Letter from a Birmingham Jail English

Below is the text of both the letter from eight white Birmingham clergy (Christians and Jews) who chastised Martin Luther King Jr. for his direct action campaign in their city and the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” penned in response by MLK to these fellow clergymen.
 

ALABAMA CLERGYMEN’S LETTER TO DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. [THE FOLLOWING IS A VERBATIM COPY OF THE PUBLIC STATEMENT DIRECTED TO MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. BY EIGHT ALABAMA CLERGYMEN, WHICH OCCASIONED HIS REPLY.] April 12, 1963

 

We the undersigned clergymen are among those who in January, issued “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

 

Since that time there had been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which caused racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

 

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

 

We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment. Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political tradition.” We also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

 

We commend the community as a whole and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.

 

We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

 

Signed by: C. C. J. CARPENTER, D.D., LL.D. Bishop of Alabama JOSEPH A. DURICK, D.D. Auxiliary Bishop. Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham Rabbi HILTON J. GRAFMAN, Temple Emmanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama Bishop PAUL HARDIN, Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the Methodist Church. Bishop HOLAN B. HARMON, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church GEORGE M. MURRAY, Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama EDWARD V. RAMSAGE, Moderator, Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States EARL STALLINGS, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Letter From Birmingham City Jail – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 16, 1963

 

My Dear Fellow Clergymen, While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas…But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms. (1)

 

I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some 85 affiliate organizations all across the South…Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because I have basic organizational ties here. Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. (2)

 

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country. (3)

 

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive; 2) negotiation; 3) self-purification; and 4) direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham…Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of the country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of these conditions Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation. (4) Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants – such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises Reverend Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstrations. As the weeks and months unfolded we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. (5)

 

As in so many experiences in the past, we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of selfpurification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept the blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic with with-drawl program would be the byproduct of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change. … (6)

 

You may well ask, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking, but I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. … The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crises-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. (7)

 

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals. (8)

 

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” It has been a tranquilizing Thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” (9)

 

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see the tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” men and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title of “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”-then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. (10)

 

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.” (11)

 

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong. (12)

 

Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. (13)

 

Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because they did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote despite the fact that the Negro constitutes a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically structured? (14)

 

These are just a few examples of unjust and just laws. There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust. (15)

 

I hope you can see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law as the rabid segregationist would do. This would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, (not hatefully as the white mothers did in New Orleans when they were seen on television screaming “nigger, nigger, nigger”) and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law. (16)

 

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. … (17)

 

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White citizens’ “Councilor” or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direst action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. … (18)

 

You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and at points they profit from segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man in an incurable “devil.”… (19)

 

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it. Consciously and unconsciously, he has been swept in by what the Germans call the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa, and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, he is moving with a sense of cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. (20)

 

Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand public demonstrations. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit-ins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, “Get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. … (21)

 

In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership in the community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. (22)

 

I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues with which the Gospel has no real concern,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular. (23)

 

So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice. (24)

 

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave the clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when tired, bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?” … (25)

 

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church; I love her sacred walls. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists. (26)

 

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. (27)

 

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty. (28)

 

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

M. L. King, Jr.

 

 

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Me and Scripture-a Journey still happening

            At age 16 I had a powerful and life-rearranging conversion to Christ.. I gave myself and my future to God at the altar of my best friend’s Pentecostal church. Seeking fellowship, I attended my girlfriend’s Evangelical Free Church youth group and started opening the scripture with studies produced by the Navigators. These fellowships instilled in me a desire to devour the scripture, and steeped me in a doctrine of biblical inerrancy. I swallowed it; I believed in it.  I developed such a fanatical daily discipline of reading and studying the Word that my parents worried I had joined a cult!  The essential meaning and purpose of the scripture they told me was to lead us to personal salvation. At the time, it was powerful and animating message for me.

            In college, I joined the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, continued with a Navigators men’s study, and joined an ad hoc Tuesday night prayer group. The prayer group was wildly ecumenical—Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist, non-denoms, and mainline traditions were all represented. We would pray, share, and discuss our faith lives. The deep relationships I developed with Christians of varying perspectives opened me up to new ways of looking at scripture, among other things. My friend, Matt English, a deep root Presbyterian, introduced me to the persistent thread through scripture that presents the divine imperative for justice.  This thread expressed a concern for collective salvation, more than personal salvation, and viewed God’s activity as transformative of society and not simply of individuals.

            InterVarsity introduced me to Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a book that turned my world on its head!  For the first time I began to understand that the Kingdom of God was not just about me and Jesus, but about how the world around us should look. Another friend introduced me to Sojourners magazine, the reflections of justice oriented evangelicals in inner city Washington, D.C.  Sojourners helped me build bridges between these two often opposing theological camps.

 

            I read biblical scholarship from a historical critical perspective. In my Sociology of Religion class I read Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy, and discovered how we set up certain unassailable truths to act as a canopy of meaning over us, while in reality, all of those ‘unassailable truths’ can be critiqued and even changed.  This discovery began to pry open the rigid frameworks I had inherited from the more conservative influences and prepared the way for a significant shift in my view of scripture and how it acquires authority.

            My seminary education helped me to identify and appreciate the diversity of voices within the scriptures, and to allow them to critique one another.  Biblical inerrancy no longer worked for me. Gospel parallels revealed the many differences in gospel details, and I learned that factual historicity was not the dominant concern of gospel authors, rather the effort to communicate meaning was central.  The Bible became a library of books assembled by diverse writers over thousands of years.  These writings were shaped by their particular places and times in history. Still ‘inspired’ by the Spirit of God, but not dictated word by word, detail by detail.  Marcus Borg helped me realize that a story could still convey truth and meaning without being factual.

            My most challenging hurdle during seminary was the exclusive claim by many in the Christina faith, the notion that salvation is only through Jesus. Today, I have a completely different understanding of certain “exclusivist scriptures.” When Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” I believe he invites us into the pattern of death and resurrection he exemplified. Jesus’ “Way” is the surrendering our ego, a dying to self, so we may discover our unity with others in God for an abundant new life.

            I have encountered this wholeness in other people of profound faith who do not share my same tradition, but with whom I now enjoy a rich dialog about what it takes to be whole in God. I am enriched by interfaith conversations that at an earlier time would have simply been arguments in an attempt to convert the other person to my way. The writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Anthony de Mello, Thomas Merton, John Phillip Newell and Richard Rohr, helped me build bridges between my tradition other faiths. They speak a language I can understand.

Today when uncertainties or challenges to my understanding of God, arise I delight in the opportunity to be stretched into new understandings of God.  Together with Meister Eckhart “I pray to God to be rid of God” because every attempt I make to understand God is flawed and limited, so I must forever open myself to the God I don’t yet know or understand.  And so, my journey continues!


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Justicia Racial Parte 2

Justicia Racial 2

 

El devocional diario de Richard Rohr reflexiona sobre el proceso de transformación: orden, desorden, reordenamiento. Antes de que llegara el Covid-19 y tuvimos que cambiar de marcha, estaba predicando sobre las historias de transformación en el Evangelio de Juan y reflexionando sobre cómo este patrón estaba presente. Este patrón también está presente en instituciones, sociedades y comunidades, y ahora estamos en un momento de desorden nacional y estamos en busca de la manera de reordenar nuestra comunidad.

