Sunday, 31 August 2008

Patience and justice - how long Lord?

(Emblem of the women of the Plaza de Mayo - the white headscarf)

Lord, how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the stranger,
they murder the orphan. ( Psalm 91.3-6)

For decades the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires have been protesting about the disappearance and torture of their loved ones. With extraordinary persistance they have been trying to speak truth to power since just one year into the Argentine military dictatorship's so-called dirty war (1976-83). Their call has been for justice for the victims, their campaign has been against impunity.
Now finally justice is beginning to be done.
This BBC report forwarded to me by a friend who comes from Argentina states:
"Two of the worst oppressors during Argentina's military rule - known as the Dirty War - have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Antonio Bussi, 82, and Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 81, were sent to prison for the kidnapping and disappearance of a former senator in April 1976."

So how long do we have to wait for our campaigning to have any effect? Is this really a satisfactory outcome? In our present instant society can we sustain campaigns over this length of time? If we can't what hope do we have of ever seeing justice? And do we really want justice or are we actually more interested in easy mercy and moving on, letting the past be?

I remember how angry I was at former Archbishop Carey's bizarre ethical reasoning when Augusto Pinochet was arrested in Britain - justice it seemed was less important in his reasoning than an old man's right to humane treatment and he was reported as saying that he
hoped and was confident "the Government will pay attention to the personal aspects of this, and be compassionate in this situation ... But I want to say that from a Christian point of view the moral and spiritual aspect of this hopefully will be considered by the Government."

So often Christians confuse forgiveness and justice; it's sad when a church leader does this. Carey's lightweight theological reasoning put compassion for Pinochet's "personal aspects" at a higher level than compassion for the "personal apsects" of Pinochet's victims.
The women of the Plaza de Mayo were involved in a personally costly campaign to not let injustice go unchallenged. It is always hard to decide between justice and mercy but offering a Christian view of forgiveness which doesn't take justice seriously enough smacks to me not just of cheap grace but bargain basement grace.
Feeling compassion for former dictators is one thing. Putting that before justice for their many victims is another.
So what do you want, justice or mercy?