Recently, we hosted a viewing of the PBS Point of View documentary called, On the Divide. It shows the individual and collective tensions around reproductive freedom in the border town of McAllen, Texas. You can still watch this documentary here https://www.pbs.org/pov/watch/onthedivide/video-on-the-divide/
Afterward, those gathered engaged in dialogue about the issues we face. In the midst of this conversation, we discussed not just what to do, which we are all grappling with during these challenging days, but also HOW to BE as we engage.
When we are angry, when we feel helpless, when we grieve, it is tempting to look for blame rather than solutions, especially when answers seem few and we feel powerless to implement change. The tendency can then be to fall victim to overwhelm that leads us to apathy on one extreme or to allow our outrage to boil over into violence, including verbal violence against individuals or groups.
Neither produce good, for us or the broken systems we seek to transform and heal or the justice we long for.
We in the group gathered that evening talked about looking for a third way, a middle path, in which we seek justice while remaining a people of peace and avoiding becoming unjust ourselves in the process. It is not an easy line to find, in our actions or in our hearts.
The prophet Jeremiah is known as the lamenting prophet because he so grieved the state of injustice in the world and the seeming unwillingness of the people of God to repent and follow God’s way. In chapter 6 verse 14, we read these words, “ They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
Jeremiah was speaking of false prophets who pursue peace to such a degree that they ignore injustices. A great and prophetic article about this tendency was written after torch-wielding white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, VA in August of 2017 by American Baptist minister, Rev. Dr. Karyn Carlo. You can read this brief but powerful piece here https://medium.com/christian-citizen/crying-peace-peace-when-there-is-no-peace-ca7d4b3face9.
We who strive to follow the ways of peace and justice often wrestle between the two. Carlo reminds us that to not take sides is to take sides; that to try to see both sides as good ignores the violence being perpetrated by some as others are being oppressed. We are reminded, as well, of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel’s, words from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986:
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe…Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all,”
As we individually and collectively seek solutions, as we look for answers to the multiple forms of injustice around us, let us fall neither to despair and inaction nor the verbal spewing that replaces true action. Let us not look simply for persons to blame, but for bold words and wise actions that bring true justice and peace. We need always be hard on systems but gentle with people. Let us not simply trust God to work it all out, but ask God how we can be part of real progress.
Perhaps we consider becoming a Reproductive Freedom Congregation as a way of changing the conversation and providing an alternative Christian voice amidst the cacophony of vitriol in the media and on-line and our social gatherings. I encourage members to learn more about this movement here https://justtx.org/rfc/ and prayerfully ask God if you are being called to participate in transformation by championing Faith Church’s participation.
In chapter 7 verses 5-7 of Jeremiah, the prophet speaks the following words from God:
“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave to your ancestors forever and ever.”
I have no clear answers for you about what exactly we should do, but I believe that we should do something before the next crisis and sound bites draw our attention elsewhere, leaving us having done nothing. If this is not the cause we believe God is calling us to, since we cannot and should not try to do everything, that is fine, but let us do something.
We do much at Faith Church to support our neighbors’ experiencing food and housing insecurity, to support our LGBTQ+ siblings, and more. Caring for the environment, seeking justice for immigrants, responding to on-going violence against black and brown lives, supporting women’s reproductive health and freedom, working for peace for those in Ukraine and other war-torn parts of the world, protecting our children and other innocents from gun violence…
The list is long, the needs are many, and we cannot tend to them all, but let us prayerfully consider where God is leading us, calling us, equipping and inspiring us to stand in the gap and bind up the wounds of God’s people, including our own.
As we seek both justice and peace, may God grant us the grace to trust but also to stand, to speak, to follow the example of our radical Savior, Jesus, wherever our God leads us next.