So a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim walk into a hotel…
Far from a joke, this is a historic presentation on how all Americans can work together toward achieving justice for all. The presentation takes place this week at the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon. The presentation entitled, “Restoring Faith in Justice: How faith based initiatives are innovatively expanding access to justice,” pulls together a panel of leaders from the faith based legal aid world, including: Joshua Abel who serves as Executive Director of the largest Christian legal aid in the country located in Indianapolis, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic; Diego Cartagena, Pro Bono Services Director for the largest Jewish legal aid in the country located in Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek; and Arsalan Bukhari, Executive Director of the Washington branch of the largest Muslim legal aid, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). I am moderating the panel which will discuss the unity, diversity and methodology of faith based legal aid.
Why? Why would I as a Christian reach out to Muslim and Jewish groups? I am certain there are those who would oppose such action, but I believe it is significant for two reasons. Two reasons because I hold dual citizenship in America and Heaven.
First, as Americans we all pledge allegiance to the same flag with ‘liberty and justice for all’, yet we know that is not true. The latest census reveals 106 million Americans (1 in 3) are unable to afford thousands of dollars in legal fees (based on 200% poverty level, $46,100 for family of 4) for basic rights. Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT have the right to a free attorney unless you are charged with a crime. Those trapped in our government or civil justice system are forced to navigate complex legal proceeding that threaten their housing, their livelihoods, their health and their families. While there are more than 850,000 attorneys for those who can pay, there are less than 8,000 civil legal aid attorneys. This is why more than 4,300 people are turned away from help every day in America. Why would we not work together to address this crisis? Our faiths agree on the need to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and in the importance of serving the poor and vulnerable. Why not work alongside one another to demonstrate the difference love can make instead of the all too frequent barrage of hate that gets leveled toward one another. In America, justice is blind and must be fair for all, regardless of how much money you have.
Second, I am a citizen of Heaven and I believe there is no greater mark for a Christ follower than love. Jesus said people would recognize us by our love (Jn. 13:35). This love should compel us to work together to serve the victim of injustice – even if that person is a different race and religion from our own. That is the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10: 25-37). Jesus even said that love demonstrated in action would be the sign of a saving faith and the basis for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 25: 31-46). A Kingdom where every tribe and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord (Rev. 5:9-10, Php. 2:10-11). We do not need to shed truth in order to demonstrate love. In Heaven, justice rolls on like a mighty river freely restoring all that is broken for those who believe.
My prayer this week is to visibly demonstrate the power of Christian love as we explore ways in which the three largest faiths in America can work together toward a common goal of providing justice for all. I hope in doing so that the rising category of those who are becoming disenchanted with faith, can see that we are not all hate mongers only interested in ourselves, but that we love God and we love our neighbor in a very real and practical way. That our faith takes to the streets. That our faith compels us to go and do likewise.