 

Rohr afirma con razón que la transformación nunca es un retroceso a lo que era, sino siempre un avance hacia una nueva forma de ser. La parte difícil es que “todavía no podemos ver en qué nos convertiremos”, como dice el apóstol Pablo. Entonces, es difícil para nosotros anticipar y es algo temeroso contemplar.

 

El sermón y el blog de la semana pasada comenzaron a reflexionar sobre el sistema de castas heredado de los EE. UU. Y cómo, al igual que otros sistemas de castas en el mundo, se basa en 8 pilares compartidos que apoyan esta división jerárquica de personas en grupos más y menos valorados dentro de la sociedad. La semana pasada miramos el primer pilar, Voluntad Divina y Ley Natural–los argumentos religiosos y filosóficos que se utilizan para justificar la estratificación de las personas en varios grupos de castas. Nuestras propias escrituras fueron y todavía son usados para justificar esta división de personas en castas de mayor y menor valor. ¿Cómo transformaremos esta realidad???

 

Esta semana leí esta cita del autor Austin Channing Brown:

“Nuestra única posibilidad de desmantelar la injusticia racial es sentir más curiosidad por sus orígenes que preocuparnos por nuestra comodidad. No es una conversación cómoda para ninguno de nosotros “.

 

No es una conversación cómoda, pero es una conversación ESENCIAL, a pesar de la incomodidad, si queremos comprender los orígenes y comenzar a reconocer que la estructura en efecto ahora fue construida intencionalmente por ancestros humanos, y que puede ser desmantelada y reconstruida por nosotros en esta generación si tenemos el estómago para ello.

 

Comprender este sistema de castas requiere que comprendamos la diferencia entre la estructura invisible de la jerarquía (que es la casta) y los factores utilizados para categorizar a las personas dentro de esa jerarquía (raza, color de piel, etnia de origen).

 

Casta es anterior al concepto de raza. La casta es la estructura, la clasificación de las personas. Debemos mirar debajo de Raza a “Casta”, que es el otorgamiento o la negación de respeto, estatus, honor, atención, privilegios, recursos, beneficio de la duda y bondad humana sobre la base de su lugar percibido dentro de la jerarquía. El castaísmo (en comparasión al racismo) es el interés que tenemos en mantener la jerarquía para nuestro propio beneficio personal o, para evitar el beneficio de algún otro que percibimos como miembro de una casta menor.

 

Nosotros no construimos esta casa rota, pero la hemos heredado, y ahora debemos decidir si entregarla a la próxima generación en su estado roto o invertir lo que se necesita para abordar las fracturas en la estructura.

 

Hoy quiero mirar el segundo pilar de Casta como lo describe Isabel Wilkerson-Heredabilidad

 

Durante el tiempo que me estaba recuperando de una pierna rota, comencé a jugar un videojuego llamado Civilization. Como muchos videojuegos, empiezas por seleccionar “quién” serás en el juego … cuáles serán sus fortalezas y debilidades relativas. Además, debes seleccionar el “nivel de dificultad” que intentarías para esa ronda en particular. Les invito que pensaras en Casta y su impacto en la vida de las personas con este mismo marco.

 

El juego es difícil … para todos los jugadores. Pero es más difícil para unos que para otros, debido a su familiaridad con las reglas, las opciones, etc. Las características de tu personalidad asumida para el juego pueden ayudarte a superar tus déficits o exacerbarlos, dependiendo de “a quién” elijas como tu personalidad en el juego. En los videojuegos podemos seleccionar nuestra identidad, elegir un nivel de dificultad menor o seleccionar una identidad de jugador que pueda mitigar nuestras debilidades. En la vida, tales opciones no están disponibles gracias a la Jerarquía del Sistema de Castas en el que nacemos sin elección.

 

Ese hecho es la naturaleza de la heredabilidad … heredamos nuestra casta de nuestros predecesores. No podemos elegirlo. Considere la diferencia entre un niño nacido en la Familia Real en Inglaterra y un niño nacido en los guetos de Londres. Ambos están jugando el juego de la vida … ambos deben esforzarse, pero el nivel de ventaja de uno sobre el otro es claro. Los miembros de la realeza son de una casta … los plebeyos son claramente de una casta diferente. En Inglaterra, el estatus de uno estaba determinado por el estatus de su padre al momento de su nacimiento. En India, ocurre lo mismo. Tu casta está determinada por la de tu padre en el momento de tu nacimiento. Una vez definido, es inmutable.

 

Este es el precedente legal que los colonos estadounidenses conocieron y vivieron … hasta la esclavitud. En 1692 en Virginia, se modificó la ley para que la raza de una persona fuera definida por el estado de la madre, no por el padre. ¿Por qué los colonos harían este cambio? ¡Porque la nueva ley significaba que los esclavos blancos podían engendrar hijos de sus esclavos negros y cada uno de esos niños (y todo su progenie) se convertirían en esclavos de por vida! El útero negro se convirtió en un centro de ganancias para multiplicar la fuerza laboral esclavizada. Esto también creó un profundo temor de que los hombres negros tuvieran relaciones sexuales con mujeres blancas porque el niño podría ser declarado “blanco” a pesar de que era hijo de un esclavo. Por lo tanto, esta mezcla de razas planteó otros problemas … como: cómo definir la “blancura”, ya que solo los hombres blancos terratenientes podían votar.

 

En 1790, la ciudadanía en los Estados Unidos solo se podía otorgar a los blancos libres, pero la “blancura” aún no se había definido. Entonces, al principio de la historia de nuestra nación, se aprobaron leyes para comenzar a especificar cuánta sangre negra era suficiente para descalificar a uno de ser “blanco” y, por lo tanto, adquirir los privilegios de la casta superior en Estados Unidos. Estas leyes se conocieron como las Leyes de la Sangre y variaron un poco de un estado a otro y cambiaron con el tiempo.

 

Para 1934, durante el período Jim Crow del sur de los Estados Unidos, estas leyes de sangre se habían vuelto muy específicas. Por ejemplo: en Virginia, en 1924, la Ley de Integridad Racial declaró que incluso una gota de sangre no blanca significaba que no podía reclamar la “blancura” como su herencia.

 

En Louisiana, hasta 1984, existían leyes que daban nombres a cada variante de mezclas de sangre blanca / negra desde 1/32 hasta la negrura total.

 

Lo más sorprendente (y perturbador para mí) de la investigación de Wilkerson fue el descubrimiento de que en 1934, cuando los nazis recién elegidos (que solo ganaron con el 38% de los votos) se sentaron para comenzar a definir sus propias leyes de sangre, que se llamarían Leyes de Nuremberg–que establecería cuánta sangre judía se necesitaba para ser considerado judío y, por tanto, estar sujeto a las restricciones y sanciones de las castas inferiores. Los investigadores nazis recurrieron a las leyes de sangre más desarrolladas que se conocen: las leyes de los Estados Unidos de América. Los nazis moderados querían que el 50% fuera la guía (es decir, un padre o madre judío) para definir uno como Judío; otros miembros más radicales del partido abogaron por una ley de judaísmo de 1/16 que significaría cualquier bisabuelo judío. Pero NINGÚN miembro del régimen nazi sintió que la regla estadounidense de “una gota” fuera justa o razonable. ¡En este aspecto, los estadounidenses habían ido demasiado lejos!

