“When we are silent, we stand on the side of the oppressor.”–Gandhi
At the heart of justice is the fundamental assumption of human dignity. Each human being bears the image of God and has inherent value. When that dignity is stripped, ignored or oppressed, there is injustice.
As we engage downward mobility and follow Jesus to the kinds of places he tended to go, life begins to magnify issues of justice. Eyes become open, hearts begin to feel and anger begins to stir on behalf of the marginalized, oppressed and victims of injustice. Part of our responsibility as Christ-followers is to pursue justice on behalf of those who are being treated unjustly—to risk our hearts, time, money and position and stand up for the underdog, however we can.
“And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
Pursuing justice begins with listening and trying to understand each other.
At The Refuge, my faith community, we facilitated a series of conversations on justice. One of the panels had a mix of people who were marginalized, oppressed, or treated poorly for one reason or another—a single mom, a parent with a disabled child, a Latina, and a friend who is gay.
As each of my friends shared, I was struck by the power of their stories. Even though I know them all personally and have heard their struggles and circumstances, as I listened, I was reminded in a much deeper way what day-to-day life is really like for them. It’s not easy. Every day they experience injustice: shame, struggle, and being treated as “less than” is part of their ordinary experience. And they all live in the United States. We know it’s far worse in other places.
Without listening, understanding and actually knowing each other, we will be unable to move toward restoration together. It’s why we desperately need a mix of diverse people from various walks of life, experiences, theologies, socio-economic backgrounds, political views, colors, shapes and sizes all in the same room, at the same table, engaging each other in our churches, communities, neighborhoods and groups.
Relationship transforms understanding.
And as we understand, we realize we can’t stay silent.
Gandhi said, “When we are silent we, stand on the side of the oppressor.” Silence is not neutral. In fact, silence empowers injustice. Speaking up doesn’t solve every problem, but it is the way to start pursuing justice.
When we allow our brothers and sisters to have their dignity stripped, to be constantly silenced and pushed down, we allow them to be oppressed. When we see discrimination because of race, class, or gender, and do nothing, it means we are actually agreeing with the system that oppresses them.
The downward journey opens our eyes to a world that we will no longer be able to ignore. When it’s our friends who we eat with, share life with, and really know that are being oppressed, we cannot stay silent.
A few years ago one of my friends was doing her laundry at my house while we had company. Sonia happens to be gay and The Refuge is the first church she’s been part of since coming out. An old friend brought a guy she was dating over for dinner. Sonia was quietly doing her laundry in the other room while we were hanging out in the kitchen. The date happened to hold very conservative views about church and life, somehow making the assumption that we naturally agreed with him since we were Christians. I was trying extra hard to be kind, but my husband was a little worried about the direction the conversation was going, shooting me that pleading look of,“Kathy, please honey, let it go. The night’s almost over.” I was sincerely trying!
However, when my friend’s date started in on homosexuality, the dam broke. I couldn’t bear that Sonia was in the other room and might be overhearing this conversation. I strongly interrupted him, “You are talking about some of my friends and it really bothers me. It’s easy to sit in your seat and be really sure you’re ‘right.’ Things change when it’s your friend, someone you love, someone who loves you, too.” He was a little shocked. And I was thankful I didn’t take the easy way out. I needed for Sonia to know we would never leave her hanging.
After they left, Jose and I had a long conversation with her. She didn’t hear his comment, thankfully, but was grateful we stuck up for her. It was a very tiny way we could stand on her behalf, but a lot of tiny ways add up to a lot of change over time.
When we are truly friends with the marginalized and oppressed, we can’t stay silent.
And we can’t truly be friends until we listen and try to understand each other.
That’s where pursuing justice starts.
God, show us how to be brave pursuers of justice,
to listen and understand our friends
and then use our voice, hearts, time and resources on their behalf.
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at www.kathyescobar.com and recently released her book called, Down We Go–Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids.