist Pia Guerra sketched a drawing entitled “Hero’s welcome,” which pictures a large crowd of mostly children and some adults facing the viewer, and in front of them a young girl tugging at the hand of a large man walking hesitantly towards them. The young girl says, “Come on Mr Fies! So many of us want to meet you!” Mr. Fies was the 63-year-old assistant coach and security guard at the Florida high school that died in a hail of bullets by throwing himself in front of students, and the crowd in the drawing are the many students and adults that have already died in the many school shootings in the USA. This is not normal. The messianic light shows it is abnormal for schools to be places of mass shooting and death rather than safe spaces, gardens of delight, as educator David Smith names them.

The Kingdom of God is an alternative vision for society. Wolterstorff has shown that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice, and Messiah comes to bring justice. This vision is not one of peace through violence, but of peace through justice. And this is not the justice of retribution, but the justice of protecting the vulnerable, which the Old Testament prophets concretized as the quartet (widows, orphans, poor, aliens). And, Wolterstorff says, this messianic justice is not something that comes only at the end of time. Rather, Messiah’s coming long ago announced the arrival of the kingdom, and thus the arrival of the reign of justice. And it is clear from the logic of such justice, that justice delayed is justice denied. Justice cannot wait. Peace and security—the flourishing associated with the garden of delight—must be enacted now, and here. We must seek justice now.

This is something within our reach. Such justice can be enacted. There are many countries around the world where there are no mass shootings in schools, where students don’t go through lock-down drills, where parents don’t save voicemails because their students might be killed at school. These countries have, in fact, been enacting peace through justice. They have passed laws that ban certain guns, make it more difficult to acquire them, have the means to track them, allow the study of gun violence nationally. In the USA, this is within our reach. We must seek such justice.

But it requires a change of perspective. It requires the vantage point of redemption to see the abnormalcy of pacification through violence, and that peace through justice is the better way, the way of the Kingdom of God.  Given that most all of the politicians and legislators in the USA publically profess to be Christians, it should be quite easy to make the case to them that the vision of the Kingdom of justice is the better way, that they should seek peace through justice.

The students in Florida have not just been grieving. They have transformed their grief into righteous anger and action. They have been organizing a call to action, previewed in their visits to the White House and the Florida Capitol, and taking the form of a set of protest and pressure marches on March 24 of this year. This includes a march on Washington to pressure Congress to go the way of peace and security through justice. The March for our Lives protest is a call to seek justice—a call to legislators to protect the vulnerable, endangered by reckless gun laws, to enact real change towards peace rather than pacification. This call is a trace of the messianic kingdom of justice breaking through in our society today.

Clarence Joldersma is the resident philosopher and interdisciplinary scholar of the Graduate Studies in Education Program at Calvin College.  He has been influenced by theorists from several academic areas, including Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi in philosophy of science, Jurgen Habermas and Emmanuel Levinas in continental philosophy, and Hendrik Hart and Nicholas Wolterstorff in Christian philosophy.