I'm very excited to have my "real life" friend, Elise, here with us today. Elise and I are kindred spirits and it's an honor doing community alongside her. I hope you enjoy this two part series as much as I did!
Elise Buchheit was 9 years old when she first called a boy "sexist" and she's been causing trouble ever since. She works in the utility industry and blogs (intermittently) about debt & personal finance. Elise lives in mid-Missouri and can usually be found in deep conversation with her husband about local sports or geopolitical game theory or all the inconsistencies in How I Met Your Mother. Twitter | Blog
I usually blog about personal finance, so it has been challenging and enriching to work (and work and work and then delete and then work some more) on this blog post about faith and social justice. At first I took to writing with vigor, then I got stuck, so I went and re-read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. While I’d love to just repost both here and assign them as homework to all in this community Cassie has created, I believe Cassie’s hope is for us to do something a little bit harder than just reading great words and challenging parables. The hope is for us to stop ignoring the difficult conversations and begin to talk to each other lovingly about how we the church should act in light of injustice and pain. With that in mind, let’s start the conversation.
First, what do I mean by Social Justice?
Social justice is an amorphous term and lately it has become very polarizing. In the United States, even our founding declaration says all men are created equal. And yet, social justice has become tied to political parties and movements that scare many Christians.
My favorite explanation of social justice is that it advocates for equal and complete human rights for ALL people as listed in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. This list includes freedom of religion and speech, freedom from slavery or forced marriage, freedom from torture and cruel punishment, right to education, right to employment without discrimination, right to criminal defense and the presumption of innocence, and the right to asylum from persecution.
While most Christians and most churches in the United States would probably say that feeding the hungry and helping orphans were good and Godly things to do, I would argue that the dominant reaction from churches these days to issues of social justice is to just ignore them. Perhaps it’s because there are so many issues and causes that it is overwhelming. Perhaps it’s because pastors don’t know how to address the issues and don’t want to do so badly. Perhaps it’s because congregations have different opinions on what is just or how the church should respond to a specific issue. Or perhaps pastors and their congregations believe that social justice doesn’t have anything to do with the gospel and could cause the church to pursue good works instead of sharing God’s grace. Whatever the reason, many Christians have been silent on social justice or segregated their views on social justice from their faith.
While the church is silent, the world experiences injustice.
Two and a half years ago Michael Brown’s lifeless body laid for four hours uncovered from the August sun on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. His death sparked protests that were watched around the world, catapulting the Black Lives Matter movement into prominence. The house where I grew up and lived for 18 years of my life sits just 5 miles from the spot where Brown was shot. He was seven years younger than me, but certainly we must have gone to some of the same stores, the same movie theaters, and played in some of the same parks as children.
While I wasn’t protesting in the streets, and in fact now live over 100 miles away from Ferguson, I was still in the thick of the coverage. I read every news story, poured over Reddit investigations and Twitter feeds, and even read the grand jury transcripts. It was increasingly surreal watching national press pick apart North St. Louis County demographics and policing. Reading my Facebook friends’ feeds was like seeing both sides of a war zone. I was friends with white police officers in North County and with Black former classmates and teammates who were out protesting.
Yet with all my attention to and interest in the investigation, outrage, and aftermath of the shooting, one thing from that time has stuck with me the most. In a conversation with my mom (who still lives just 5 miles away), she was sorrowful as she lamented that in a single moment when Michael Brown’s life ended, his soul went somewhere and that didn’t matter enough to us. Many of our friends and family were wholly fixated on painting Michael Brown as a thug and a threat with no concern for his eternal soul. Regardless of your personal feelings about what transpired August 9, 2014 in Canfield Green Apartments, a young man who was made in the image of God died and his eternal resting place was sealed.
And many men and women of color have died since then, disproportionately finding themselves victims of violence and/or law enforcement action.
I’ve now invoked the term social justice and brought up one of the most controversial news stories of the past 5 years. Have you prepared yourself to jump into my corner of the ring or click away to a different post depending on where I go next? Perfect, sounds like a good time to talk about the election then!
What happens to a dream deferred?
After the results of the election came in last November, many of us were shocked and scared and sad. We were worried about friends and strangers alike, how this seeming endorsement of hate and isolationism would affect the daily lives of people of color, Muslims, Jews, gay and lesbian people, transgender people, refugees, and so many others who are targets. Many well-intentioned Christians responded to our fears with a reminder: we might be worried, but our hope is in Christ, and all things will be made new at the end of the day.
This reasoning has been rolling around in my head for the past four months now. Was I a bad Christian because it felt like that hope wasn’t enough here?
Do the 13 year old sex slaves in Thai brothels and suburban basements feel that hope? Do the orphans of the literal war on drugs in Manila feel that hope? Do the mamas trying to keep their families safe in Mosul feel that hope? Does the terrified 14 year old boy in rural Missouri feel that hope as he tries to ignore the pain of homophobic slurs from classmates? It feels hollow to look upon the pain and fears of my fellow humans (many of whom have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus and may never) and find comfort knowing one day God will take me and my friends to heaven and justice will be served.
It is in this context that I began reading and researching to write this post. From Michael Brown’s death and the following two and a half years of increasing tension and injustice in our society (or at least my awareness of it increasing), I came away feeling strongly that 1) I needed to recognize the image of God in my neighbors near and far and care more about their eternal standing, 2) caring about someone’s eternal soul necessarily requires caring about their life, and 3) merely claiming hope in Christ in the face of injustice was hollow without action alongside it.
What does the Bible say about social justice within the Church?
1 John 3:16-18,
With our brothers and sisters in Christ, the Bible is clear: we should sacrificially care for each other and repent of our pride and prejudice as we bear one another’s burdens. We are not supposed to ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters. We are called to seek peace, repent liberally, and serve each other humbly. We are told over and over again that we should not rule over each other or see ourselves as above our brothers and sisters due to our heritage or our gifts or our position. This is because we were all equally dead in our sin and saved only by God’s grace.
What does the Bible say about social justice for the lost?
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God’s Church (His chosen people, the Israelites in the Old, and the followers of Jesus in the New) is called to defend the weak, feed the hungry, care for the poor and orphans and widows, issue fair legal judgments, and treat foreigners well. While some of these calls are given through the Jewish laws and we are now free from being under the law through Jesus, the laws were not eliminated, merely fulfilled by Jesus. Therefore we can find everything we need to know in Matthew 22:37-40:
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If we simply explain the gospel without caring about the needs and hurts and lives of our neighbors, then we are not loving them or trying to make a disciple of them, we are merely handing them a tract.
Be sure to return this Wednesday for Part II of Elise's guest post. You won't want to miss it!