This struggle is one at the core of human existence: are there principles that transcend personal loyalty and attachment to family and friends? Must the good be enacted to the detriment of loved ones if that is the cost? This Board can only imagine how painful this courtroom scene must have been for both father and son. Yet justice as we idealize it demands exactly this act. John Harris, seemingly without regard for reward or glory, performed it.
Jesus’ call in Matthew cited above is one of the less feel-good parts of the gospel. Regardless of one’s personal religious orientation, a common feature of world religions is the elevation of transcendent principles, ensuring justice for all against the petty interests of family or friends. This is how civilization must function if that civilization is to move past tribalism. Calling out loved ones in the wrong is brutal business. Yet, that is the demand of our better angels. The demons that threaten to bring us down, more often than not, come in the guise of corrupted family and friends. They must be named, exposed and fought against.
The American experience most relevant to the above scripture is the Civil War. Here, a sword of justice destined to end slavery and the rights of states to that institution came to set father against son, brother against brother, state against state. For all the hideous carnage stemming from that conflict, a world closer to the kingdom envisioned by religious figures of various origin came into being through blood. The world we now know is one where human beings cannot, outside of criminal enterprise, be thought of as property. This world and its difference from the one preceding it was worth that bloodshed.
John Harris’ struggle was not so dramatic. But that is not to understate its value. In his own way, Harris committed to the principle that winning is not everything. Winning an election without justice, without respect for the vote of each voting individual, cannot be tolerated, even if the winner is one’s own kin. Winning no matter what the cost seems to have taken this nation like a spiking fever. Given this paradigm, Harris is no less than an American hero. He has shown us what we must do when we are similarly called. Fathers will be shamed, mothers cursed, siblings harmed. When they are wrong, justice demands nothing less.