 

Espero que esta información te impacte tanto como a mí. Nuestras leyes de sangre estadounidenses que determinaban el lugar de una persona en la jerarquía social estadounidense eran más estrictas de lo que podían aceptar los nazis.

 

La heredabilidad, entonces, en los EE. UU. Significaba que una persona podía heredar su estado de casta inferior sobre la base de que CUALQUIER antepasado anterior fuera de linaje no blanco. Esta es la naturaleza del segundo pilar del sistema de castas, y es ineludible porque estás colocado en él por la naturaleza de tu nacimiento.

 

Wilkerson también afirma que, si bien muchos aspectos de CLASE social pueden superarse o perderse mediante el esfuerzo personal: obtener una educación, ganar más dinero, convertirse en un atleta o artista estrella; las humillaciones que acompañan al ser de casta inferior son ineludibles. Sea testigo, por ejemplo, de las historias recientes de un profesor negro de Harvard que fue arrestado por intentar ingresar a su propia casa, la humillación de los atletas negros de la NFL y la NBA que fueron arrojados al suelo por agentes de policía durante un arresto de tráfico de rutina, o la experiencia de mi amigo Jonathan, un consejero profesional negro que es ‘seguido’ regularmente cuando está en una tienda porque es ‘sospechoso’. No importa sus logros educativos, sus ingresos o su poder de estrella, todavía están sujetos al tratamiento de los destinados a la casta inferior por el color de su piel.

 

Como dijo Brene Brown recientemente, “El sistema no está roto. Fue construido de esta manera”. Y debido a que la gente lo construyó de esta manera… se puede deshacer. Y Jesús nos muestra cómo hacerlo.

 

Jesús mismo vivió dentro de un sistema de castas de jerarquías sociales. Había una jerarquía creada por la propia convicción de los judíos de su “elección de Dios” que dividía al mundo en dos castas … judíos y gentiles (o no judíos). También estaba el sistema de castas definido por los roles del clan de sacerdotes levitas (descendientes de Aarón) y el resto de las tribus de Israel. Y luego estaba el sistema romano que valoraba a las personas de manera diferente … Los ciudadanos romanos eran de la casta superior y los residentes de las tierras ocupadas como Palestina estaban en la base del sistema.

 

Como vimos la semana pasada, Jesús eligió intencionalmente violar las reglas y expectativas de su sistema de castas sirviendo al centurión romano gentil y sirviendo a una mujer de una comunidad étnica y religiosa diferente. Y Pablo, que era tanto judío como ciudadano romano por nacimiento, llegó a no ver ninguna distinción entre judío y no judío, esclavo o libre, hombre o mujer. Más bien para Pablo fue en Jesucristo que todas las divisiones de las sociedades humanas se disuelven en un vínculo común como familia de Dios.

 

Pero si alguna vez hubo una gran división del Sistema de Castas, fue la división entre Divinidad y Humanidad. La Divinidad es la Casta superior y la Humanidad la inferior. Y aquí es donde quiero ver a Jesús como el Gran Rompedor de Castas.

 

Leemos en la carta de Pablo a los Filipenses, Capítulo 2: 4-8

4 Que cada uno de ustedes no mire por sus propios intereses, sino por los intereses de los demás. 5 Sea en ti la misma mente que estaba en Cristo Jesús,

6 quien, aunque tenía la forma de Dios,

    no consideró la igualdad con Dios

    como algo para ser explotado,

7 pero se vació,

    tomando la forma de un esclavo,

    nacer en semejanza humana.

Y ser encontrado en forma humana

8 se humilló a sí mismo

    y se hizo obediente hasta la muerte.

    incluso la muerte de cruz.

 

Jesús “no consideró la igualdad con Dios como algo para ser explotado, sino que se despojó de sí mismo”. Este acto, el desprecio del privilegio de su casta, para despojarse de ese privilegio para poder extender la presencia de Dios a toda la casta de la humanidad, es el gran camino hacia nuestra integridad.

 

Aprendí en una capacitación de organización comunitaria que las personas con el poder nunca lo abandonan voluntariamente. Se les debe exigir que lo hagan. La historia de nuestra nación es una en la que la casta superior solo ha renunciado al poder del voto, al poder de los derechos, al poder de la igualdad porque otros se lo han exigido al luchar por el derecho a compartir ese poder. Eso hace que el ejemplo de Jesús sea aún más sorprendente. Él se rindió voluntariamente y nos invita a hacer lo mismo cuando nos encontremos en posiciones de poder que no son compartidas por igual.

 

Hoy, nos encontramos en un momento en el que los poderosos de nuestra sociedad no están exactamente dispuestos a compartir la igualdad de privilegios, ya sean económicos, educativos, sanitarios o incluso la capacidad de votar con facilidad y sin obstrucciones. Como seguidores de Jesús, debemos seguir su camino … su vía … su ejemplo … y no simplemente “creer” en él.

 

Para mí, como seguidor del Cristo Quiebra-Castas, esto significa que apoyo iniciativas como la Acción Afirmativa, incluso si eso significa que algunos niños blancos no ingresarán a la universidad que quieren … incluso si son mis propios hijos. O que mis hijos o yo no tengamos la primera oportunidad de trabajo porque una persona de color tiene prioridad como parte de un  esfuerzo por corregir los efectos discriminatorios de 400 años de discriminación de casta. Es una renuncia al privilegio. Para mí, es una forma de apoyar la nivelación del campo de juego.

 

En nuestra denominación PCUSA, desde hace muchos años hemos tenido como requisito constitucional un Comité de Representación que busca asegurar que en todos los niveles superiores de la iglesia haya personas con autoridad para tomar decisiones en cada comité que sean negros, asiáticos, latinx e indígenas. Exigimos una distribución uniforme de hombres y mujeres, del cleros y laicos. ¿Por qué? Porque creemos que seguir el ejemplo de Jesús requiere que escuchemos a TODAS las voces y perspectivas en nuestra toma de decisiones. Y creemos además que tomaremos mejores decisiones porque tenemos todas esas perspectivas en la mesa. A menudo, esas conversaciones son difíciles y los miembros blancos de los comités escuchan por primera vez cómo sus ideas discriminan inesperadamente. Pero como cité a Austin Channing Brown al comienzo de esta reflexión, si “nuestra única posibilidad de desmantelar la injusticia racial es sentir más curiosidad por sus orígenes que preocuparse por nuestra comodidad”. Entonces no será una conversación cómoda para ninguno de nosotros. Pero es una conversación que DEBEMOS tener.

 

El camino que nos conduce desde el desorden actual a un reordenamiento de nuestras vidas solo es posible cuando nosotros, que disfrutan de un estatus de casta superior, abrimos los ojos para verlo como es; y, como Jesús, nos negamos a explotarlo para beneficio personal … e incluso nos despojamos de él a favor de la elevación de los de la casta inferior.

 

El Cuerpo de Cristo debería haber estado al FRENTE de esta batalla por la igualdad, no al final. Los cristianos negros (y muchos otros cristianos de color) realmente lo han entendido por mucho tiempo. Los cristianos blancos todavía tienen mucho que aprender.


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Racial Justice Part 2

Racial Justice 2

 

Richard Rohr’s daily devotional is reflecting on the process of transformation: Order—Disorder—Reorder.  Before Covid-19 hit and we needed to shift gears, I was preaching on the stories of transformation in John’s Gospel and reflecting on how this pattern was present.  This pattern is also present in institutions, societies and communities as well, and we are now in a moment of national disorder and are in search of the way to reorder our community.

