Today I’m going to tackle two of those characteristics because I think they really go hand in hand – at least they do for me.
ADVOCATING & LIBERATING
This week, the first thing I think of when discussing advocacy is the topic of Proposition 8, which was recently struck down.
I believe in democracy. I may believe in a socialized democracy, but that’s because I believe in built-in protections for people. I don’t trust churches OR corporations to keep citizen’s best interests at heart (moreover, I don’t trust a democratic system that is largely bought and operated by massive multinational corporations, now awarded “personhood” by the Supreme Court, able to pursue their interests alongside individuals with little power or resources). Read Thom Hartmann's What Would Jefferson Do? for more thoughts on free societies, and crony capitalism.
Still, I believe in democracy. It must carry the assurances of Civil Rights, which ensure that the minority (whatever minority) is never forced to submit to the tyranny of the majority. We’ve seen this time and again through world history, and even US history: the contemporary zeitgeist cannot be trusted to protect the vulnerable and marginalized. Did the majority protect blacks during slavery or Jim Crowe? Did the majority save suffragettes from brutality, torture and imprisonment in the early 20th Century? What about Miscegenation Laws, enforced through 1967, keeping mixed-race couples from marrying?
In 1965 Judge Bazile of Virginia upheld an anti-miscegenation ruling, and defended racial segregation using a religious premise:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." (referenced in The Washington Post, 06/13/2006)That was status quo thinking. So I’m skeptical when the appeal is: “the majority of Americans believe…” or “the majority of Christians believe…” because the majority is damn fickle, moved more often by fear and self-preservation than by moral clarity or spiritual enlightenment.
Advocacy is speaking out for any cause, but what really touches my passions is when we are speaking out for people. Semantics? Maybe. But often when we speak of causes, we lose sight of the individuals involved. There are people who advocate for the needy, but who are literally disgusted by homeless people. There are folks who advocate for racial equality, but who still harbor racism. I’m a committed feminist, but I’m still trying to overcome my inner-chauvinism. Ideals don’t always translate to personal transformation. I want to advocate for people.
I think of Amnesty International, and an old Sunday School song I used to sing as a child:
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me,
Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see,
Opens prison doors, sets the captives free,
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me!
But are the words really true? Does the world buy those claims? Do we give the world any reason to?
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth -- the historical human manifestation of the Cosmic Christ -- the demonstration of God’s weakness and God’s love, God’s power and God’s humility -- one equal person of the Trinity -- is a spiritual river of redemption, renewal and liberation that pours out of my life and my spirit. I believe that river has the power to change us, to heal us, and to awaken us in profound ways. I believe that awakening can and must lead us to advocacy: opening prison doors and setting captives free. Because the Body of Christ does not function by magic, but by liberated people, powered by the Holy Spirit, continuing the work of liberation. That liberation necessarily involves real people, not blanket causes that separate us from the very intimate, transformative work of liberation (admittedly, this is difficult for the 1st World to practice, with our geographic separation from so much of the world’s suffering. But this is likely one of the reasons our aid efforts – primarily through monetary donations – fail to affect real, ongoing change. Money does not liberate).
While we are called and empowered to actively liberate, I believe we have the power and ability to suppress and stop that work in ourselves, and in others. We can keep people captive. We can lock the prison doors. In Matthew 6:19 Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." In John 20:23 Jesus says, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."
So as human beings, we have the power to liberate or imprison, to free or enslave, to forgive or damn. What will you do? What does your gut tell you? And why? WHY IS IT SO EASY AS A SOCIETY AND AS A RELIGIOUS CULTURE TO OPPRESS OUR NEIGHBORS? Paul was so committed to the liberation of his people that he said, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers…”
How many of us are THAT interested in liberation? To damn oneself for the sake of others?
We have the power to free the world around us, not only in the sense of spiritual emancipation (and I’m not even broaching the topic of the afterlife). Right here, right now, the world needs to be freed from the bondage of principalities and powers (gangs, angry mobs, militaries, corporations and regimes) that rob other human beings of their very humanity. In doing so, they (we) surrender our own humanity.
I found this image (to the right) online. It comes from the Aboriginal Activists Group: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Desmond Tutu said, “my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human, together.”
This really ties back to what I wrote earlier: advocating for a cause is often egocentric. We do it with motivations that often serve us personally, while buffering us from humanity on the receiving end. Some kinds of charity serve first and foremost to identify us as the GIVERS, rather than the RECEIVERS. Self-differentiation.
As a Christian, I believe that I am in bondage until my sisters and brothers, neighbors and enemies are truly liberated. I cannot be human if I cannot affirm the humanity of others. I cannot be human if my neighbors are not allowed their humanity. All of my efforts to liberate, liberate me. Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, my brethren, you have done unto me.” So God is liberated to be God when we liberate each other.
In my mind, advocacy is a beginning stage in the process of liberation. We advocate out of passion and conviction. The next step is liberation. I don’t believe that my meager attempts on this blog are inherently liberating. This is my advocacy. I’d be hard pressed to find many examples where I truly participated in “liberation.” Sometimes I have done quite the opposite. What steps have you taken? How have you advocated? How have you worked to liberate? How have you been liberated?