The Bible is clear; as Christians we are to ‘defend the cause of the oppressed’. What seems less clear is how? And which injustices? How do we live out Micah 6:8?
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Tragically, dauntingly, many are oppressed, many have been wronged, many are without a voice. Some injustices are public, splashed across the media. Others remain private, hidden from all but a handful of people. Injustice is not bound by race, country, or generation. Sin is an equalizer. We are all selfish, we are all prone to let our selfishness play out in ways, big or small, that help us and hurt others. From the time human beings first told God to shove off, it only took one generation for pride and selfishness to degenerate to murder.
God warned Cain: Sin is crouching at your door. You must rule over your anger.
Cain ignored. Anger boiled to rage that culminated in murder.
And so rolls in generation after generation of injustice, violence, slavery, and murder. Such profusion of evil can keep you awake at night.
As the world grapples with the murder of George Floyd and, subsequently, the murder of many others, as violence, racism, and lawlessness continues and will continue, we are weary. Not only from these public injustices but from many others that go unrecognized. A selection from my week include:
- understanding that children (as well as spouses) who suffer domestic abuse have been particularly vulnerable during COVID lockdown
- Listening to my West African friend describe life under ‘real lockdown’, when leaving your house meant bullets graze your head, when violence forced her to flee her homeland
- Receiving prayer updates from a London group who seeks to help those trapped in the sex trade
- Hearing South Africans describe the brutality, including murder, committed against them and their family, a brand of racism that’s often swept under the rug
- Hearing about the brutal slaughter of 81 innocent people (plus more women and children abducted) by a militant Islamic extremist group in Nigeria.
The list is endless. Many don’t garner a single protest. Some victims never receive acknowledgement, let alone justice. So should we simply give up? Say nothing at all? Speak up for nothing because we can’t protest everything?
By no means! But how? I offer no new knowledge, only reminders, primarily to myself.
Start with compassion. We mourn with those who mourn. We weep. We comfort. We open our homes. We listen to their stories. We extend dignity and friendship and grace.
We pray and read. We ask God to open our eyes to the things that blind us. We allow the Spirit to intercede when we don’t know what or how to pray, and to show us ways we can and should step up, to specific people we can support. When opportunities arise to act or speak or support, we do our homework. We ‘test’ organizations and movements (as well as our actions and thoughts and tone) against God’s Word. We pursue counsel from other believers. We take all we’ve heard and seen and think and align ourselves with the Bible. We ask God to help us sort it all, to give us wisdom beyond ourselves.
We strive for humility. We recognize that we might not have the full story. We haven’t walked in her shoes or his shoes. We remember that we are all in danger of being right in our own eyes. We listen and learn. We admit that we get it wrong sometimes. We challenge with gentleness. We disagree while keeping dignity intact. We allow the Holy Spirit, and the body of Christ, the church, to refine and mature us.
We practice intentional hospitality. More understanding and healing may come from a shared meal than a march. Greater good may come from investing in our neighborhoods than movements. We intentionally go out of our way to take a walk or share meal with people who were not born in our birth country, whose lifestyle differs from our own, who are of a different race, who are liberal, or conservative, or a police officer, or poor, or rich. We learn to be okay with awkwardness because we understand that uncomfortable conversations often lead to new understanding, transformation, and mutual respect. Our homes offer the ideal space to engage, listen, learn, and share. So we open ours, even if, for now, it’s only our back gardens.
We live peacefully. We defend the defenseless in ways that uphold the law. We bear in mind that God himself established governing authorities, (Daniel 2:21, Romans 13:1) and that we, the church, are to pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-4). We recognize that biblical instruction to submit to authority given in Romans – “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God … Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13: 1 and 7) was given to an oppressed society. To people who did not get to vote. To people who were jailed and killed for their faith in Christ. We pray for grace to accept this not easy to accept instruction, and to do good works under the God-given umbrella of authority.
We give grace to the body of Christ. We recognize that you and I have walked different paths and that God calls us to different pursuits. If you are actively standing against domestic child abuse, if your heart and time and resources are being poured into fighting that injustice (perhaps unbeknownst to me), I won’t demand that you take up the task God has given to me. We spur one another on to good works, realizing that the body of Christ comes with various parts, abilities, skills, and passions.
Church, we unify ourselves with foundational truths: all people are made in God’s image, all sin, and forgiveness is found in Christ alone. We start there and, as we inevitably branch off into various social, political, experiential lanes, we proceed with grace. When we hit a juncture of ‘agree to disagree’ we return our gaze to Christ. We repent of our own sins and failings. We forgive one another. We rejoice in God’s utter justice and unfair grace, a paradox I hope you’ll join me in exploring next week.
Until then, keep walking humbly with God. Keep holding ‘unswervingly to the hope we profess’ keep ‘spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.’ For ‘He who promised is faithful.’ [Hebrews 10:23-24]