Dear Thoughtful Pastor: How can “the church” as an institution address or correct social/economic injustices based on race both within the church and in society? How can the church itself restructure to ensure “power sharing” among people of different ethnic backgrounds?
The church, generically used as a gathered people of God, carries the responsibility to live out the balance of grace and justice while speaking with prophetic voices.
We also know these human tendencies:
- One, our instinctual fear of the “other.”
- Two, the common use of a scapegoat upon which to place external responsibility for our various ills, both societal and individual.
- Three, our general silence in the face of injustice as long as the injustice isn’t aimed at us or when the injustice to others means we might gain advantage and more power and influence.
- Four, few willingly give up power.
In other words, we distrust the different, blame anyone but ourselves when things go wrong, generally only look out for ourselves and hoard power.
Furthermore, in every historical example I can think of where societal injustices have seen real change, the initiators got hurt. Those who lead the charge are the most vulnerable to being mowed down by the many who are resistant to change, especially changes that mean looking at the world very differently and probably losing some personal privilege.
Right now, a distressingly large part of US society has decided that the current “other,” i.e., primarily women and children Syrian refugees, must not be recipients of protection on US soil.
The fear of the “other” now rules. We blame the innocents for not standing up to the terrorists that have invaded their homeland. We’ve decided to protect ourselves no matter how much our self-protection might exacerbate world-wide harm.
The church can address this first by fighting for justice, in this case, refugee reception.That may very well mean entering the political fray, a truly nasty place but badly in need of courageous grace. Get involved in the local city councils. Speak up on state and governmental issues and stay in touch with your elected officials. Vote. Run for political office. These things matter.
Next, work to understand the world and the practices of our current “other.” Power-sharing means we all have voices. It’s amazingly difficult to offer voice to those whom we won’t take the time to genuinely understand. How much do we really know about the Middle Eastern world and about the environment that produces the current crop of terrorists? How can you partner across religious boundaries for the common good? What do you know about living as a marginalized group?
Finally, find courage to face hurt or even death in order to stand up for what is true justice. That’s the cost of real and lasting societal change. Know we are in this together. When some of humanity is getting hurt or stays marginalized, we all pay a price.
Not one of these things are easy to do. But they are doable–and the “doing” starts with you and me.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: Is there a place in heaven for animals? What do you perceive heaven to be like? What do you look forward to?
Any person who has ever lost a beloved pet has asked the first question.
What fascinates me is that there are actually theological arguments about this. People will take the Bible apart to “prove” that animals do, or don’t, make it to heaven.
I personally think that animals, especially our beloved pets, are going to make it to heaven a whole lot easier than a whole lot of people I know. I’m especially thinking of those who have decided that heaven will welcome only their carefully vetted select few, whether they are pets or people.
However, I need to be careful here–because I’m also saying I get to exclude certain people from heaven, which makes me just like the ones I’m trying to keep out. Interesting conundrum.
So, what do I think heaven will be like?
- I think it will be a place where everyone wishes the very best for everyone else, especially for the people we have particular dislike now.
- I think it will be a place where even the mosquito can find welcome and where it will no longer cause distress or disease. I admit I’m not so sure about the cockroach, however.
- In a world where hate-rhetoric now rules the airways and fear underlies most of our decisions, I think heaven is the place of elimination of all hate, all prejudice, all distrust and all fear.
- I think, even more than a place that I can describe with my limited imagination, that heaven is a state of being in total oneness with a Cosmic Goodness so exquisite that we will lose ourselves in eternal exploration of it.
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[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, October 30, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]