The 20th anniversary of the Million Man March has come and gone. That huge protest march in Washington, DC, held last month, heartened many people, and may have frightened others.
So I want to offer my thoughts on the theme of the most recent march: “Justice or Else,” in the hopes of helping my fellow white folks overcome the fear of retribution that the words “or else” might evoke.
If you had to deal with repeated and systematic injustice in your life, wouldn’t you rise up to stop it? And while there may be some violent people among the participants who just might resort to a baseball bat if their frustration boils over, most of the marchers are simply reminding us all, every color and ethnicity, of the critical necessity of justice.
When you know someone loves you, they can say anything and you won’t take offense. But if you suspect any ill will, even “hello” can sound like a threat. So let’s put down the suspicion for a moment and accept that most folks want the same things: peace, security, and well-being.
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286.
In this statement Baha’u’llah establishes a clear, logical sequence, in which unity becomes a prerequisite to “well-being, peace, and security.” Most people think of unity as an end-stage goal—the ultimate conclusion that peace and justice could one day result and culminate in—but here the Baha’i teachings reverse that expectation. First unity, then peace and security.
In other related passages Baha’u’llah provides additional elements in the Baha’i formula for human peace and security, most notably:
The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 66.
So here we have one more important prerequisite: justice. Justice, according to Baha’u’llah, has as its very purpose, the appearance of unity among us. Justice provides the underlying mechanism, the foundation necessary for the building of unity. Oppression and tyranny are contrary to justice and therefore prevent unity, and consequently, stop us from achieving well-being, peace, and security.
So, we might summarize the entire equation as: “Justice brings the unity required for well-being, peace, and security.” Or, put another way you may have heard before, “No Justice = No Peace.”
So when we hear “Justice or Else” we might recoil from the perceived threat of the “or else” part—or we might instead roll with it and acknowledge that the “or else” part means: “or else there is no hope of unity, no path to peace, no guarantee of security and no true well-being for anyone.”
So to all the folks afraid of the negativity of “or else,” let me offer the positive form: “Justice Brings Peace.”
Still the formula remains—justice first, then unity, then peace and security. Perhaps that’s why Baha’u’llah said that the “best-beloved of all things” in the sight of God is justice:
O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. – The Hidden Words, pp. 3-4.