Alton Sterling’s Public Execution and the need for a Just and Righteous Ruler

Angry mad african man in plaid shirt standing and shouting

The tweets started at night, but I was too tired to look at bad news. By the morning I had no choice. I watched video of the execution of Alton Sterling. More, clearer video would follow (warning: both are graphic). I was at a loss for how to respond. What does this mean? What can we do? Is safety even a thing?

I don’t know all the details of the situation, although the video evidence seems to suggest an abuse of power. I don’t know how the police will explain this. I don’t know what to say to make white conservative America see their double standard on guns. I don’t know what to say to make some evangelical Christians see their double standard on personhood and life issues. This is all I do know for sure. The best right-now solution is faith in Jesus Christ. The only ultimate solution is His inevitable return.

We Want Justice & Righteousness

Hear meAlton Sterling's Public Execution and the need for a Just & Righteous Ruler out. I know you may be thinking that I’m suggesting a heavenly solution to an earthly problem. After all, at this point many of us have bought into the myth that a crisis like this requires action, not prayer. How did we ever convince ourselves that prayer is inaction? Maybe because so many have also become convinced that God is the problem. We’ve conflated Christianity and white supremacy. We’ve wrongly decided that the Bible is just a tool in the hand of bigots used to perpetuate white male privilege. Never mind that this is out of step with both Church and secular history.

But, I digress. Back to the matter at hand. As much as our nation wants to reject God, in moments like these we yearn for two godly attributes in those who rule over us: righteousness and justice.

We want those who govern – at all levels and in all branches of power – to do right. We want legislators to pass good laws. We want executives and police officers to make moral, ethical, and common sense decisions in executing those laws. We want judges to use their power for good, not evil.

We also want justice. Laws should be justly written, justly enforced, and justly applied. Age, class, race, gender, family connections – none of these things should determine whether the law applies to an individual. Justice should permeate the intent, letter, and effect of the law.

Righteousness and justice – that’s what we want. That’s what we’re reminded we lack every time there’s a new video of police murdering a person of color. That’s what we cry for every time they get away with it.

Ironically, we just celebrated Independence Day in the United States. This day commemorates the launch of a revolution in search of this better kind of government. The American experiment promises a righteous and just government. It sometimes delivers, but never fully and always inconsistently. We can and should seek to do better. However, we must do so with the knowledge that there will only ever be one fully righteous, fully just government.

A Just & Righteous Ruler

What we yearn for can only be accomplished by the one who has defeated injustice and unrighteousness at its root: Jesus Christ. When Christ returns He will defeat Satan and with him sin, including unrighteousness and injustice (Acts 17:31). He will establish a righteous, just, and everlasting kingdom. We will all see that He is truly a Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace, that righteousness and truth are, indeed, the foundation of His throne (Isaiah 9:6-7, Psalm 89:14).

It may seem like I’m suggesting that we just quietly endure racism and injustice without a word of protest, waiting for the sweet by-and-by. Never. The same Jesus that gives us hope for an ultimate good government also gives us the capacity to do better now. Jesus-centered, Gospel-centered Christianity is the best response to present age bigotry.

A right understanding of the Gospel equalizes. It reveals that we all share a common ancestry. It affirms that black lives do indeed matter, because we are all image-bearers and equally valuable (Genesis 1:27). We are all equally sinful by nature (Romans 3:9-10). We are all equally in need of a savior. We are all equally unable to boast in any saving goodness of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). Not one of us has done more than our neighbor to earn the right to live.

A proper embrace of the Gospel confronts the mindset of “them” and “us” by giving believers a new identity that transcends race, class, and ethnicity (Galatians 3:27-28). It demands that we empathize with and bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters of different hues (Romans 12:15). It does not allow us to condone or even ignore the real and significant pain wrought by racial injustice.

A true love of the Gospel motivates and empowers us to be like our savior and Lord – righteous and just. True Christianity requires us to hold both dear. One can not love the cross and at the same time tolerate injustice and unrighteousness, for in the cross God rejects both and extends mercy (Romans 5:6-9).

When we see graphic, stomach-turning tragedies like the public execution of Alton Sterling, we are tempted to put down our Bibles and march (or tweet, post, etc.). Let’s resist that temptation. Yes, we can tweet and protest and demand better laws, but let us never forget that we must first preach the Gospel, even when it’s out of season. After all, the Gospel is God’s power to save (Romans 1:16).