 

Rohr rightly states that transformation is never a move BACK to what was, but is always s a move FORWARD into the new way of being.  The hard part is that ‘we cannot yet see what we shall become’ as the Apostle Paul states it.  So, it is difficult for us to anticipate and somewhat fearful to contemplate.

 

Last week’s sermon and blog began reflecting on the inherited Caste system of the US and how like other caste systems in the world it is founded upon 8 shared pillars which support this hierarchical division of people into more and less valued groups within the society.  We looked last week at the first pillar, Divine Will and Natural Law, or the religious and philosophical arguments that re used to justify the stratification for persons into various caste groups.  Our own scriptures were and still are being used to justify this division of people into castes of greater and lesser value.  How shall we transform this reality??? 

 

This week I read this quote by author Austin Channing Brown:

“Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us.” 

 

It is NOT a comfortable conversation, but it is an ESSENTIAL conversation–despite the discomfort–if we are to understand the origins and begin to recognize that the structure in place now was intentionally built by human ancestors, and which can be dismantled and rebuild by us in this generation if we have the stomach for it.

 

Understanding this Caste System requires us to grasp the difference between the invisible structure of the hierarchy (which is caste) and the factors used to categorize persons within that hierarchy (race, skin color, ethnicity of origin). 

 

Caste predates the concept of Race.  Caste is the structure, the ranking, of people.  We must look beneath Race to “Caste,” which is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt and human kindness on the basis of their perceived place within the hierarchy.  Casteism (as opposed to Racism) is the investment we have in maintaining the hierarchy for our own personal benefit or, in order to prevent the benefit of another we perceive to be in a lesser caste.

 

WE did not build this broken house, but we have inherited it, and now must decide whether to hand it along to the next generation in its broken state or to invest what is needed to address the fractures in the structure.

Today I want to look at the second pillar of Caste as described by Isabel Wilkerson-Heritability

 

During the time I was recovering from a broken leg I started playing a video game called Civilization.  Like many video games, you start by getting to select ‘who’ you will be in the game…what their relative strengths and weaknesses will be.  Additionally, you got to select the ‘level of difficulty’ you would attempt for that particular round.  I’d like you to think about Caste and its impact on people’s lives with this same framework.

 

The game is difficult…for all players.  But it is more difficult for some than others, due to their familiarity with the rules, the options etc.  The characteristics of your assumed personality for the game can assist you to overcome your deficits or exacerbate them, depending on ‘who’ you choose to play as.  In video games we get to select our identity, to pick a lower level of difficulty or to select a player identity that can mitigate our weaknesses.  In life such choices are not available thanks to the Hierarchy of the Caste System into which we are born with no choice.

 

That fact is the nature of Heritability…we inherit our caste from our predecessors.  We do not get to choose it.  Consider the difference between a child born into the Royal Family in England vs a child born into the ghettos of London.  They both are playing the game of life…they both must apply themselves, but the level of advantage for the one over the other is clear.  Royals are of one caste…commoners are clearly of a different caste.  In England, one’s status was determined by the status of your father at your birth.  In India, the same is true.  Your caste is determined by your father’s at your birth.  Once defined, it is unchangeable.

 

This is the legal precedent that American colonists knew and lived by…until slavery.  In 1692 in Virginia, the law was changed so that race of a person was to be defined by the mother’s status, not the father’s.  Why would the colonists make this change?  Because the new law meant that white slave holding men could sire children by their black slaves and each of those children (and all of their children) would become slaves for life!  The black womb became a profit center for multiplying the enslaved workforce.  This also created a deep fear of black men having sex with white women because the child could then be declared ‘white’ even though it was the child of a slave.  Thus, this mixing of races raised other issues…like how to define ‘whiteness’ since only white, land-holding men were allowed to vote. 

 

In 1790 Citizenship in the United States could only be granted to Free Whites, but ‘whiteness’ had not yet been defined.  So, early in our nation’s history laws were passed to begin to specify how much black blood was enough to disqualify one from being ‘white’ and thereby acquiring the privileges of the upper caste in America.  These laws came to be known as the Blood Laws and varied somewhat from state to state and changed over time. 

 

By 1934, during the Jim Crow period of the Southern US, these blood laws had come to be very specific.  For example: in Virginia in 1924 the Racial Integrity Act declared that even one drop of non-white blood meant you were not able to claim ‘whiteness’ as your heritage!

 

In Louisiana, as late as 1984 there were laws that gave names to every variant of white/black blood mixtures from 1/32 all the way to full blooded blackness.

Most striking (and disturbing to me) about Wilkerson’s research was the discovery that in 1934 when the newly elected Nazi’s (who only won with 38% of the vote) sat down to begin defining their own blood laws—to be called the Nuremburg Laws—which would set out how much Jewish blood was required for one to be considered a Jew, and thus subject to the lower caste restrictions and penalties.  Nazi researchers turned to the most well-developed blood laws known–the laws in the United States of America.  Moderate Nazi’s wanted 50% to be the guideline (ie. one Jewish parent); other, more radical members of the party advocated for a 1/16th Jewishness law that would mean any Jewish great grandparent.  But NO members of the Nazi regime felt that the American “one drop” rule was fair or reasonable.  In this aspect the Americans had gone too far!  I hope that information shocks you as much as it did me.  Our US blood laws that determined a person’s place in the American social hierarchy were more stringent than the Nazi’s could accept.

 

Heritability, then, in the US meant that a person could inherit their lower caste status on the basis of ANY previous ancestor being of non-white lineage.  This is the nature of the second pillar of the Caste system, and it is inescapable because you are placed in it by nature of your birth.

 

Wilkerson also states that while many aspects of Social CLASS can be overcome or lost by personal effort—getting an education, making more money, becoming a star athlete or performer; the humiliations that accompany being of the lower caste are inescapable.  Witness for example recent stories of a Black Harvard professor being arrested for trying to get into his own home, the humiliation of black NFL and NBA athletes being thrown to the ground by police officers during a routine traffic arrest, or the experience of my friend Jonathan, a black professional counselor who is regularly ‘followed’ when he is in a store because he is ‘suspicious.’  It doesn’t matter their educational achievements, their income or star-power they are still subject to the treatment of those destined to the lower caste because of the color of their skin.

 

As Brene Brown said recently, “The system is not broken. It was built this way.” And because it was built this way by people…it can be unbuilt.  And Jesus shows us how to do it.

 

Jesus himself lived within a caste system of social hierarchies.  There was a hierarchy created by the Jews own conviction of their “chosen-ness by God” which divided the world into two castes…Jews and Gentiles or non-Jews.  There was also the caste system defined by the roles of the Levite clan of priests (Aaron’s descendants) and the rest of the tribes of Israel.  And then there was the Roman system which valued people differently…Roman citizens were of the higher caste and occupied people like Palestine were on the bottom of the system.

 

As we saw last week Jesus intentionally chose to violate the rules and expectations of his caste system by serving the Gentile Roman centurion and by serving a woman of a different ethnic and religious community.  And Paul, who was both a Jew and a Roman citizen by birth came to see no distinction between Jew and non-Jew, slave or free, male or female.  Rather for Paul it was in Jesus Christ that all of the divisions of human societies dissolve into a common bond as family of God.

