Grim News at Christmas: Don't Look for Light from On High

Editors' Note: This article is part of a Public Square conversation on 2013 in Review. Read other perspectives here.

American religion left a lasting impact in 2013. It was the impact of a deafening silence. Our faith leaders remained shockingly silent on the core ethical issues that vex our common social, economic, and political life.

Oh, there's plenty of noise, especially from Christians, about issues that distract us from the tasks we should be facing as communities of faith. I refer to the tasks of caring for, and advocating for, people whom white males have traditionally felt superior to: women, the working poor, LGBT people, people of color, and people who hold a faith different from our own. These are groups we've never minded leaving out of the American Dream.

We remain distracted and largely inert in part because Christian fundamentalists still maintain their unholy alliance with ultra-wealthy political and economic fundamentalists; theirs is a union that wreaks havoc on our Union and that paralyzes our best efforts to move an increasingly pluralistic, color-changing, gender-bending society forward.

We Christians get all goose-pimply over the baby in the manger, and we love to sing about the good news message the shepherds heard on that lyrical field long ago. But for the majority of Americans at the end of 2013, the news isn't good and is mainly unchanged from this time last year. Well-compensated members of Congress will soon go home without renewing lifeline benefits for 2.5 million Americans experiencing long-term joblessness. For women, for the working poor, for immigrants, for veterans, and for prisoners, there is precious little good news at year's end. Our Christmas carols ought to stick in our throats when we remember these marginalized ones.

There is no new gleaming light in the sky this year for people without work or for people stuck in low wage jobs no matter how hard they work; or for families caught in the crossfire of health-care wars; or for women who live in a sexist society that would rather demonize them and control their bodies than defend them and hear them and respect them as equals.

The light our marginalized desperately long for won't come from on high. The light they long for will only come, and can only come, from the ground up—from the bottom up. This light from below, which I believe to be God's light, exposes a society that seems only to know how to reward the wealthiest while ignoring the rest.

No doubt those red Salvation Army buckets will be stuffed this year by people coming out of ridiculously over-stuffed stores carrying ridiculously over-stuffed bags. Putting money into those buckets isn't a bad thing, but we should never mistake our Christmas charity with doing justice in the way the God of the prophets and of Jesus requires. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about giving things to people at Christmas. But we ought to be asking ourselves and each other, "Why, in the richest country in recorded history, do we still rely on charity to relieve so much human suffering?"

Here is the point: Our economic system is terribly broken and overwhelmingly unjust. On feel-good television we will see a lot of people getting charity turkeys for Christmas; what television won't show us is the millions who are being crushed every day by a system that comforts the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.

People of faith—communities of faith—ought to be crying out against this demonic system and doing serious boots-on-the ground organizing to change it.

Not to exercise this kind of patriotism is the real treason. Not to live into this gospel is, for Christians, the real heresy. Pastors and priests ought to be telling their congregations that making common cause with women, immigrants, communities of color, the working poor, and LGBT people is what will move this country forward. Only such a coalition can marshal the power to make this country whole and right.

Light dawning from below: this is the only light that is still shining and still offering hope in this holy season.

12/20/2013 5:00:00 AM
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