When I tell the stories of police abuse and brutality in San Francisco, nice church-going folk often look at me with disbelief. After all, isn’t it the case that if the police are bothering someone it’s because they are doing something wrong? I once thought that way too. In fact, growing up white in The United States of America allows a person to think a lot of things that simply are not true. That’s a more comfortable place to live, but not the Godly place to remain.
When speaking at churches, I can see the enthusiasm growing as I tell of the youth at our youth center and their needs and plights, but when I begin to bring up the idea of justice it’s as if the air gets sucked from the room. People begin to be restless and look at their watches, and yet, as I understand the gospel of Jesus, justice is not merely a good idea or a radical practice for some of us, but rather an imperative that goes along with evangelism and service. They are, in fact, three tines of the same fork.
Often people speak of service as if it is the same as justice. The two are, in fact, different and distinct from one another. Service is typically a short-term solution to a longterm problem, a sort of band aid. The Good Samaritan provided a service. The act was selfless to be sure. It also cost the Samaritan socially at least, if not monetarily. Justice would be the next step to find out why the highway was unsafe for travelers. Why were people being beaten and robbed on this road? Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.1
In the last twenty years, the church has begun to realize the importance of providing the “band aid” and not shunning those who need a hospital, but we have typically stopped short of asking the difficult questions of why poverty exists in a wealthy world, why oppressors are allowed to continue to oppress on a large and small scale around the world. Those questions, if they are asked honestly, will cost us something to answer.
During the past election, I was appalled once again at the overwhelmingly loud and often hateful cry of the “church” to vote for particular people or for or against certain measures. The words didn’t carry much grace or mercy, but instead dripped with disdain for the “other side.” Civic involvement is great and we are very involved in politics here in San Francisco. We spend much of our time trying to create and influence policy that will be compassionate to those who are typically oppressed. But where is the loud voice of God’s people on issues of genocide and human trafficking? There are more slaves in the world right now than at any other point in history.2 Why is the voice of God’s people strangely absent on issues of such global atrocity?
When this question has been posed to some church leaders the response has been that to take a stand on some of these issues is too “controversial.” Some church leaders would rather stay away from “risky” topics. That’s it then? Am I to say to my young son that as followers of Christ we don’t take risks to right wrongs because we might not be popular? How have we lost so badly? People are dying not only in third world countries, but right here in the U.S. Do care enough to sacrifice our own comforts and perhaps take some risks to right these wrongs?
Without a doubt, justice work is not safe. does require some risk and true commitment, but how can we say “no” to God’s mandate? We recently saw the movie The Changeling. The movie is set in the 1920s and portrays a picture of a very corrupt police department. There is a pastor, however, who has decided that he MUST take the risk. He is an advocate change; he speaks out regularly about the injustice that is happening within the department. It is a great example of what the church should look like. We are the active, chosen, living body of Christ. We are God’s people. We do not bow to anyone, and when something is wrong, we must say so.
Read the Old Testament prophets. They were continually sent to the rulers and leaders to tell them that they were wrong. They made no apologies and they did not back down. When the Kings were oppressing the people, God sent his servants to tell them to knock it off. Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. We have the same mandate from God to stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans and “the least of these.” In Isaiah 25 (The Message) it says:
They’ll see that you take care of the poor, that you take care of poor people in trouble, Provide a warm, dry place in bad weather, provide a cool place when it’s hot. Brutal oppressors are like a winter blizzard and vicious foreigners like high noon in the desert. But you, shelter from the storm and shade from the sun, shut the mouths of the big-mouthed bullies.
The God of scripture is clearly loving, merciful, generous, kind, gracious, forgiving, and just. He is not a pick-and-choose kind of God. We get the entire package. If we are to be true people of faith, we cannot pick and choose either. We must be all in or all out. To ignore the injustice of this world, and, in fact, at our very door step, is to deny God’s deep love for His broken people.
by Dawn Stueckle
Sunset Youth Services
1 This quote is contained in “Beyond Vietnam,” an address which is housed online courtesy of Standford Unversity at www.stanford.edu/ group/King/publications/speeches/Beyond_Vietnam.pdf, page 9.
2 See National Geographic Magazine’s online article, 21st Century Slaves, by Andrew Cockburn at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0309/ feature1/. The article has several links to related sites on slavery and trafficking. In addition, the U.S Department of State considers human trafficking to be a global issue that must be faced. The following are links to information on U.S.-related human trafficking: