A Life of Justice, the Gospel, and Detroit – Guest Post by Drew Ansley
Every time we visit Detroit, we come back with stories to tell. It’s not just the abandoned, broken down, post-apocalyptic feel you can get traveling through some parts of the city, with its overabundance of overgrown, long-since-left-behind structures.
It’s the lady asked to leave Starbucks by the Police, after holding a 10 minute verbal contest with another patron over her need to just leave when the manager asked her to leave. It’s the church on fire as we drove down the road. It’s the driver beating up the passenger of his car as we passed them on Woodward Ave.
The more time I spend in Detroit, the more clear it is that justice for the suffering must become the constant posture and ready response of anyone who desires to see God made much of in this city. Of course, God already told us this was important to Him. He is a just God who hates unjust scales (Micah 6:11; Proverbs 20:23). It’s Who He is. It isn’t merely something He likes. He IS justice.
That’s why He would have been unjust to let our rebellion slide and pardon our sins without punishing someone – the right Someone, Jesus, to vindicate His justice (Romans 3:21-26). So in order to show His perfect justice and His perfect mercy, God punished His son, Jesus, instead of us and gave evil you and evil me a way to know God and live.
Now Jesus, who suffered the most heinous injustice in history on the Cross, calls His people to defend the defenseless and to be fathers to the fatherless as a reflection of His character. We are the physical, tangible presence of Jesus lived out on earth (Eph 1:22-23; James 1:27). It cannot be merely a peripheral ministry. It is a core issue in the heart of God, and Detroit is one place He won’t let you forget it. Place office hours all you want on your church food pantry, but in Detroit, injustice and great need comes to your own back yard – literally.
While in Detroit a couple of weeks ago, we headed over to Pastor Jon Jackson’s house for dinner. When we arrived, there were extra kids in his and his wife’s arms. This is not an uncommon occurrence for this couple at all, having taken in various teens and children over their 8 years in Detroit, while maintaining a constant life of service to the community around them.
This time, however, Jon explained that he was waiting for the police, which was at that point going on 20 minutes. While grilling chicken in the backyard, he had observed a disturbance in a vehicle stopped in traffic beside his house. It turned out there was a young woman being beaten to a bloody pulp by her boyfriend. She tried to escape by exiting the car, but he pulled her back in and proceeded to choke her with both hands and continue beating her like he was in an MMA fight.
As Jon approached, the man ran, got in another vehicle, and fled the scene. The result was that we waited another 20 minutes for the police, and another 20-30 minutes after that for the EMT. While waiting, we fed and played with her two young, scared children and Jon and his wife spoke with the police and young woman.
So here’s the point: this is the NORMAL stuff, not the exception. I could share a dozen other similar and even worse stories and I have a very limited exposure to the city still. What about all of the progress happening in Detroit now? Sure, Detroit is “coming back” in some regions of the city, but the injustice that has been found there for generations is not going anywhere. In fact, new growth (though not inherently negative) will result in new injustices at various points.
Jesus entered, and even suffered in, our injustice and brokenness. He has called us to do the same for others for His name’s sake. We are the carriers of the hope that can be found in Jesus, and in a city like Detroit, we have no choice but to be ready at any moment to dispense that hope to the broken and hurting, even when at great personal cost. We serve needs not just at the church or community center, but as we live our lives moment by moment. We embody and speak of salvation and life possible through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in and through everything we do, everywhere we go, with every day we live.
What Detroit forces on those who live and minister there should teach all of us everywhere some important truths. The need for the gospel and for hope and for help is far beyond the reaches of our churches and our ministries, therefore our hearts and lives must reflect this broad scope as well. We must allow our own amazement at God’s provision and salvation in our lives to grow, so that in response, we will always be ready to give this Good News to others. The gospel points us to a life of Justice no matter where we live. Detroit just happens to hold us to it.