Good Friday is a good day to think about fairness and justice, since our Lord Jesus Christ enjoyed neither at human hands. The gospels don’t provide journalistic clarity about what happened. But crucifixion was Roman state terrorism. Our safest conclusion is that Rome’s governor, Pontius Pilate, ordered him killed as an insurrectionist, and Jerusalem’s religious authorities went along.
Religious rivalry later in the first century influenced gospel accounts that put it squarely on temple authorities, begetting centuries of Christian anti-semitism. Without clarity, and without fairness and due process, that’s what people and institutions do — shift the blame around when it suits them.
What a blessing when the same rules apply to everyone. If Gabriel has to go to traffic school, then he probably committed a moving violation. It won’t be because of his party membership or position on marriage equity. It can get harder when there’s prosecutorial discretion. Ideally, it shouldn’t. Some are critical of the Trump indictment. Yet the Manhattan DA’s bread and butter is accounting and tax fraud cases like Trump’s. Is it a witch hunt because you like your tax cuts or the the cut of his jib? Or do you think the DA should have deferred to the weightier investigations in Georgia and Washington? These aren’t pertinent questions. They’re political ones. If the dude cooked the books, he should be held accountable. I would be, and so would you.
Closer to home in Los Angeles, I join in the tributes to Mark Ridley-Thomas for decades of devoted service to our community. Yet his recent corruption conviction seems sound. My former boss Richard Nixon’s reputation may improve with age. But the verdict of history is rendered in a different courtroom than the one available to most of us. Mr. Nixon didn’t deserve to get off the hook personally for Watergate crimes just because he went to China. Good Friday also casts a shadow on any who minimized Jan. 6, 2021’s violence because they were sympathetic to the protestors. Setting aside due process to achieve a political purpose is what put our Lord on the Via Dolorosa.
The recklessness of raw political power was on display this week when two Tennessee state House members of African descent, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, lost their seats for participating in an anti-gun violence demonstration on the House floor. Passions are high in Nashville because of the Covenant School massacre. Along with a white colleague who retains her seat, the two Justins probably knew they were violating House rules. Legislators lose seniority or committee assignments in such cases. When Republicans expelled them, besides inviting speculation about racism, they spat in the eyes of Reps. Jones and Pearson’s constituents in Nashville and Memphis.
The expulsions were grossly disproportionate and, I suspect, deeply hypocritical. I would like to know what every member who voted to take their seats away has said about Trump’s sedition and Jan. 6 coup attempt. If their commitment to capitol decorum is strictly nonpartisan, they are a rare bunch of politicians. By the same token, can you imagine someone who would jail Trump on the tax beef and go easy on Ridley-Thomas? Or vice versa? Of course you can. Maybe you are that someone. Maybe I am. And we’d be entitled. We’re political animals who get to act out our hope, fear, and anger when we vote. But when someone’s freedom is at stake, the system has to be one size fits all and blind to power and privilege.
It should be true everywhere, for everyone. With fellow Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles pilgrims, I was in Israel two weeks ago when its citizens put millions of feet down in opposition to the right-wing government’s plan to put the country’s courts under the thumb of the moral equivalent of the Tennessee House, aka the Knesset.
Would that they would take to the streets on behalf of disenfranchised Palestinians in the occupied territories. Meanwhile, may they be an inspiration to all of us. To avoid people ever being subject to the same kind of political whim and fiat that killed Jesus, we have to struggle with religious intensity for legal due process and fairness — and sometimes accept it when someone we respect or love is held appropriately accountable for doing that which they ought not have done.