It was on Oct. 3, 1995, when it really became clear to me that most African Americans see the world differently than do most European Americans. When the jury verdict in the OJ Simpson case was announced, one group of Americans thought that somehow Simpson had gotten away with double murder, and the other group of Americans thought that in this rare instance the justice system worked. Ten years later race still colors a person's view of the legal system.
Take the public response to the Duke Lacrosse Case, the prosecution of Michael Vick, or the prosecution / persecution of the "Jena-6." Was the event in Jena, La., on Dec. 4, 2006, a simple school fight brought on by inflammatory actions, or was the six against one event more in the nature of an assault? The many tens of thousands who attended the Sept. 20 rally in support of the Gena-6 indicated that many Americans think that the legal system is, at least in this case, not being fair.
The sad truth is that what you think about this case is very likely to be the same as others, who look like you, think about this case. This should not be. Justice ought to be color blind.
Let me suggest a radical solution from the pages of the New Testament. There was actually a similar case in the early church. The early church was centered in Jerusalem and it was originally all (or nearly all) Jewish. The Jews were divided into two groups.
The majority of the Jews in Jerusalem were from the land of Israel, and they still spoke the ancient language of Hebrew, thus were known as "the Hebrews." But there was also a sizeable minority of Jews who had lived abroad and now resided in Jerusalem, but they spoke Greek - the common language throughout the Mediterranean. These Jews were called "the Hellenists."
Also you need to know that in the early days the church had its own welfare system, so that Christians in need, who could not care for themselves, would be cared for by the community - pretty good idea, don't you think?
Well, as you might expect, there was a conflict. Read about it in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, "there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists."
The Hellenists did not think they were getting a fair share of the church welfare. There was a meeting and even 2000 years later the solution still looks radical. Seven people were appointed to see to the food distribution: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas.
All seven of these men have Greek names, making it very likely that all seven of them were Hellenists. Do you see what happened? The Greek speaking Jewish Christians had complained about the fairness of food distribution, and so the early church put the Greek speaking Jewish Christians - the minority - in charge of the whole system. Isn't that interesting? As far as I know there was never another complaint about fairness.
African Americans often complain that the American legal system is discriminatory, with racial profiling and harsher punishments for blacks. Other minority groups have similar complaints. What would happen if the United States followed a policy similar to that of the early church?
To put an end to the charge of racism, our country ought to look for ways to put more African Americans and other minorities in positions of authority in the legal system. The NT approach is not just to give the minorities a fair representation; it is to give them an overly fair representation.
Wouldn't it be great to be able to look back on America in 10 years and say that we have made progress, that we have become a country that lived up to its creed, where, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., children are judged, "not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character."
John Donaldson is the pastor at Newborn & Mansfield UMC. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org