Many good people live and work at the intersections and I occasionally invite someone to tell a story from where they stand. I first encountered Samantha Nichols via Twitter and our common engagement with the Interfaith Youth Core. I met her this fall when she was on a #BlackLivesMatter panel at a meeting of the ELCA Theological Roundtable. Samantha is an M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is passionate about economic and racial justice. In her free time, she enjoys writing and repeatedly watching the same three shows on Netflix: Bob’s Burgers, The West Wing, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Here is her reflection on the intersection of faith and social justice:
I wish I could say I was about to score a game-winning goal or that the other team was playing dirty and intentionally knocked me over. Instead, I broke my arm when I was six by kicking a ball back and forth in my backyard, by myself. Over the next six weeks, I saw enough of the world of medicine to think I wanted to become a doctor. After finding out that science and math are not my strengths, I started to consider other careers. Now, I see my present call to pastoral ministry as rooted in the same passion that once compelled me to consider medicine: helping others. This can be done through the church, so long as the church is, as my Lutheran seminary calls it, a Public Church.
Sitting in the sanctuary of a Lutheran church in Chicago this past November, I saw the church function as a public institution. We were planning for a Moral Monday demonstration, largely led by clergy, to demand a more equitable tax system and just budget for the state of Illinois. At present, Illinois is still in the midst of a budget crisis. Social service agencies are being forced to cut services, impacting thousands of people. Our regressive tax system guarantees that those who earn the least pay the greatest share of their income.
As you will undoubtedly hear at an organizing meeting, “That ain’t right.”
And so, church leaders tirelessly put together an amazing demonstration. Hundreds of people came out to march. A few days before the action, I committed to participating in civil disobedience along with about sixty other people. I blocked one of the many doors into the Chicago Board of Trade with the intention of getting arrested. Along with hundreds of other bodies filling the streets, my body made a difference.My body blocked a door to the Chicago Board of Trade.
My body was carried away by three police officers.
My body spent several hours in a group holding cell and then a solitary cell.
I put my body at risk because the entire body of Christ is at risk when oppressive systems and greedy politicians guarantee a society in which the majority of our resources are consolidated in the hands of a few.
That ain’t right.
I am pursuing ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America because the story of Jesus is one of grace, hope, and action. To me, salvation is less about my personal pass into heaven and far more about my personal role in creating a more just society. Society must be saved from the systems and structures that oppress our neighbors. My faith intersects with my commitment to justice, strengthening my convictions. My commitment to justice intersects with my faith, compelling me to lead a Public Church.
As I consider this relationship, I envision a cross. This cross was not in a church, but in public. I encountered this cross on a grey and rainy day in Ferguson, Missouri, only so many feet from where Michael Brown was murdered and left in the street for hours. The cross read, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A simple message with profound meaning, painted on a symbol of my faith, existing in a city symbolic of our nation’s deep and painful disregard of black lives. The cross not only intersects in terms of its very shape, but it ought to intersect with the church’s recognition of social problems.
It should call us to action.
As the church moves forward, we will undoubtedly stumble along the way. I haven’t broken my arm again since that fateful night in 1999, but I am no stranger to the clumsiness of life, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. In the midst of these mistakes, the cross can be our guide. I am committed to living at and speaking from the intersection of my faith and the quest for social justice.
I am committed to answering the call of God, best heard when we listen to the cries of our oppressed neighbors.
I am committed to creating and leading a Public Church.
Images via here and me, used with permission.