Mar 12, 2018


Becoming Co-belligerents for the Good of the City

By: George Robertson


Micah 6:8

He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.


In January 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. returned home around midnight after a long day of meetings to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The rest of his family was in bed, but a threatening call awakened him. It was the kind of call he was getting as many as 30 to 40 times a day. He tried to go back to sleep, but the evil threats against his family rang in his head. He got up and a made a pot of coffee. At his kitchen table with his head buried in his hands, he cried out to God. He had reached the end of his strength when a voice interrupted his thoughts. King said, “I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on,” King later recalled. “He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone … He promised never to leave me, no never alone.”[1] 


For Christians, the idea Jesus is with us in this world is formative to the way we think about justice.  Historically, when Christians have been focused on the promise Jesus is with them, they have been willing to engage in the most heroic of sacrifices for their communities.


It is remarkable the God of the universe stoops to reveal to us how we may live the “good” life.  Good is the way God created and intended life to be. Many of us, regardless of religion, can agree on what is “good” because God has written his law on our consciences. Whether you refer to this law as the Tau or the Hammurabi Code or the Ten Commandments, we mostly agree on the ones which have to do with our human relationships. We may not agree on who God is or how he should be worshiped, but we roughly agree on a transcendent standard of justice. We all agree those using authority rightly deserve honor. We all agree faithfulness is better than adultery. None of us approves of stealing. No one likes to be lied to. And we all agree that jealousy leads to bad actions. Reasonable people must agree on a transcendent standard of justice; otherwise, we would be subjected to a world in which only the most powerful have rights.


Because of these common convictions about the just treatment of human beings made in God’s image, we can engage in what Timothy George calls an “ecumenism of the trenches.”[2] That is, those with different faith convictions can still battle common enemies to human flourishing shoulder-to-shoulder in the cultural foxhole. My predecessor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, the famous Francis Schaeffer, popularized the term “co-belligerence,” emphasizing the importance of falling neither into separatism nor into compromising alliance: “A co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice.”[3] Elsewhere Schaeffer defined co-belligerence this way:


I have two words which I would recommend to anybody…and they are “ally” and “co-belligerent.” An ally is a person who is a born-again Christian with whom I can go a long way down the road…now I don’t say to the very end, because I’m a Presbyterian and I might not be able to form a church with a strong Baptist…but we can go a long way down the road – and that’s an ally. A co-belligerent is a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position but takes the right position on a single issue. And I can join with him without any danger as long as I realize that he is not an ally and all we’re talking about is a single issue.[4]


Micah 6:8 names three areas in which every one of us, regardless of faith convictions, should be able to be co-belligerents. Our motivation as Christians is heavily supported throughout all of Scripture.



As Christians, we believe that when Jesus moves into our lives, he provokes us to pursue justice. If justice is the right ordering of society, that is, the ordering of the world the way God intended it to be for everyone, then doing justice is pursuing whatever is right in every situation, no matter what it costs you. At Second Presbyterian we believe we must address systemic oppressors of the poor, like a lack of early childhood development, the college graduation gap, the foster care to trafficking pipeline, the juvenile justice system, and predatory lending.[5] We believe every kid should have access to the best educational resources. And we believe we must break down every conceivable racial barrier, beginning with the anti-gospel notion of black churches and white churches. We have no credibility in sharing the good news that God can be reconciled to sinners if we are not objectively demonstrating in our congregation that black, white, Asian, Hispanic, rich, poor, male, female, Democrat, and Republican are all reconciled in Christ (Ep. 3:6).


Justice is central to Christianity because we believe God is just and must punish every sin. Therefore, the only hope for sinners to be reconciled to him is through the cross. We believe God so loved the world of sinners that he sent his Son, who perfectly kept every law, so that on the cross, he could make the perfect substitution for those who receive him. For anyone who asks for it, God performs a legal transaction of exchanging Jesus’ righteous record for our sinful one (John 3:16, Ro. 3:21-26). It is out of gratitude for this gift that we pursue justice on behalf of others.



Secondly, we pursue everyone’s good out of mercy, because we have received mercy. Mercy is the essential nature of God. He revealed this to Moses when he asked to see God’s “glory.” God said, “I am compassionate and gracious” and repeated it at least ten times throughout Scripture (Ex. 34:6, 7).  Everything God decides to do originates in his heart of love (1 Jn. 4:8). This means even his warnings of judgment and judgment itself is ultimately an act of love, at least for the rest of his creatures so they might live in a just society.  To live the good life is to imitate God’s heart of love in every action, whether appreciated by the recipient or resented.