But if there ever was a great Caste System division, it was the division between Divinity and Humanity.  Divinity being the superior Caste and Humanity the inferior.  And here is where I want to look at Jesus as the Great Caste Breaker. 

 

We read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2: 4-8

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

 

Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself.”  This act, the disregard of the privilege of his caste, to empty himself of that privilege so that he could extend the presence of God to the entire caste of humanity is the great pathway to our wholeness. 

 

I learned in community organizing training that people in power never willingly give it up.  They must be required to do so.  The history of our nation is one in which the upper caste has only relinquished the power of the vote, the power of rights, the power of equality because others have required it of them by struggling for the right to share that power.  That is what makes Jesus’ example all the more striking.  He willingly gave it up, and invites us to do the same when we find ourselves in positions of power that are not equally shared.

 

Today, we are in a moment when the powerful of our society are not exactly willing to share equality of privilege, whether economic, educational, health care, or even the ability to vote easily and without obstruction.  As followers of Jesus, we are to follow his way…his path…his example…not simply to ‘believe’ in him.

 

For me, as a follower of the great Caste Breaking Christ, this means I support initiatives like Affirmative Action, even if it means that some white kids won’t get into the college they want…even if they are my own kids.   Or that I or my kids might not get the first look for a job because a person of color has priority in an effort to redress the discriminating effects of 400 years of caste discrimination.  It is a relinquishing of privilege.  It is a way for me to support a leveling of the playing field.

 

In our PCUSA denomination, for many years now we have had as a constitutional requirement a Committee on Representation that seeks to ensure that at all the upper levels of the church there are persons in decision making authority on every committee who are Black, Asian, Latinx, and indigenous.  We require even distribution of men and women, of clergy and laity.  Why?  Because we believe that following Jesus’ example requires us to listen to ALL voices and perspectives in our decision making.  And we further believe that we will make better decisions because we have all those perspectives at the table.  Often those conversations are difficult, and the white members of the committees hear for the first time how their ideas discriminate unexpectedly.  But as I quoted Austin Channing Brown at the beginning of this reflection, if “Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort.” Then it will not be a comfortable conversation for any of us. But it is a conversation we MUST have.

 

The way forward from the current disorder to a reordering of our lives is only possible when we with upper caste status open our eyes to see it for what it is and, like Jesus, refuse to exploit it for personal advantage…and even dispossess ourselves of it in favor of the elevation of those in the lower caste.

 

The Body of Christ should have actually be at the FRONT of this battle for equality not at the rear.  Black Christians (and many other Christians of color) have truly understood this for a long time.  White Christians still have a lot to learn.

 

 


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Justicia Racial Parte 1

 
Justicia racial parte 1

 

Continuamos nuestra exploración de los mandatos bíblicos a Mishpat — justicia legal / judicial y Tzedekah — Justicia social que ocurre cuando encarnamos el principio de Mishpat en nuestras vidas como sociedad para hacerlo REAL dentro de nuestras comunidades.

 

Durante las últimas semanas hemos examinado cómo funcionan estos conceptos en el tema de Justicia de género y Justicia económica, y hoy ofreceré la primera entrega que aborda la Justicia racial.

 

Martin Luther King Jr.escribió:

“Hay que recordarle a la iglesia que no es el amo ni el sirviente del Estado, sino la conciencia del Estado. Debe ser la guía y la crítica del Estado, nunca su herramienta. Si la iglesia no recupera su celo profético, se convertirá en un club social irrelevante sin autoridad moral o espiritual. Si la iglesia no participa activamente en la lucha por la paz y por la justicia económica y racial, perderá la lealtad de millones y hará que la gente en todas partes diga que ha atrofiado su voluntad. Pero si la Iglesia se libera de los grilletes de un statu quo amortiguador y, recuperando su gran misión histórica, habla y actúa sin miedo e insistentemente en términos de justicia y paz, encenderá la imaginación de la humanidad y las almas de fuego, imbuyendo ellos con un amor resplandeciente y ardiente por la verdad, la justicia y la paz. Hombres y mujeres de lejos y de cerca conocerán a la iglesia como una gran comunión de amor que proporciona luz y pan a los viajeros solitarios a medianoche.

                            – El papel de la Iglesia de Un golpe a la medianoche de Martin Luther King, 1967

 

Mi propio mentor, el padre José Marins, enseñó que la iglesia es la brújula, no el piloto de la humanidad. Nuestro papel es apuntar hacia el destino que entendemos que Dios está dirigiendo la historia … el Reino … o Kin-dom, o Comunidad Amada como lo expresó MLK. Nuestro papel como pueblo y como institución es estar en constante crítica de la sociedad en la que vivimos y desafiarla en cada generación para ser mejores a la manera de Jesús. En la paráfrasis de la Constitución de Barak Obama, “perfeccionar la unión” que hemos heredado.

 

Pero, ¿qué pasa cuando la iglesia pierde el rumbo? ¿Qué sucede cuando en lugar de ser una brújula que apunta al ‘norte’ hacia la Liberación y la Igualdad ante Dios y los demás, comenzamos a apuntar al ‘sur’ hacia la Opresión y la Discriminación? ¿Qué sucede cuando usamos nuestro papel para reforzar el poder de unos pocos sobre los muchos, bautizando tal opresión con el agua bendita de la legitimidad religiosa?

 

Hace dos domingos, en un evento de oración en toda la ciudad llamado Pray SA, el pastor y autor Max Lucado se paró ante una multitud racialmente diversa de cristianos en el estacionamiento del Freeman Coliseum y confesó:

 “Lamento haber estado en silencio. Lamento que mi cabeza haya sido enterrada en la arena. Mis hermanos y hermanas están sufriendo y lo siento. Les he hecho sentir menos. Yo no ayudé. No escuché. No lo vi. Yo no entendía.”

 

En verdad, un gran número de pastores podría hablar las mismas palabras. Como se ha señalado a menudo, el domingo a las 11:00 de la mañana es la hora más segregada de América. ¿Cómo llegamos a eso? No fue un accidente … fue debido a decisiones deliberadas, intencionales y equivocadas para reforzar las estructuras y sistemas de esta nación, que se establecieron para crear un sistema de castas que recompensaba a algunos con acceso, propiedad, dignidad, poder de toma de decisiones, oportunidad privilegiada y libertad, mientras despojaba a una segunda clase de personas de estas mismas cosas.

 

En su reciente libro, Caste, the Origins of our Discontent, la autora Isabel Wilkerson utiliza la metáfora de haber heredado una casa antigua para describir la situación en la que nos encontramos hoy. Ella no lo construyó; los problemas de los cimientos estructurales no fueron obra de ella. La gotera del techo que, con el tiempo, había creado madera podrida que ahora resultaba en un techo manchado y hundido, no era obra de ella. Pero ahora la casa era de ella. Ahora tenía que tomar algunas decisiones sobre cuánto tiempo, dinero y esfuerzo dedicaría a abordar estos problemas estructurales heredados.

