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.

Thoughts on Non-Violence

Generally, I ascribe to the nonviolent tradition. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only thing that can turn an enemy into a friend.” I thought about King’s 6 principles of nonviolence and I considered agape love, the demonstration of humility, simplicity and compassion. In truth, if we are to model ourselves after Christ, nonviolence is the only answer. He taught this to us through His actions, such as in Luke 22:51 when “Jesus said, “No more of this!! (striking with the sword).” We are told the weapons we are meant to use are different in 2 Corinthians 10:4, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”

That being said, I struggle because there are very limited times in which I think “violence” should be used as a shield. In the modern era there are very few instances in which I think we are able to acceptably respond with violence. A quote from Ghandi tells us that, “An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.”  I agree with this. But I studied the Holocaust in depth and cannot think of a way in which nonviolent action would have stopped what happened then, unless people had acted in defense of their neighbors early on when the Nazi Party first started promoting discrimination against a group of people based on their faith, race or ethnicity. Additionally, there are places now where mass genocide is occurring. In these instances, I believe some force must be applied to act as armor, a protecting shield for the victims. Proverbs 13:2 says “The unfaithful have a craving for violence.” This force should not be used as a hammer to smash the perpetrators into the ground or a satisfaction of vengeance but only for protection and rescue.

Race Issues in America: “Every Life Matters” or “It’s In God’s Hands”

Hashtags can become dangerous things. Some people hear #blacklivesmatter and hear the implication that only black lives matter. That is not the point. They respond with #everylifematters but, often the posts associated with this hastag come across as callous, racist, or entitled. The fact is, this issue is far too complex for a simple hashtag argument that further divides us.

Yes, black lives matter. Every life knitted together by our Creator matters. There is not one person out there who doesn’t matter. Beyond His love for us, God calls us to care for and protect each other. He wants justice.

It is irresponsible at times when socially and politically we are all called to repent from our old ways and begin reconciliation to just say, it’s in God’s hands. No, we are called to be God’s hands and feet. We as Christians and Americans have a responsibility to make sure justice is given to those who are not receiving it in our country. Martin Luther King Jr. said at the Sermon at Temple Israel in Hollywood in 1965, “We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now, but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God. It all boils down to the fact that we must never allow ourselves to become satisfied with unattained goals. We must always maintain a kind of divine discontent.” King knew action must be taken.

I would say that much like when King marched and practiced other forms of non-violent protest, if people feel that there is systemic racism and discrimination as has been shown in Ferguson, they should express that. Sadly, their frustrations boiled over and violence seems to beget violence, further dividing our nation. I would argue that this violence is the work of the Enemy and not individuals. Ephesians 6:12 tells us “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Therefore, I believe we are called to make sure freedom and justice are for all our brothers and sisters in this nation, uniformed or not, and that as Christians we should work beside all of them in making sure there is justice for everyone.

Christian Action Tools: Kairos Circle and Rev. King Jr. Principles

I feel like this has been one of the most effective tools I was provided by the Christian Community.  An example is shown below (clearly from The Salvation Army). In the center is Kairos, which is ancient Greek. Super useful, right? It’s actually pretty awesome. The ancient Greeks had different words for time: Chronos (bet you guessed that was chronological, didn’t you? correct) and then they had Kairos, which is almost a “timeless” moment in which all things happen. It’s trippy, other-worldly. Holy. You might describe experiencing one of these moments as having an epiphany, an experience with God, etc.

This tool gives you a perfect and necessary way to process it. From a Christian perspective though, remember that after steps one and two, always make sure that part of your reflection and evaluation include comparison to scripture and discussion with individuals whom you trust are in relationship with God and will speak Truth to you. This is an extremely important step to make sure you are in alignment with God, that you have the support of a few people in your community and that they are able to be there to hold you accountable (this circle is used for everything from quitting smoking, changing careers, fasting, etc.).

Kairos

The second awesome tool I came across I somehow must have forgotten up until this point and much of it falls in line with what is above. I felt like I’d hit a bit of a wall on my final paper and I switched over to my other class’ assignments and of course part of the reading is an actual Reflection Circle on a topic very close to my heart: Dr. Martin Luther King’s 6 principles and practices of nonviolence (I want to be fair in saying I see no citation so I went to find it elsewhere, which is the citation you are getting).