In 2011, Kevin Palau was concerned evangelicals were only known for what they were against, so he decided to approach Sam Adams, Portland’s openly gay Mayor, with a bold proposal.  Palau told Adams if he would identify Portland’s top problems, he, Palau, would organize Portland’s evangelicals to address them. Adams was wary at first, especially as a homosexual, to cooperate with an evangelical, but decided to take the risk and see if Palau could deliver. Adams listed the following as the greatest social problems facing Portland: “Hunger, homelessness, healthcare, poorly financed public schools, foster care, human trafficking, and the environment.” Palau gathered 500 churches and 26,000 evangelicals to address these mercy needs. Sharing a common burden for their city, Sam Adams and Kevin Palau have become good friends and co-belligerents in pursuing “good.”[6]



Finally, Micah provides the “how” of doing good. While “humbly” is not a bad translation, it is not clear. Literally, Micah says we must live “carefully.” Perhaps with this verse in mind, Jesus explained exactly what Micah meant when he told the Pharisees:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former (Mt. 23:23).

In other words, “humility” is understood better as “faithfulness.” The third area in which we must be co-belligerents is in faithfulness. We must pursue truth together. We must speak the truth when it makes us unpopular, receive the truth even when it offends our sensibilities, and hold one another and our leaders to the standard of truth. Our community will thrive based on the degree to which we honor the truth.

When we become co-belligerents for the causes of justice, mercy, and humility, we have the potential to bring glimpses now of the redemption God will bring to fruition at his return.

Gregory Fisher, a teacher in West Africa, wrote about an exchange he once had with a student about this topic: 

“What will he say when he shouts?” The question took me by surprise. I had already found that West African Bible College students can ask some of the most penetrating questions about minute details of Scripture. “Reverend, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command. I would like to know what that command will be.” I wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell him that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed, but my mind wandered to an encounter I had earlier in the day with a refugee from the Liberian civil war. The man, a high school principal, told me how he was apprehended by a two-man death squad. After several hours of terror, as the men described how they would torture and kill him, he narrowly escaped. After hiding in the bush for two days, he was able to find his family and escape to a neighboring country. The escape cost him dearly: two of his children lost their lives. The stark cruelty unleashed on an unsuspecting, undeserving population had touched me deeply. I also saw flashbacks of the beggars that I pass each morning on my way to the office. Every day I see how poverty destroys dignity, robs men of the best of what it means to be human, and sometimes substitutes the worst of what it means to be an animal. I am haunted by the vacant eyes of people who have lost all hope. “Reverend, you have not given me an answer. What will he say?” The question hadn’t gone away. “Enough,” I said. “He will shout, ‘Enough’ when he returns.” A look of surprise opened the face of the student. “What do you mean, ‘Enough’?” “Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. Enough.”[7]

The Bible calls us to be maintainers of justice, “God’s servants for doing good.” Every time you achieve justice in this life, you not only bless an image bearer of God, you testify to a final Day to come when God will say about all injustice, “Enough!”[8]


[1] Charles MarshWelcoming Justice (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2009), 16-17.

[2] Quoted by Chuck Colsen, ‘Modernist Impasse, Christian Opportunity,’ First Things (June/July 2000), 19.

[3] Francis Schaeffer, Plan for Action: An Action Alternative Handbook for ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race?’, (Tapan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1980), 68.

Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008),

[4] As quoted by Colin Duriez, Francis Schaffer: An Authentic Life in Martin Wroe and Dave Roberts, “Dr. Francis Schaffer,” in Stewart Henderson, ed. and comp., Adrift in the 80s: the Strait Interviews (Basingstoke, UK: Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1986), 31.

[5] Michael Gerson, Stephanie Summers, Katie Thompson, Unleashing Opportunity (Washington, D.C.: Center for Public Justice, 2016).

[6] Tony Kriz, “You’ve Done it Unto Me. . .”, Leadership Journal (July 2013), http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2013/july-online-only/. This story is further developed in Kevin Palau’s Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live out the Gospel (New York: Howard Books, 2015).

[7] Gregory L. Fisher, “Second Coming,” Leadership (Fall 1991), 45.

[8] This was adapted from Dr. George W. Robertson’s sermon at the Celebration of Faith and Justice, First Presbyterian Church, November 10, 2016.