 

Hemos heredado las estructuras de esta nación, muchas de ellas construidas intencionalmente para discriminar sistemáticamente a ciertas personas mientras elevamos y celebramos a otras. Este sistema se llama Sistema de Castas, y el nuestro no es el único que ha existido. Pero ha gobernado la forma en que vivimos en la sociedad estadounidense durante más de 400 años. Ahora somos los herederos de esta estructura defectuosa. Y ahora tenemos que tomar algunas decisiones sobre cuánto tiempo, dinero y esfuerzo dedicaremos a nuestra generación para abordar estos defectos, de modo que podamos pasar este hogar a nuestros hijos en quizás un poco mejor condición a nuestros herederos.

 

Wilkerson busca descubrir cuáles son los elementos comunes de un sistema de castas al examinar tres de los sistemas de castas más devastadores que jamás se hayan creado. El sistema de 5 castas de la India con todas las subcastas, el sistema de castas de la Alemania nazi y el sistema de castas estadounidense. Durante las próximas semanas analizaremos los ocho elementos estructurales que forman el Sistema de Castas. Los tres sistemas de castas que ella examinó exhiben estos 8 característicos pilares. También exploraré cómo estos ocho pilares de casta están presentes en el mundo bíblico, y cómo Jesús, en su persona y en su ministerio, los expuso y explotó en interés del mayor amor de Dios.

 

Casta contra raza

Una distinción inicial que debe hacerse es la distinción entre casta y raza. Ambos son construcciones sociales. Son creados por sociedades para establecer una diferenciación entre ciertos grupos de seres humanos. Casta se refiere a las normas profundas, a menudo invisibles y asumidas que están tan profundamente arraigadas que a menudo son imperceptibles, como el agua para los peces que nadan en el. Un sistema de castas son las normas incuestionables que establecen a una persona como más que y a otra como menos que en miles de formas.

 

La raza es la construcción artificial particular que se utiliza para identificar qué personas pertenecen a una casta y cuáles a otra. En los EE. UU., esa característica de identificación se conoce como Raza. Pero el color de la piel es una categoría problemática de usar como veremos. Podría haber sido el color de los ojos, marrón y azul. O altura, alto y bajo. El problema con todos estos rasgos físicamente observables es que existen en un amplio espectro. ¿Los ojos color avellana son marrones o azules? ¿Los ojos verdes son marrones o azules? ¿Qué define alto frente a bajo? Cuando estoy en Guatemala, parezco un gigante. Cuando me paro cerca de los hijos de mi esposa, todos de más de 6 pies de altura, ¡soy un enano!

 

Mire esta foto … estos son todos los tonos de piel de la gente del continente africano. ¿Cuál es blanco? ¿Cuál es negro? Si solo tuviera dos categorías para dividir a estas personas, ¿cómo lo haría?
 
 
Como puede ver… las líneas divisorias no son fáciles de determinar, y esto presenta un problema para el Sistema de Castas Estadounidense durante sus 400 años de historia. Personas de diferentes naciones llegan a los Estados Unidos y hay un esfuerzo legal y deliberado para adaptar el concepto de “blanco” o “caucásico” para admitir a algunas personas en la casta superior, mientras se rechaza a otras y se las coloca en la casta inferior.
 

Todo sistema de castas requiere alguna forma de legitimación. Wilkerson sostiene que los 8 pilares de la casta son las formas comunes en las que un sistema de discriminación intencional adquiere su poder para definir la realidad de una sociedad.

 

Pilar # 1:

La voluntad divina y las leyes de la naturaleza

 

En la India, los antiguos textos sagrados cuentan la historia de Rama, uno de los dioses principales en el panteón hindú, que establece la estructura de las cuatro castas principales, con el quinto y último peldaño más bajo simplemente referido como los Dalit o los intocables. De manera similar a la forma en que las culturas occidentales identificaron el ‘derecho divino de los reyes (y reinas), este orden’ divinamente ordenado ‘para el mundo, fue establecido de manera simple e incuestionable por el orden del cielo y toda la sociedad india llegó a abrazarlo. Además, las leyes del Karma dictaban que la única forma de ascender en la casta era cumplir diligentemente el lugar de uno en la casta que se les dio en esta vida. Esto redujo efectivamente cualquier impulso de ser “engreído” e intentar ir más allá de su clase.

 

En el mundo occidental, el cristianismo dominó y se utilizaron textos similares para justificar la casta gobernante (realeza). Se utilizó la selección de Dios del rey David y la aceptación de su monarquía en el Antiguo Testamento, así como el argumento de Pablo de someterse a las “autoridades gobernantes” en Romanos 13: 1-7 para proporcionar la justificación religiosa para una clase dominante. Martín Lutero argumentó de Romanos 13 para justificar la represión brutal y sangrienta de un levantamiento campesino en Alemania.

 

La justificación para una clase de esclavos también vino de nuestra Biblia. Dos textos en particular: Génesis 9: 20-27 y Levítico 25: 44-46. El primer texto es la historia de Noé y sus hijos justo después del diluvio:

 

Noé y sus hijos

18 Los hijos de Noé que salieron del arca fueron Sem, Cam y Jafet. Cam fue el padre de Canaán. 19 Estos tres fueron los hijos de Noé; y de éstos se pobló toda la tierra.

20 Noé, un hombre de la tierra, fue el primero en plantar una viña. 21 Bebió un poco de vino y se emborrachó, y quedó descubierto en su tienda. 22 Y Cam, el padre de Canaán, vio la desnudez de su padre y se lo dijo a sus dos hermanos afuera. 23 Entonces Sem y Jafet tomaron un manto, se lo pusieron sobre ambos hombros, caminaron hacia atrás y cubrieron la desnudez de su padre; sus rostros estaban vueltos y no vieron la desnudez de su padre. 24 Cuando Noé despertó de su embriaguez y supo lo que le había hecho su hijo menor, 25 dijo:

“Maldito sea Canaán;

    el más bajo de los esclavos será para sus hermanos “.

26 También dijo:

“Bendito por el Señor mi Dios sea Sem;

    y sea Canaán su esclavo.

27 Que Dios dé lugar a Jafet,

    y que viva en las tiendas de Sem;

    y que Canaán sea su esclavo ”.

 

Los eruditos medievales e intérpretes bíblicos llegaron a asignar a Cam y Canaán su hijo un color de piel más oscuro porque viajaron al sur y se convirtieron, según Génesis 10, en los pobladores de las regiones del sur, incluido Egipto. Esto los identificó como los creadores de los pueblos de piel más oscura. Incluso algunas pinturas medievales atribuían tonos más oscuros a la piel de Ham. Este mapa identifica cómo Jafet pobló el Mediterráneo, Sem la Península Arábiga y Ham las regiones de África.
 
 

El segundo texto es el pasaje de Levítico 25, que da permiso divino a los israelitas para esclavizar a los pueblos infieles de la tierra que están conquistando, pero para que se abstengan de llevar a la esclavitud a miembros de su propia comunidad. Los esclavizados serán propiedad que se transmitirá a los hijos del esclavista:

 

44 En cuanto a los esclavos y las esclavas que puedas tener, de las naciones que te rodean podrás adquirir esclavos y esclavas. 45 También puedes adquirirlos de entre los extranjeros que residen contigo, y de sus familias que están contigo, que han nacido en tu tierra; y pueden ser de tu propiedad. 46 Podrás conservarlos como posesión para tus hijos después de ti, para que ellos los hereden como propiedad. A estos los puede tratar como esclavos, pero en cuanto a sus compañeros israelitas, ninguno se gobernará sobre el otro con dureza.

 

 

En consecuencia, cuando los exploradores cristianos católicos portugueses llegan a África y observan a los pueblos de piel oscura, que no creen en su Dios, los identifican de inmediato como descendientes de Cam y, por lo tanto, divinamente ordenados como esclavos perpetuos de los demás pueblos europeos y su propiedad. Esta justificación bíblica sobrevive como la justificación religiosa de los más de 500 años de la trata de esclavos africanos. La Iglesia había perdido el rumbo. En lugar de ser la conciencia del estado, nos habíamos convertido en sirvientes del estado, bautizando la increíblemente lucrativa trata de esclavos a costa de nuestra alma y la vida de innumerables vidas africanas. Dejamos de ser una brújula confiable, en lugar de apuntar a un ‘norte’ consistente hacia la liberación y la igualdad que Cristo trajo, nuestra aguja giró y se bamboleó para ayudar en la creación de la trata de esclavos, la experiencia de la esclavitud estadounidense y su sistema de castas. y luego la doctrina nazi de la superioridad aria y la estructura de castas subyacente.

 

La esclavitud se practicó en América desde sus inicios: 1619-1865, durante 246 años. Más tiempo del que hemos sido una nación. La forma estadounidense de esclavitud fue particularmente brutal, permitiendo por ley la esclavitud de personas y su progenie durante 12 generaciones. Como propiedad, CUALQUIER COSA, se le puede hacer a un esclavo con impunidad. La ley protegió a los benefactores de la esclavitud, no a las víctimas, durante esas 12 generaciones y más allá de los años de las leyes Jim Crow en el sur. Sobre la base de las vidas de estos esclavos, los esclavistas y sus naciones se convirtieron en algunos de los más ricos que el mundo ha conocido.

 

¿Qué otra guía bíblica hay? ¿Hay algo en la vida y las enseñanzas de Cristo a lo que podamos aferrarnos para ayudarnos a recuperar nuestra conciencia como iglesia? ¿Hay alguna manera de encontrar el “verdadero norte” nuevamente en medio de este sistema de castas estadounidense? Mientras trabajamos en los 8 pilares de los sistemas de castas, intentaré mostrar cómo las dimensiones de un sistema de castas todavía estaban presentes en los tiempos bíblicos y cómo Jesús respondió a ellas, a menudo ignorando, a veces rompiendo deliberadamente, y en ocasiones denunciando las ‘verdades’ invisibles que su sociedad y comunidad religiosa sostuvo para justificar la opresión de muchos por unos pocos.

 

Respecto al primer pilar, Voluntad Divina y Ley Natural, llamaría la atención sobre dos historias: La curación del sirviente de un Centurión y la curación del hijo de una mujer sirofenicia. Ambos apuntan a un Cristo que hizo caso omiso de la casta en aras de la integridad.

 

Jesús sana al siervo de un centurión

5 Cuando entró en Capernaum, se le acercó un centurión, suplicándole 6 y diciendo: Señor, mi criado yace en casa paralizado, en una angustia terrible. 7 Y él le dijo: “Vendré y lo curaré”. 8 El centurión respondió: Señor, no soy digno de que entres bajo mi techo; pero sólo di la palabra, y mi siervo sanará. 9 Porque también yo soy hombre bajo autoridad, con soldados bajo mis órdenes; y le digo a uno, ‘Ve’, y él va, y a otro, ‘Ven’, y él viene, y a mi esclavo, ‘Haz esto’, y el esclavo lo hace “. 10 Cuando Jesús lo escuchó, se asombró y dijo a los que lo seguían: “De cierto os digo que en nadie de Israel he hallado tanta fe. 11 Les digo que vendrán muchos del oriente y del occidente y comerán con Abraham, Isaac y Jacob en el reino de los cielos, 12 mientras que los herederos del reino serán arrojados a las tinieblas de afuera, donde habrá llanto y crujir de dientes.” 13 Y Jesús dijo al centurión: “Ve; hágase por ustedes según su fe ”. Y el criado fue sanado en esa hora.

 

 

La fe de la mujer sirofenicia

24 De allí partió y se fue a la región de Tiro. [G] Entró en una casa y no quería que nadie supiera que estaba allí. Sin embargo, no podía pasar desapercibido, 25 pero una mujer cuya hija pequeña tenía un espíritu inmundo escuchó de inmediato de él, y vino y se postró a sus pies. 26 La mujer era una gentil de origen sirofenicio. Ella le rogó que expulsara al demonio de su hija. 27 Él le dijo: Primero, que los niños se alimenten, porque no es justo tomar la comida de los niños y arrojarla a los perros. 28 Ella le respondió: Señor, hasta los perros que están debajo de la mesa se comen las migajas de los niños. 29 Entonces él le dijo: “Por decir eso, puedes irte; el demonio ha dejado a tu hija”. 30 Entonces se fue a su casa, encontró al niño acostado en la cama y el demonio se fue.

 

El contexto social de estos dos pasajes es la clara distinción que los judíos hicieron entre ellos y los goim o naciones gentiles.  Ellos eran aquellos que no compartían ni la identidad étnica de los Israelitas, ni su fe edificada sobre su creencia en la Voluntad Divina que los declaró “Pueblo escogido de Dios”. El intercambio con estos otros era una forma de contaminación. Para los romanos fue aún peor. Roma era la opresora de su pueblo y el centurión era un ejemplo visible de esa opresión. La mujer sirofenicia entiende claramente su posición en el sistema de castas … ella es un ‘perro que al menos merece las migajas de la mesa.’ Sin embargo, en ambos casos Jesús los ve como seres humanos, incluso exclamando que el romano es un ejemplo de “mayor fe que ha hallado en todo Israel”. Y Jesús permite que la mujer extranjera le muestre su propio error de juicio, convenciendo a Jesús de que su misión no es simplemente para los hijos de Israel sino más allá. Él la ve por la persona que es e incluso está dispuesto a aprender de ella.

 

Encuentro que estos dos textos revelan un NUEVO camino más allá del sistema de castas que asigna a las personas mayor y menor valor. En Cristo descubrimos que incluso el Hijo de Dios puede aprender de una mujer extranjera, puede encontrar la fe en un opresor romano y en la noche de su traición hasta la muerte, incluso puede arrodillarse para lavarle los pies a un pescador sucio.

 

Si nosotros, como el Cuerpo de Cristo, vamos a ser la brújula, la conciencia del estado … nuestro estado, CUALQUIER estado o gobierno, entonces no podemos continuar defendiendo doctrinas que afirman que el diseño de Dios es hacer que algunas personas sean más que y otras menos que.


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Racial Justice Part 1

 

Racial Justice Part 1

 

We continue our exploration of the biblical injunctions to Mishpat—legal/court justice and Tzedekah—Social righteousness that occurs as we embody the principle of Mishpat within our lives as a society in order to make it REAL within our communities.

 

Over the last few weeks we have examined how these concepts function within the matter of Gender Justice and Economic Justice, and today I will offer the first installment addressing Racial Justice.

 

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

“The church must be reminded that is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of the millions and cause people everywhere to say it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of humankind and fire souls, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice and peace. Men and women far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight. 
                                 – The Church’s Role from A Knock at Midnight by Martin Luther King, 1967

 

My own mentor Father Jose Marins taught that the church is the compass not the pilot of humanity.  Our role is to point toward the destination we understand God is directing history…the Kingdom…or Kin-dom, or Beloved Community as MLK put it.  Our role as a people and as an institution is to stand in constant critique of the society within which we live and challenge it in every generation to become better after the way of Jesus.  In Barak Obama’s paraphrase of the Constitution, “to perfect the union” that we have inherited. 