Six Principles of Nonviolence

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
  6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

Six Steps of Nonviolent Social Change

  1. Information Gathering (calls out knowing all sides to increase your understanding of the problem)
  2. Education
  3. Personal Commitment (eliminate hidden motives and prepare to accept suffering)
  4. Discussion/Negotiation (use grace, humor, intelligence, look for the positive)
  5. Direct Action (if discussion/negotiation fails, create “creative tension” by supplying moral pressure)
  6. Reconciliation (goal is not defeat but friendship and understanding)

http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy

You should just go read the whole King philosophy.

I was going to write a lot more but I’m too tired and I haven’t finished MY reflection circle on MY kairos moment.

Verses that Strengthen Me

Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Psalm 136:1-3 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever…”

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious in anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.”

Psalm 42:5 “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

2 Corinthians 3:12 “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”

Psalm 30:11-12 “You turn my wailing to dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.”

Cincinnati

My Lord, my Father, Redeemer of all who receive your sacrifice… I praise you. You are without flaw and your goodness is beyond measure. Your patience is unquestionable and the depths of your love is unknown. Tonight I pray to you for my community, for my city, for my nation, for my world, under attack from the Liar and his forces who comes to kill Your flock, even if still some are blind to You. Cover us with Your armor, arm us for Your battle, send us Your battalions so that no evil can break through. Let us in this city be Your testimony to the world, shine Your light through us as evidence of Your greatness and the power of Your healing. Lord, bless us all to be used by you as you see fit. Amen.

Moral Leadership

In Lives of Moral Leadership we are told early on that, “…having the courage to speak up despite others’ moods or discouragement,” is a hallmark of a good leader. (Cole, p. 7) But this is a tool, not the tool. A megaphone does not a leader make. So how are we to be, use, and create moral leaders?

Robert Kennedy was discussed substantially in this book and I am surprised and thankful for it. He walks us through Kennedy’s decision to go after child malnutrition. Kennedy leads a group of doctors through the maze of political tape in an effort to try to successfully feed hungry children. Less than 12 months before his death, he tells one of the doctor’s,

There will be problems from the same quarters, but we’re moving along – and it’s hard to be in favor of hunger in children, even if you think of yourself as representing well-fed grown-ups. (Cole, 2001, 36)

Robert Kennedy spent time investing and enabling these doctors to understand both the political reality they operated in while simultaneously training them to maintain their moral leadership; a fine balance. He emphasized how important perception was in politics and would listen to things from his perspective, the opposition, the “common man,” etc.

For the moral doctors, the value lay in the medical observations. Kennedy was trying to teach them to be more effective. “Moreover, he was concerned about how we presented our work – not only its matter, but our manner.” (Cole, 18) As good as it might feel to be a moralist who gets his say what value does it have if it achieves nothing? To this point, an effective moral leader understands the means by which to communicate. It is important to continue action while displaying some passion and a driving momentum. Always consider what you are compromising, and consider what will be lost if you do not.

Another quote from Kennedy I found very insightful was, “You’re stepping on toes – people will move, and they’ll move to protect themselves.” (Cole, 31) True in many ways, you have to be watchful morally as well always trying to meet the standard you ask of others and when you fail, be transparent. Nothing good comes from being hidden.

Lastly, be realistic with yourself and others. Do the pep talks, build into people, be vulnerable. But Kennedy tells one of the doctors:

“I want you to know,” he repeated, “that I’ll give it all I’ve got…I’ll tell you now , it’ll seem easy at first – there’ll be a lot of attention and interest. But it’ll get hard, really hard – we’ll have to fight here (in the Congress) and elsewhere… Well, I expect we’ll get through this struggle, and I expect if we do, some children will eat better than before.” (Cole, 33)

So this road to changing the nation is going to be long and hard but there is fruit at the end. We don’t know what the bounty of the fruit will be. But we have to have faith that if we act as we must in accordance with our character the fruit will reflect the plant off of which it comes.