Christian Social Justice Prompt

At the end of one of my first classes, we were asked to consider the way Christians behave and respond to the social issues of our time. Then we were asked what we perceived as the greatest barriers and the greatest opportunities for creating a just, peaceful planet in your lifetime. Below is my response. I am sure one day much further down the road I will look at this and see how far off I am but… I want to be able to look back and understand how I’ve grown and I want others to understand that all of this is a process, a journey.

As I reflect on all of the things I’ve learned over the last 8 weeks, first I think we must always act in line with God’s character and the teaching’s of Jesus Christ. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are to take care of those in need both physically and spiritually.  That being said, I’d have to say the biggest barriers we face and the ways we combat them are:

1 – Individualist Attitude.  When we consider the change that was brought about by Romero, it was because people aligned themselves with one another, took personal risk, and sacrificed for their community. Ultimately there was fruit in this, both in bringing people into the Kingdom and in freeing people from oppression.

2 – Lack of Awareness. We hear comments like, “This is why I don’t watch the news. I don’t want to hear about it, it upsets me too much.” But Jesus doesn’t turn his back on those in need or pain or bury His head in the ground. Ignorance is not bliss, it is denial. Before this class I used to pray that God align my heart with His. I don’t think I knew what I was asking for until this class! I understand the depth of my feelings and my response better now. We cannot always “act” but we can pray and we are capable of far more than we believe. In each week we heard from people who either didn’t know that trafficking was such a huge issue locally, or that we (especially Americans) were so consuming of our environment, etc. And yet so many people in this class decided to do something about it. If we are aware and we are called to justice, we must act.

3 – Lack of Grace and Forgiveness for Others. If only we were more forgiving towards one another; forgiveness and grace does not negate justice. A great example of this would be the death sentence. Justice can exist without the death sentence in most parts of the world, it’s life without parole; we must value life the way God values it and provide every opportunity for repentance. Additionally we must not hate people; if we must hate, hate the Enemy that works to divide us from God and each other. We need to build relationships with people where we can grow, enlighten and speak Truth into one another. When we cannot build relationships with people we should pray for them and ourselves, and seek deeper understanding of the issue.

4 – Fear of the Unknown/Not Wanting to Be Uncomfortable for Others – This is all over our readings. Sister Dorothy in the rainforest, Mother Teresa scooping dying people out of the gutters and rescuing children, etc. But some people are afraid to go serve soup in another neighborhood. We have to trust in God, look to the Bible and allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit.  He leads us to unknown and uncomfortable places. This is all over the stories of the Bible. When we really consider the things that God asked people to do, he didn’t often give them a timeline or the whole story; people had to trust. We need to do the same.

Christians and Rainforest Exploitation

The kinds of exploitation we see in the rainforest with regards to Sr. Dorothy Stang’s work can be described in terms of logging, ranching/irresponsible farm management, harassment, etc. If I were to try to identify the motivating factor behind their behavior regarding exploitation I see it as fear-based and hoarder-like which is not at all reflective of being in a relationship with God. Greed might be an easy word to jump to when we are used to having our needs met and not living in fear but that is not descriptive of the life of many in the rainforest. I think the behavior we see is mostly stemmed from fear of not having enough themselves and a fundamental lack of understanding in renewable and sustainable environments.

I feel the solution to this issue is more a matter of inspiring compassion and caring through the example of Jesus Christ and educating people about “financial planning” and land management. I believe Sr. Dorothy Stang covered quite a bit of this during the time she lived in Brazil, trying to get a proper balance between rainforest preservation and a sustainable living from the environment. After serving this community for decades she was stopped and threated by two men who ended up murdering her.  I believe she didn’t resist, and instead blessed them in what she thought might be her last moments, because she didn’t want to hurt any human. If she worked so hard to save millions of lives, why would she harm any? She took seriously the beatitude from Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Those murderers were wrong and callous. The outrage people felt at her loss and the response to it was understandable but we cannot let that overtake us or harden our hearts to those hurting people or the environment. We must remember why Sister Dorothy was there.  Sister Dorothy, who obviously felt a calling from Christ, must have looked at these ranchers and realized that Christ had also died for them. They have an opportunity at being redeemed through Him and we must try to help them towards that relationship.

Therefore, in her last moments, I think even then she was blessing people that she thought were still missing a relationship with Jesus, which would most likely free them from their fear and set them on the path which would result in respecting the lives of others and preserving their homes and the environment.