Love & Justice: Where in the Bible is the Excuse for Apathy & Inaction?

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. “

Bishop Desmond Tutu

Does Intersectionality Have a Place in the Church?

Intersectionality is a framework that allows us to look at various injustices and their intersecting points as part of a nexus of privileges and oppressions. The -isms include, but are not limited to, ableism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, sexism, ageism, and xenophobia.

I think about the social construct of race & think of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither slave nor free….” The love of Christ and the message of the Gospel knows not the man-made distinctions of race, but that doesn’t mean that racism & other -isms aren’t present in the Church. How many homogeneous churches are there out there? The best church I was part of was genuinely diverse in terms of race, class, etc. There was true community. I miss that.

The love of Christ should erase the man-made distinctions & differences, but too often privilege is wielded as a weapon in the Church. One needs to look no further than European colonization in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, South America, and North America to see how Christianity has been colonized and used as a colonizing tool to “pacify the natives.” I recall this quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu (yes, I know this is the 2nd time I’ve quoted him):

“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

In churches across the US, the “prosperity gospel” has taken hold in the hearts and minds of false teachers and false prophets. They teach that salvation is inaccessible to the poor, and that the the impoverished share their plight. They flaunt their material possessions as proof of their blessed status & tell church-goers that they too can partake in this wealth if they give above and beyond their tithes and offerings- in spite of the fact  that this is not supported by scripture.


The Color Line in the Church

I tweeted the other day about how depictions of Jesus as a Euro-descended man was a mark of colonized theology. It’s true. How can we worship God in spirit and truth when our representations of Jesus Christ align with euro-centric norms? If depictions of Jesus are (falsely) consonant w/ whiteness, what does that tell us about how we should relate to our Savior? And spare me the “post-racial” talk about the irrelevance of the color of Jesus’ skin in representations. The conflation of “Semetic” with “Caucasian” or “white” is fairly new phenomenon. And the conflation of Semetic & “Caucasian” is problematic b/c Jewish ancestry does not denote skin color or European ancestry. If we are to measure Jewishness by Semetic ancestry, then the “truest” Jews are Africans. DNA evidence indicates that the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe and South Africa has more Semetic blood than most European-descended Jews today.

Recommended reading:

  1. “The Blessing of Africa” by Keith Augustus Burton
  2. “Africa & the Bible” by Edwin M. Yamauchi
  3. “Journey To The Vanished City” by Tudor Parfitt
  4. “How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity” by Thomas C. Oden

What Is Justice?

Justice is paramount to love. You cannot preach Christ’s love while denying the daily, lived injustices of the oppressed “other.” It irks me when people try to tell me that I’m sowing seeds of division when I name injustices that need to be addressed. Shouldn’t we be justice-minded? Doesn’t the Bible call believers to seek justice for the “other?” The “other” is the one who faces homelessness, hunger, poverty & other injustices that flourish while “good” people do nothing. My experiences as a woman who is labeled “Black” “disabled” & “other” do color and inform my perspective, but they don’t invalidate my perspective.

Jesus Christ did say “the poor you will always have among you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11) Thing is, he was speaking to a very specific context. The disciples were condemning a woman for pouring her expensive perfume on Jesus. They focused on the material, estimating the economic worth of her perfume, determining that she could have sold it and donated to the poor.

 6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us “whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine (the poor, the “other”), you did for me.” In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus made the distinction between the sheep and the goats. The goats were the ones who witnessed injustice and did nothing. Conversely, the sheep were the righteous who pled the case for justice, clothing the poor and feeding the hungry. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“The poor you will always have among you” was spoken in a very specific context. It doesn’t absolve us from the work of justice. I’ve heard people quote Matthew 26:11 out of context to justify their inaction in the face of unjust poverty. “The poor we will have always.” Misquoting and misinterpreting a passage of scripture does not invalidate other passages that don’t fit that interpretation.

Related Passages:

Proverbs 31:9 charges us to “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

James 1:27 refers to Isaiah 1:17, challenging believers with this passage: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Psalm 82:3 tells us to “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.”

Proverbs 14:31 warns us: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Proverbs 19:17: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.”

Proverbs 28:27: He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8: “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.”

One Last Passage…

„Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.“

James 1:23-4

1 Comment

  1. I really enjoyed this. Even though I don’t identify as Christian, I do find your perspective as really enlightening. Some time ago, I was linked to a video about Christian missionaries in Africa. In one case, one woman was really dedicated to her cause but in another, a man withheld water from a village until they allowed him to preach and convert people. I find this type of religious work to be very problematic because I don’t believe it’s anyone’s place to convert anyone. My friend, who is a Witness, told me that it’s part of their obligation, so I’m always wary of the convergence of religion and social justice. But I appreciate this post and its perspective about it.

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