Discussing Everyday Justice 4
The recent contest to win a copy of Everyday Justice generated some fantastic comments and questions about justice issues. So I’ve been addressing some of those in blog posts. I don’t assume to have THE answers to anything, but just want to share my perspective and hope you will join in with yours as well.
Christi Bowman commented –
“As an American is it possible to not be exploitative…which is where begging for mercy from Jesus everyday comes in…no matter what I do their are countless ways in which I am exploitative and don’t know it and some ways I am exploitative and as of yet have not found ways to discontinue being exploitative…I am responsible for the damage living my life causes those who have to pay the price. I live in Babylon…I am the oppressor! You can step out of the empire in a day but it takes a life time to get the empire out of you (Shane Claiborne)“
And Dave honestly stated–
“What worries me most about the whole issue of justice is that I kind of see “working for justice” as working against me. I can’t shake the feeling that when people cry out against the unjust, the people they’re crying out against are people who live just like me and my friends. This makes me extremely uneasy.”
I admit, it is scary and it makes me uneasy too. Basically I don’t want to have to hear that I am part of the problem – that it is my actions that are what are hurting other people. Because if I know the truth, then I have a choice to make. I can continue hurting others or I can make changes so that I stop. If I am a decent human being who isn’t afraid to be responsible for my actions, then I have no choice but to choose to change my actions. But of course, I don’t want to change because change is uncomfortable and hard. If I were being completely truthful, I’d say I’d rather remain in ignorance and not have to be responsible or change anything. But I know I can’t.
The truth about injustice makes many people so uneasy that instead of taking responsibility they start making excuses for why we don’t need to bother. (and Dave, I’m not saying this is you at all, just some stuff your statement prompted me to respond to) I hear a lot, especially from Christians in this Western individualized world, about how we in reality have no such communal responsibility. That our participation in culture can’t be faulted since that is just the air we breathe. That we need to care just about the individuals we encounter, especially our own friends and family. That there is no reason to be forced to feel guilty about someone we will never meet, systems we don’t control, or events that happened in the past. I understand how a lot of that is based in a mentality of fear and a serious aversion to change, but I’ve also come to see how such attitudes are unfortunately rooted in a culture (religion) of individualism. Our faith even is individualized – all about our personal relationship with God. We’ve lost the idea of being a communal body that cares for all of its members. And we’ve forgotten the idea of corporate sin – our ability to perpetrate sins on a communal level. In fact we are so used to sin being just about personal individual heart things that we assume that the purpose of anyone pointing out issues with our actions is just to make us feel bad about ourselves.
But that’s not the point.
The point of telling the stories of injustice is to help us start living as a community – to admit that we are part of that community and be willing to work with that community. To admit that we are part of Babylon and that like it or not we are involved in the oppression of others. And that if we want to build healthy communities where the needs of all members are respected, then we need to get over this idea that it’s all about just feeling guilty. Change doesn’t come about just because we feel bad. Change happens when we admit we are part of the problem and then do whatever we can to stop. Sure, feelings will be involved, but when we start caring more about how we feel than about the injustices themselves our priorities are seriously messed up. I have a hard time understanding how people can be more upset at me for making them feel guilty about eating chocolate tainted with child slavery than they are about the child slavery. I wish I could just tell them – “Stop making this all about you and just start working to make things better! Be a part of this global community and be responsible for your role in it.”
But it’s hard to challenge individualism and personalized conceptions of faith. It’s hard to admit we’ve done things wrong. And it’s hard to change. I get that this has to be a slow process. I get that we will never create a perfect world. I get that it is impossible to ever step fully outside of systems of oppression and exploitation. I get that we just have to do what we can. I’m all about finding everyday ways to seek justice. I’m all about doing whatever is doable where you are at. I understand it’s messy. I understand that crying out to Jesus for mercy is all we can do at times. But I’m sick of those that use all of those excuses and more to just do nothing. To abdicate responsibility. To wallow in guilt and inaction. To not live as a communal body.
Being part of the Kingdom of God is hard. It is uncomfortable. It takes work. It requires us to get over ourselves and not insist that the world should revolve around our desires. That’s not a popular message in a faith that has attracted followers based on the message that Christianity is all about the wonderful things Christ does for us. But nevertheless, it is what it means to be a part of the body of Christ, and hard or not, it’s how we are called to live.