I just finished watching The Conspirators. It’s a film about the injustice of Mary Surratt’s trial for conspiring to murder/kidnap President Lincoln.
I know I could have been watching something cool, like Limitless or How to Train Your Dragon. Instead, I chose James McAvoy, Robert Redford and American History.
Regardless of how nerdy it is for me to watch such a movie when there are clearly more brainless and entertaining films to be seen, it was an excellent movie that I whole-heartedly recommend.
The main value I see in The Conspirators is its commentary on injustice. It’s one of the few films I’ve seen in recent years that approached the necessity of absolute truths. It examines Mary Surratt’s character with appropriate respect and doesn’t conclude anything that history has not… therefore, the main debate is not whether she was guilty or whether women should face the death penalty. The question posed by our main character is can justice be served when those entrusted with its enactment don’t value it absolutely and universally.
Justice is one of those attributes of God that I never quite understand. Early on in my life, I thought it was unjust for anyone to face damnation, which made it difficult for me to trust a God who damns. The problem with this mindset is that it comes from a false foundational belief that man is morally neutral until he does something really good or really evil. One of the passages I think of that counters that mindset is Romans 5:12
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
That passage has a lot more to it, but I take from it that sin entered the world through Adam, yet every man after him is sinful enough to deserve death. There is also the usual go-to passage with this debate, Romans 3:10 (also in Psalm 14): “None is righteous, no, not one…” but even with those verses and many others, I struggle to wrap my mind around how people could be bad enough to deserve damnation. Still, I’m convinced that God fully embodies love while administering justice. I don’t know how, but I trust it.
I’ve recently read several books about social justice, and for the most part, I find them to be horrible reads. They frequently employ gratuitous violence and injustice in their early chapters, which does little more than make me feel sick inside. I understand that those chapters are meant as a starting point. I get that Gary Haugen and others use scenes of death and discrimination to stir up the readers’ senses of wrong and knowledge of massive injustice throughout the world.
My problem with those chapters is that I don’t think most readers need them. I’ve never met a person who didn’t admit that there are horrors in the world that humanity was never meant to experience. I think men deeply ache because their world is bonded “to corruption…”, “subjected to futility…” and “groaning together in the pains of childbirth…” (evidently it’s a Romans kind of day… ch. 8 vs. 20-22). A man may not know what it is to be murdered in the Killing fields of Cambodia, but reading about it will do little more than convince him of what he already knows: the world is filled with injustice.
To be fair to Gary Haugen and other authors I’ve given up on before the final page, I wouldn’t start a book about social justice with justice either.
I just wish they would because I don’t think men will suddenly burn for justice when all they’ve been presented with is injustice. I don’t think chapters about sifting through dead bodies in Rwanda cause men to go to Rwanda and fight for the abused.
I think men have watched a few too many movies in which justice is an elusive magic pixie; she’s pretty, admirable and make-believe. Therefore, getting men to fight for justice begins with a faith they don’t currently possess, and they certainly won’t fight for something they don’t believe in.
I always wonder why start out by proclaiming sin. You may not have noticed, but that’s what we do. We hand out those fake million dollar bills aimed at convincing men they are sinners:
“The million dollar question: Will you go to Heaven? Here’s a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God’s name in vain?…”
That’s right, I have one of those million dollar bills because street evangelists never believe me when I say that I already know Jesus, and I just quoted it to you word-for-word.
Good news: God gave up Heaven to rescue you (John 3:16).
Bad news: You’re a messed up sinner (Romans 5:12).
Of course men eventually need both pieces, but there’s a reason people learn John 3:16 before they learn Romans 5:12. Also, I just wish books that say they’re about social justice were actually about justice… rather than injustice – just like the gospel is about a Savior… rather than about a sinner.