In May there was an uprising on social media of celebrities and nobodies raising our call for social justice in a cry for the voices of the oppressed in Nigeria be heard.
What happened to #bringbackourgirls? Celebrities took cute photos. Wrote hashtags on poster boards and rallied their twitter followers. We were so gung-ho on this campaign we all put up pictures, hash-tagged all our posts, and linked to news articles.
We rose to the fad, until we got tired.
I think part of having a correct view of the word “biblical” especially when it comes to biblical justice is figuring out how to sustain our empathy and concern for the long haul.
It has been more than 3 months since the kidnap of more than 200 school girls – and THEY STILL HAVEN’T BEEN FOUND. But we, in America, lost interest. Perhaps that’s not fair – I don’t think I could say anyone I talk to has lost interest, we’ve just lost steam. We’ve become overwhelmed with how to figure out how to actually do something about it.
They weren’t brought back and we had no idea what to do after that.
In June, Boko Haram kidnapped 60 more girls – and we became even more paralyzed – and some of us didn’t even notice because we had removed ourselves from the heartbreak of the story. According to many news outlets and analysists – #bringbackourgirls has failed.
This issue is much bigger than even the #bringbackourgirls campaign. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Nigeria this year by Boko Haram. The deaths occurred in around 95 separate attacks in more than 70 towns and villages in the north-east, where Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009 (Guardian News).
The Nigerian Government says it knows where the girls are – but they are fearful of retaliation against the girls in captivity or other civilians if they were to launch an operation to rescue them. It is indeed a messy and scary situation.
I fear Boka Haram thinks that was the extent of our response. They aren’t the least bit afraid of a hashtag. Which isn’t to say they’re useless – but we can’t stop at posting a witty 140 character thought provoking responses on twitter.
And many have given up hope. “Privately, some Western diplomats have already begun to play down expectations that the girls will ever be rescued…What may happen is that from time to time, some may seize a chance to escape, or a deal may be done with one particular local faction that is holding some of the hostages. Over the course of a few months or years they may begin to reappear” (The Telegraph).
But I’m not here to make you feel guilty (really!) I just want to convey that this is something we should STILL care about. And that I understand it’s very tricky. Advocating and caring for those caught up in violent oppression is a whole different kind of justice.
So….what do we do now?
Keep Praying. As my father used to always say, “Prayer is not a preparation for a greater work, prayer is the greater work.” You can see repeatedly throughout scriptures that the prayers of righteous people immediately impacted situations (Amos, for example, in chapter 4 praying against his visions, three separate times, and the Lord relenting and sparing Israel).
Continue conversations about this. I know it is uncomfortable and horrific – but pretending it is not happening won’t make it any less real. Bring it up with your leaders at church. Request to have small group discussion and sermons preached on a theological response to violence against women. Bring it up with friends – talk through the frustrations and your helplessness. Simply bringing the conversation back alive is a step in the right direction.
Take it a step further and use these conversations to then begin confessing and shattering the silence of violence against women without our own context. “In the United States one out of ever four women has experienced domestic violence and one out of six has experienced attempted or completed rape” (NCADV). Stop the cycle of violence, stop the shame, open the church to conversation and make it a place of safety for healing and restoration.
Use the political influence you have. There is a separation of church and state – but the Church is a large entity here in the States and can be a powerful voice for steering responses to injustice in our world. Make your voice heard with your representatives that this is not some issue “over there” but one you believe the United States needs to step into to care for our Nigerian neighbors. I am sure there is much more going on politically than you or I know – but simply letting your representatives in government hear that this is an issue they can’t forget about and have to continue pursuing is helping bring the voice back to those suffering waiting to be found.
Become aware of the resources available to help victims of violence. What programs exist in your community that are providing a holistic look at the cultural, political, religious and social environments of the women in their care. What can you learn about violence that would make you a better stranger, friend, mentor or neighbor to someone who has experienced violence that you may be in relationship with now or in the future?
Don’t wait for someone else to do all of the above things. Don’t think “my pastor will do it” or “those in politics will take care of advocating” or “the social justice team at our church will take care of it.” YOU. You are responsible to do your part and become a voice for the change God desires to bring to our broken and hurting world.
The Christian church today is guilty of the sin of omission when it comes to seeking justice against violent oppression in the world. We’re not the ones oppressing – but we’ve turned a blind eye and decided the mission of God for the dignity and flourishing of human beings can be handed over to our political officials. It’s time to take it back. It’s time to recognize who is our neighbor and that, as Martin Luther said, “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”
The education and dignity of women is a human and theological issue. As Elizabeth Gerhardt in her WONDERFUL book The Cross and Gendercide reminds us, “There is no optimistic, utopian hope for a kindgdom of God on earth. There is only the Christ that encounters us and call us to be for the other” (p. 166).
Since President Obama took office in 2009, questions of biblical justice have come to the forefront for Western Christians to consider. Plenty of these questions were issues even before President Obama took office, of course, but the tides of history seemed to change and themes of justice took on a new light and gained new invigoration as the first black President of the United States took oath. For many Christians, the central role of justice in the political sphere has similarly led the church to address the role of justice in the Christian faith, these issues were and continue to be important for the church to think about.
The Western church is at a point in history when the call for biblical justice is great. Some issue or aspect of biblical justice will affect you no matter who you are, where you live, or what interests you have your life. Obamacare, gun owners rights, immigration reforms, abortion laws, gay marriage, terrorism, unemployment, environmental laws and labor and sex trafficking are just a very few of the issues calling for the Church’s attention. The problem is the Western church cannot agree what biblical justice looks like in any of these situations.
Even the major voices guiding the church today cannot seem to agree. At a conference last year, Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of a mega church in Seattle, said that because the world would eventually burn up, he drives an SUV, implying that we have no need to care for the environment (this may or may not have been said tongue-in-cheek – but he said it and many were confused by the statement). Theologians such as Tony Jones and blogger Rachel Held Evans rose to the bait and defended the need to care for creation and take seriously the effects of global warming and the damages taking place to our environment. Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, defended the rights of homosexual couples to marry attending rally’s and being present on the steps of the state senate to voice his opinion as political leaders were going in to make their vote on the marriage amendment. John Piper, a mega church pastor in the same city, argued that God has and will send his judgment for the church and humanity having fallen so far from the gospel.
With so many of the church’s major voices being in disagreement on what it means to follow Jesus in these issues of justice, it is difficult for the church to know what to do, how to act and what to believe. Biblical justice begins to look very confusing.
One of the main problems is that although we place the term “biblical” before the word justice that word has lost a significant amount of meaning for many Christians who look to the Bible for guidance. The church has long been endangered by its proclivity for embedded theology. Stone and Duke, in their book How to Think Theologically, talk about the danger of embedded theology which they describe as “what we learn about God, the church, and the Christian life from our earliest exposures to faith.” They continue writing that “we absorb this theology from the continuous living in and among the church and her people. We could call this blind faith…Our embedded theology may seem so natural and feel so comfortable that we carry it within us for years, unquestioned and perhaps even unspoken except where we join in the words of others at worship” (p. 11-25. Too often, our embedded theologies teach us that our way is correct, all others are heretical and we need to defend our theologies even when we do not understand why.
In my own upbringing, I was taught that abortion was wrong, no matter what the circumstances were. While there were some really sad and unfortunate situations, there was never a reason to consider abortion an appropriate moral choice. When I first started exploring this as an embedded theology, those I grew up with called me a baby murderer. Studying Scripture and culture, I discovered that abortion laws were more complex than my embedded theology had raised me to believe. There are varying opinions of when life actually begins and, for many, pregnancy can continue a cycle of poverty and injustice. This is true of many of the women I meet on the streets through After Hours Ministry, the non-profit organization I work with. After Hours reaches out to men and women who are prostituted and, for these women, pregnancy can be a permanent sentence to poverty and, as a slave to a pimp, a terrifying reality knowing that your child may also one day be trafficked.
Despite the complexity of abortion and unexpected pregnancies, much of the pro-life movement resonates with me – particularly the desire to protect life even at its earlier moments and the ability to imagine a better life for a child even when the parents cannot. Yet, we all must realize that we have embedded theologies and we do the Church a disservice when we fail to have a heart and mind open to other perspectives. This openness must also allow the possibility that viewpoints other than ours might be “biblical.”
Underneath much of the harsh political commentary, hateful accusations and divisive theological discourse is fear. Fear that I might be wrong about the stance I am taking or the ramifications of Obamacare and what it might mean for my personal finances and my family’s stability. Fear of affirming gun rights and having to experience situations where someone who did not deserve those rights violates them. Fear that the world is becoming a more dangerous and unpredictable place that we cannot control.
Despite all these fears, the theological question that persists is our call to help the poor. Helping the poor will deplete our resources, crowd our boarders, and tire our volunteers. Helping the poor requires recognition that our faith is not just about us. The gospel has become an individualized message that we spend time cultivating in our own personal hearts and minds rather than using to transform the world outwardly. This individual view of salvation takes away from salvation’s communal nature thus removing the responsibility we have for the other and laying an immense burden upon individuals who feels they must carry their burdens alone. Chris Heuertz writes, “the Western church…has mistaken God’s financial blessings as individual provision rather than resources with potential for kingdom development.” (Simple Spirituality, p. 67). To truly live out biblical justice we must overcome the fear that entangles us, that makes us feeling isolated and on our own, and care for the poor.
And we’ve got to come up with a better definition of “biblical” justice. I’ve got some ideas that we’ll discuss in future posts. Anyone want to get the discussion started?