Am I Siding with the Vulnerable?

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“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” —Arundhati Roy

Q_CINDY

I have come to believe that nice Christians are the greatest enemies of faithfulness.

I recall a conversation I had at the predominantly white evangelical college I attended. He was an Asian American brother recounting the stresses of growing up Asian American and the many ways dominant culture subtly chipped away his identity denying him full personhood. He was unhappy and his sorrow was visibly distressing. I told him faithfulness meant that we ask God to change our hearts, from cynicism to joy, and continue to be nice and loving to everyone we encounter. Surely, being as nice as possible, was the solution to all of my brother’s problems.

He looked at me, sadder than ever, and simply said, “That’s not enough.” I had failed to address the larger, systemic issues of racism. By isolating his negative response to the pain he had received, I had furthered his suffering instead of demanding justice from the system that dealt him inequality. Suffice it to say, he never opened his heart to me again.

By defining the totality of faithfulness to be individual piety, Christianity-in-power manages to silence the stories of marginalized people. They aren’t voiceless. Just as my brother spoke eloquently from his heart, I had, by internalizing the ideology of the powerful, preferred to not hear him. This, of course, is an effective strategy of those in power, because it ensures the status quo remains intact as long as disruptive stories go untold.

Over the years, I learned that the gospel isn’t about being a nice Christian—it is about opening our hearts to the broken, the bruised, the outcasts, and the powerless. It is about following Jesus to the cross, becoming like him in his limp body, stripped of pretense and sanitized piety. It is to care for the people the way he did. Jesus loved everyone, and he knew the best way for everyone to live is for the most vulnerable persons in society to gain visibility and dignity.

This meant he was not always nice. What was most important to him wasn’t nice-ness, it was to give sight to the blind and set the prisoners free.

I learned that faithfulness meant following Jesus to the margins—to become a trusted conduit through which marginalized stories are told.

It can sometimes be confusing in our modern Christian climate to discern which truths are giving voice to the vulnerable and which are rhetoric peddled by the powerful majority. The language they use is similar. The same Bible was used by German Christians in support of genocide as well as by American Christians in support of slavery. Our hermeneutical lens dictates whether we perpetuate an oppressive ideology or deliver liberation.

The one question I ask to shape my lens is this: Am I siding with the vulnerable? Some may argue we don’t need to take sides, that God demands equality of love extended to all. And yet Jesus tells a story where a shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to go after the lost one. It was not because he did not care for the 99, it’s just that to side with the vulnerable is to bring liberation to all.

My question may sound like it’s one for a serious political activist or a conscientious social justice advocate. Indeed, it is. But it is also one for the mother, the neighbor, the wife, and the friend—for us SheLovelys. Am I parenting in a way such that I am sensitive to the vulnerabilities of my children, physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Am I choosing to spend my free time uncovering silenced stories, or surrounding myself with those who can help me climb the ladder of social status? What do the priorities of my pocket books reflect? After all, where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Am I donating to causes that fuel pockets of hope from the bottom up or to sustain an empire?

Filtering my life decisions through this one question is helping me reverse the path to the echo chamber of the powerful. It is cutting out sharp thorns of judgment to create a safe space for fragile but resilient stories to be brought to light. I’m keeping different company these days, always moving towards the margins to find and hear the stories that have been systematically silenced.

At every crossroads in life, I am determining my next steps with this question: Am I going down in the way of Jesus?

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Cindy Brandt

Cindy Brandt

I write from Taiwan about finding faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. I drive a Prius, am more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing. I'm super social justice-y, and a feminist. You can find me at cindywords.com, where I tap my words out from the thirty third floor of the high rise I call home.
Cindy Brandt

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