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JUSTICE: Theory Meets Practice Seminar

Honduras, 17-23 June 2012

Late lunch with Abram Huyser Honig, director of Association for a More Just Society (with his beautiful Honduran wife Cynthia and adorable daughter Valaria), Elise Ditta and Jill Van Beek. Jeremy Norwood (lawyer-professor from Michigan) and I are ones of the first to arrive for the JUSTICE: Theory Meets Practice seminar here in Honduras. Lunch is at the historic Santa Lucia, a popular tourist destination (especially for local population) with stunning, majestic mountainous vistas. It turned out that I knew Abram's grandparents since Dec. 1980 as they were senior members of Millbrook Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI which through my uncle Eng sponsored us to the United States from the squalid Thai refugee camps in 1980. Small world!

After lunch, we strolled up a hill to this cafe with stunning vistas in Santa Lucia, a historic town popular with tourists, mainly the local population, about a 20-min drive from Tegucigalpa (the capital of Honduras) this Sunday afternoon, 17 June 2012.

It is not unusual to see military police guarding restaurants, roads and churches, like this soldier guarding the picturesque neighborhood of Santa Lucia, here on church vicinity (Honduras, 18 June 2012)

Theary Seng on the grounds of a church in the picturesque Santa Lucia, Sunday afternoon (Honduras, 18 June 2012)

Abe, Cynthia and baby Valaria giving me a walking tour of beautiful Santa Lucia this Sunday (Honduras, 17 June 2012)

Santa Lucia this Sunday afternoon with Abram Huyser Honig, his wife Cynthia and daughter (Honduras, 17 June 2012)


Welcome dinner for participants (Tegucigalpa, Monday, 18 June 2012)


. . .

Nick and Clair Wolterstorff with their grand-daughter Maria at the ASJ Rescue Center for sexually-abused children (Tegucigalpa, 21 June 2012)

Ret. Yale philosopher Nick Wolterstorff giving Lecture No. 1 (Photo: Jill Van Beek, Tegucigalpa, 18 June 2012)



"Role of Justice in Christian Scripture"

(Why Practice Justice)

(Ret.Yale philosopher/theologian Prof. Nick Wolterstorff)

Tuesday, 19 June 2012 Diary

Yesterday (June 18),  all the other participants arrived from around the world, about 20 of us altogether.


This seminar on JUSTICE: THEORY MEETS PRACTICE will be a combination of lectures given by former Calvin College (30 years) and Yale philosopher Nick Wolterstorff and site visits as well as presentations by each of the participants.


Yesterday, Nick presented his theory that God commanded the Israelites TO DO JUSTICE AS A WAY OF REMEMBRANCE OF DELIVERANCE (out of Egypt), focusing on Deuteronomy. 25: 17-22:

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there.  That is why I command you to do this.

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it.  Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time.  Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.  When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again.  Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.   Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.  That is why I command you to do this.

Before he developed this theory, he started by giving 4 reasons why North American Christians are suspicious of or uncomfortable with "PRIMARY JUSTICE" (but gung-ho about "criminal justice"). He noted that God LOVES primary justice.  And that the Bible does not give a theory or definition of justice; it is assumed that everyone knows what justice is.


Christians are comfortable with doing CHARITY/BENEVOLENCE (e.g. soup kitchen) but have a discomfort when asked to do PRIMARY JUSTICE (involving a critique of someone or something as unjust, and tacitly implying they must do something about this injustice). In developing his theory that God demands us to do justice as remembrance of deliverance, he noted that in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, it gives a special preference to the "Quartet of the Vulnerable" - widows, orphans, aliens/sojourners, the impoverished".


Nowadays, we call these individuals the "unfortunates", a word not used by the Old Testament, which demands no responsibility from us, because it's their fault. Liberation theology speaks about "Preferential Option for the Poor" (or "Vulnerable"). Whereas God loves justice for the "widows, orphans, aliens, impoverished".  Why? Because unlike the rich, yes, who too encounter injustice, but only EPISODICALLY, for these "quartet of the vulnerable", injustice is a DAILY CONDITION.  As such, when we seek justice, we must give priorities.


Today (June 19), we have field visits, with focus on security concerns. Honduras, as everyone keeps telling me, is the murder capital of the world. It is also a Christian nation of Protestants and Catholics. Within the last 20-25 years, Evangelical Christians grew from 5% to 50% of the 7.6 M population. This disconnect between the high murder rate and poverty to Christian growth is jarring. Similar to Cambodian Christians, we must move from having received salvation to the "working out" of our salvation, the maturing stage.


- Theary, Tegucigalpa, Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Theary Seng with Prof. Nina, a Peruvian who teaches in New York (Minister Hotel Tegucigalpa, 21 June 2012)

. . .

Carlos Hernandez and Prof. Kurt Ver Beek, co-founders of Association for a More Just Society, speaking about the newly-established Alliance for Peace and Justice to address the high-rate of violence in society (ASJ Office, 19 June 2012)

Member of Commission for Security Reform, Matias Funez, speaking about the high-rate of violence perpetrated by the police at the Association for a More Just Society office (Tegucigalpa, 19 June 2012)

The high-security entrance to ASJ Office (Tegucigalpa, June 2012)

Diary, Wednesday, 20 June 2012


The closest setting I've been to that feels, more accurately looks, similar to Tegucigalpa is Pietermaritzburg, an old English capital of South Africa, where I lived for 6 months beginning in mid-1999 as a law student interested in the South African reconciliation efforts. I remember being enchanted by rolling hills and enveloping mountains, and a bit further away, by the dramatic Drakensberg.

Tegucigalpa (Photo: Jill Van Beek, June 2012)


Yesterday, Kurt Ver Beek, a Calvin College professor who is co-founder of Association for a More Just Society and has lived here with his wife the last 25 years, gave us an excellent overview of Honduras history and current situation.


He then shared with us about a new development at ASJ re the security for him and his staff -- how one of their lawyers was murdered in cold blood several years ago and how they got his murderers tried and convicted, miraculously, but how within the last couple of days since we arrived, they received news that the Supreme Court had complete absolved the murderers of any wrongdoing and released them. Nick (former Yale professor who is our lecturer)'s wife, Clair, an Episcopalian priest, asked the group to surround Kurt and Carlos, the other co-founder of ASJ, and to lay our hands and pray for them.


After this, we had a member of the gov't newly-established Commission for Security Reform speak to us. Honduras is facing a security crisis -- it is the number concern for Hondurans and it has to do with narco-drug trafficking with deep police complicity if not outright pervasive involvement and leadership.  Honduras--being the weakest link in Central America, and with Mexico cleaning slowing cleaning up its act--is now the transit point of the drug trade from countries in South America such as Venezuela to the United States.


Honduras is the murder capital of the world: 86 murders per 100,000 annually. (Compared to 5 for US, 18 for Mexico).

Theary, Tegucigalpa, 20 June 2012

Theary Seng presenting on the Provincial Learning Center-Memorial as a vehicle to depoliticize education and for honorable memory and legacy (Photo: Jill Van Beek, ASJ Office Tegucigalpa, June 2012)

Plainsclothes security provided by the State for the staff of Association for a More Just Society (Tegucigalpa, June 2012)

After dinner drinks with Navy Chann and her husband Sunly Chhay, friends since 1998.  How ironic that it should take a seminar on the other side of the world for us to see each other but not (or rarely) when in Phnom Penh (Tegucigalpa, 19 June 2012)

. . .


Senior World Bank Manager (based in Wash. DC) gave a presentation on land reform in Central America, focusing on Honduras.  I began my question by saying I'm from Cambodia, and he immediately stated he knows the land problems of Cambodia...

Lecture No. 2:

Is there a Biblical Conflict between Love and Justice?

Prof. Nick Wolterstorff lecturing at one of the mega-churches, seating 2,000 with 5 services every Sunday on
"Biblical Tension between Love and Justice?"

Nick Wolterstorff, the retired Calvin College and Yale theologian/philosopher (now with a think tank at the University of Virginia), opened yesterday with another lecture on "Justice and Love in Scripture". There's no passage explicitly connecting love and justice together. He dwells on how many Christians and classical literature pit love against justice, and vice-versa, e.g. in literature, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.


Those who view love and justice as inherently, intrinsically conflictual, argue:

1. Generosity is sometimes unjust, e.g. Parable of the Laborers

2. Benevolent Paternalism is unjust, e.g. Christian Afrikaaners justifying Apartheid

3. Forgiveness (pardon, amnesty) is a violation of justice, e.g. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions


What kind of love do these writers have in mind when they see tension between love and justice?


Nick goes to explain the 3 kinds of love:

1. Love as attraction/being drawn to something (Greek: eros)

2. Love as being attached/invested in something

3. Love as generosity/benevolence/charity, that seeks to advance the good of another (Greek: Agape - gratuitous, self-sacrificing benevolence). Here, is how most writers who see tension between love and justice tend to understand Biblical love.


Nick goes on to expound the dominant theologians who espoused the Agapist Movement, mainly that of Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard, Swedish Lutheran Bishop Anders Nygren, German philosopher Emil Brunner, and American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.


Nick dwells on the work of Nygren, "Agape and Eros"--the most influential of the Agapist Movement (even if Kierkegaard is more profound), which sees inherent tension between love and justice.


Nygren's 3 motifs:


1. Theme of EROS (attraction), in the Platonic tradition (Plato's Symposium). A bit strange that Nygren criticizes eros as self-love.

2. Theme of NOMOS (Greek: law). The Old Testament (OT) associates law with justice.

3. Theme of AGAPE of the New Testament (NT), which is sheer gratuitous benevolence.

- Agape supplants/supersedes justice.

- OT God is God of Justice (law).

- NT God is God of Love.

(* Egyptian philosopher Marcion, even went so far as to declare that the God of the OT is different than God of the NT, and subsequently, he was declared a heretic by the church fathers.)


Why does Nygren believe that LOVE supplanted JUSTICE?


Because whenever he sees love in the NT, he reads it through the lens of God's FORGIVENESS. Whereas justice doesn't require that God forgives. When NT talks about love, expel all thoughts of justice. Think of God's love as pure, gratuitous grace/benevolence.


Nygren goes a step further: Agape love is blind to justice and injustice. When agape love conflicts with justice, do away with justice. In the Parable of the Laborers, Nygren would have the Master say: "True, I'm not fair (unjust). But do I not have the right to be generous?" We must expect agape love to wreak injustice.


US theologian Reinhold Niebuhr interpreted NT love as Nygren. BUT, Niebuhr thought Nygren's response of "stick with love" as naive. Liberal Christians say, "If we love enough, others will respond in kind, and the new age will come", which Niebuhr finds deeply dissatisfying and naive. Niebuhr believes that when L and J conflict, do justice. Love is for the age to come (when there's perfection). Justice is for this age of conflict. Yes, Niebuhr acknowledges, in small groups of Christians, we can love without conflict. But on the political stage, love will be run over. Hence, go with justice.


Nick gave his responses, how the position of the Agapist Movement, especially that of Nygren is untenable/unacceptable:


1. Exegetically unacceptable in Nygren's misinterpretation of the Parable of Laborers, where the actual quote begins with the Master saying: "I do you no wrong..."


2. Incoherent when we think about the NATURE OF FORGIVENESS, in that one forgives when there has a been a WRONG (injustice).


3. and most powerfully, Nick argues against Nygren by focusing on the 2 commands to love found in ALL THREE of the Synoptic Gospels:

(i) Love God with all our being.

(ii) God neighbor as self.


Both, first of all, presupposes self-love of Nygren, as love of self is not gratuitous generosity, and Nygren believes Christianity is opposed to self-love (eros).


Moreover, these 2 commands in the NT Synoptic Gospels are actually quotes from the OT, the Torah! The 2nd command to love in Leviticus 19 where agape love incorporates doing justice!


Poetic and prophetic OT uses the word SHALOM (Greek: eirene) which the English wrongly, inadequately translates to PEACE.


Nick believes SHALOM is better translated as FLOURISHING. And in the OT, there can be no shalom without justice (Isaiah 32).


Biblical love aims at shalom.

Shalom (flourishing) and love go beyond justice, but they never fall short of justice.


We listened to Nick at one of the mega-churches in Tegucigalpa, which seats 2,000 in the main sanctuary; it has 5 services each Sunday. All domestically funded, not propped up by foreign missionaries. The biggest church in the capital seats 8,000 and it too holds 5 services each Sunday.


After the lecture, we went to a much smaller church which doubles as a counseling place / rescue center for sexually-abused children. The rest of the day, we listened to ASJ staff and the Special Prosecutor for Children give us the state of affairs re children in Honduras.


We spent the evening after dinner on the open hotel terrace with the panoramic view of the capital and enveloping hills and mountains, joined by Nick and his wife Clair, an Episcopalian priest (who are celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary here in Honduras).



Theary, Tegucigalpa, 21 June 2012


Swedish woman who is married to Honduran man and has lived in Honduras for over 20 years, runs this rescue shelter (which doubles as a church) for sexually-abused children (Tegucigalpa, June 2012)

ASJ Rescue Center (also a church)


. . .

Lecture No. 3

What are Rights?

Theary Seng near ASJ in Tegucigalpa (21 June 2012)

Chief Prosecutor overseeing 80 other prosecutors, 70% of whom are women! (ASJ Tegucigalpa, 21 June 2012)

Participants of Justice: Theory Meets Practice Seminar in Honduras, 18-28 June 2012

Randy (radio announcer for Seattle Sea Hawks, Jeremy (lawyer, sociology professor), Monique (university administrator), Theary relaxing on the rooftop of Minister Hotel Tegucigalpa, 22 June 2012)





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