Life with Jesus / race / Social Justice

Faith and Deeds

I’m teaching Sunday school this month. My first day was yesterday. Usually, teaching Sunday school is a hellish experience, more akin to a cage fight than the idyllic picture of children learning quietly about Jesus around a table. We are lucky if we can get through the lesson without someone using the word ‘boobs’ or ‘deez nutz’ more than once.

Yesterday, however, went okay. One of them was pacified by a sleepover-induced coma and spent most of his time laying on the floor staring at me. One had already had a tough morning and, thusly, had been threatened within an inch of his life. And Birthday Princess girl was feeling gracious.

We talked about James 2:14-17.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

I hadn’t read this text in a while and I was struck by the sentiment here, especially verse 16 in light of the current situation in our country.

A group of people is saying, “Ouch, you’re hurting us and have been for a very long time.”

I do not think that the white American Church has done a good job at responding. At best, we, collectively, say, ” We need to talk about this” or “We need to pray”. We might opine over facebook that we’re so sad about the injustices that are happening. We might ask Jesus to come back.

At worst, we ask the hurting people to justify why they’re hurting, we blame them for their hurt, or we get mad at them for daring to talk about their pain in the first place.

I’m not even going to address our worst responses, at least in this particular blog. There is nothing in those responses that are Christ-like; nothing humbling; nothing selfless. All of those are very self-centered responses to someone saying they are in pain. The fact that generations of my white Christian brothers and sisters have responded this way has broken me. There are days where I feel despair over it.

But we also need to talk about our “best” responses. Of course, listening humbly is where things start. It’s where the change begins. But, the person James talks about above, listened and even responded. A hungry person came to them and they responded, “I see your hunger! I see your nakedness! I see you! Now, go and be blessed.”

There is no action in that response. There is no sacrifice in that response.

Saying that we’re sad about another Black death or saying, “Praying for you” costs us nothing. While listening humbly is a necessary step (and far too many people are not doing this), if we do nothing about what we’re hearing, then we might as well not listen at all. Listening  and being broken by injustice does not solve the problem that caused the injustice in the first place.

Unless our deeds follow, our words ring hollow. (Seriously, ®, TM, copyright held by welderbeth, inc. I’m making t-shirts, ya’ll.)

Let me be clear: My faith is what compels me to do anti-racism work. It’s not because I’m some liberal hippie. It’s not because I hate white people or I have a crap-ton of white guilt. To me, Jesus clearly lays out what the response should be to hurting people, all people, actually.

For me to care, for me to move beyond merely listening, it’s going to cost me something. I’m going to have to sacrifice my comfort. I might even have to sacrifice some relationships. I cannot stand for injustice, whether it’s an off-color joke at a party or whether it’s unfair hiring practices at my job. It’s going to cost me time and money. Instead of watching TV or doing the dishes, it means I spend a Saturday morning marching around Uptown Dallas or a Tuesday night sitting around a table dreaming about what change could look like. It might mean boycotting some things. Hell, it might mean costing me my life. (see: William Lewis Moore and Rev. Bruce Klunder)

It means I have to put other people before myself. As a follower of Jesus, I have a really good example of that.

Where do we start? How do we put action to our words?

  • Vote- Find candidates who are (more) justice minded. Care about local politics. Find out what policies are in place and how they affect marginalized people.  Listen to political groups that are led by marginalized people. Follow their lead.
  • Donate- Give money to justice organizations, even if you don’t agree with everything they’re doing. Try and find groups that are addressing the root causes of injustice in the US. Once you start looking, there are a ton. (Faith in Texas is one. Race Forward is a national organization.) Community organizing is TOUGH work. It needs to be funded.
  • Show Up- This means be an ally wherever you are. Challenge things. Call people on their bias. Support people of color in mostly white spaces. Show up to direct actions (protests, rallies, boycotts). Stand with marginalized people.

I am always, always, always available for conversation about this. Email me, facebook me, send me a smoke signal. If you need help finding local places/people that you can support, I will help you look. If you are stuck in a conversation with someone, I will throw my weight behind you and help you.

Church, we can do this. Let’s make our deeds follow so our words don’t ring hollow.

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