 

But what happens when the church loses its way?  What happens when instead of being a compass pointing north toward Liberation and Equality before God and one another, we start to point South toward Oppression and Discrimination.  What happens when we use our role to reinforce the power of the few over the many, baptizing such oppression with the holy water of religious legitimacy?

 

Two Sunday’s ago, at a city -wide prayer event called Pray SA, pastor and author Max Lucado stood before a racially diverse crowd of Christians in the parking lot of the Freeman Coliseum and confessed:

 “I am sorry that I have been silent. I am sorry that my head has been buried in the sand.  My brothers and sisters are hurting and I am sorry. I have made them to feel less than. I did not help. I did not hear. I did not see. I did not understand.”

 

In truth, enormous numbers of pastors could speak the same words.  As has often been noted, Sunday morning 11 am the most segregated hour in America.  How did it get that way?  It was no Accident…it was because of deliberate, intentional, and misguided decisions to reinforce the structures and systems of this nation, which were established to create a Caste system that rewarded some with access, property, dignity, decision making power, privileged opportunity and freedom, while stripping a second class of persons of these same things.

 

 

In her recent best-selling book Caste, the Origins of our Discontent, author Isabel Wilkerson uses the metaphor of having inherited an older home to describe the situation we are in today.  She did not build it; the structural foundation issues were not of her making.  The roof leak that had, over time, created rotted timber that now resulted in a sagging, stained ceiling, was not her doing.  But now the house was hers.  Now she had some decisions to make about how much time and money and effort she would put into addressing these inherited structural issues. 

 

We have inherited this nation’s structures, many of them intentionally built to systematically discriminate against certain people while elevating and celebrating others.  This system is called a Caste System, and ours is not the only one that has existed.  But it has governed the way in which we live in American society for over 400 years.  We are now the inheritors of this flawed structure.  And we now have some decisions to make about how much time, money and effort we will spend on our generation to address these flaws so we can pass this home down to our children in perhaps a little better shape than we inherited it.

 

Wilkerson seeks to uncover what the common elements of a Caste System are by examining three of the most devastating caste systems that have ever been created.  India’s system of 5 Castes with all tier sub-castes, the caste system of Nazi Germany, and the American Caste System.  Over the next weeks we will be looking at the eight structural elements that form the Caste System.  All three of the Caste systems she examines exhibit these 8 characteristic features.  I will also be exploring how these eight pillars of caste are present within the biblical world, and how Jesus, in his person and in his ministry exposed and exploded these pillars in the interest of God’s greater love.

 

Caste vs. Race

An initial distinction that needs to be made is the distinction between Caste and Race.  Both are social constructs.  They are created by societies to establish a differentiation between certain groups of human beings.  Caste refers to the deep, often invisible and assumed norms that are so deeply imbedded as to be often imperceivable, as water to the fish that swim in it.  A Caste System is the unquestioned norms that establish one person as greater than and another person as less than in myriad ways.

 

Race is the particular artificial construct that is utilized to identify which persons fall in one caste and which fall into another.  In the US that identifying characteristic is referred to as Race.   But skin color is a problematic category to use as we shall see.  It could have been eye color, brown and blue.  Or height, tall and short.  The problem with all of these physically observable traits is that they exist on a wide spectrum.  Are hazel eyes brown or blue? Are green eyes brown or blue?  What defines tall vs. short?  When I am in Guatemala, I appear to be a giant.  When I stand net to my wife’s children, all over 6 ft tall, I am a shrimp! 

 

Look at this picture…these are all skin tones of the people of the African continent.  Which is white?  Which is black? If you only had two categories to divide these people into, how would you do it? 
 
 
As you can see…the dividing lines are not easy to determine, and this presents a problem for the American Caste System over its 400 year history.  People from different nations arrive to the US and there is a deliberate and legal effort to adapt the concept of ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian’ to admit some folks to the upper caste, while rejecting others and placing them in the lower caste.
 

Every Caste system requires some form of legitimation.  Wilkerson argues that the 8 pillars of caste are the common ways in which a system of intentional discrimination acquires its power to define reality for a society.

 

Pillar #1:

Divine Will and the Laws of Nature

 

In India, the ancient holy texts tell the story of Rama, one of the lead Gods in the Hindu pantheon, laying out the structure for the four principle castes, with the 5th and bottom most rung simply referred to as the Dalit or the Untouchables.  Similar to the way in which Western Cultures identified the ‘Divine Right of Kings (and Queens) this ‘divinely ordained’ order for the world was simply and unquestionably set by order of heaven and all of Indian society came to embrace it.  Furthermore, the laws of Karma dictated that the only way to rise in caste was to dutifully fulfill ones’ place in the caste they were given in this life.  This effectively reduced any impulses to get ‘uppity’ and attempt to move beyond your class.

 

In the Western World, Christianity held sway and there were similar texts utilized to justify the ruling caste (royalty). God’s selection of King David and the embrace of his monarchy in the Old Testament was used, as well as Paul’s argument to submit to ‘governing authorities’ in Romans 13:1-7 to provide the religious justification for a ruling class.  Martin Luther argued from Romans 13 to justify the brutal and bloody suppression of a peasant uprising in Germany.

 

The justification for a slave class came from our bible as well.  Two texts in particular: Genesis 9:20-27 and Leviticus 25: 44-46.  The first text is the story of Noah and his sons just after the flood:

            Noah and His Sons

18 The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. 21 He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem;
    and let Canaan be his slave.
27 May God make space for Japheth,
    and let him live in the tents of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his slave.”

 

Medieval scholars and biblical interpreters came to assign Ham and Canaan his son a darker skin color because they traveled south and became, according to Genesis 10 the populators of the southern regions including Egypt.  This identified them as the originators of the darker skinned peoples.  Even some Medieval paintings attributed darker tones to Ham’s skin.  This map identifies how Japheth peopled the Mediterranean, Shem the Arabian Peninsula and Ham the regions of Africa.
 
 

The second text is the passage from Leviticus 25, which gives divine permission for the Israelites to enslave the infidel peoples of the land they are conquering but to refrain from taking members of their own community into slavery.  Those enslaved are to be property which is passed on to the children of the slave holder:

 

44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.

 

 

Consequently, when Portuguese Catholic Christian explorers arrive in Africa and observe the dark-skinned peoples, who do not believe in their God, they immediately identify them as the descendants of Ham and thus divinely ordained to be the perpetual slaves of the other European peoples and their property.  This biblical justification survives as the religious justification for the 500+ years of the African slave trade.  The Church had lost its way.  Instead of being the conscience of the state, we had become the servant of the state, baptizing the incredibly lucrative slave trade at the cost of our soul and the lives of countless African lives.  We had stopped being a reliable compass, instead of pointing to a consistent ‘north’ to the liberation and equality the Christ brought, our needle spun and wobbled to assist in the creation of the slave trade, the American slavery experience and its caste system, and then the Nazi doctrine of Aryan Superiority and the caste structure beneath it.

 

Slavery was practiced in America from its inception: 1619-1865, for 246 years.  Longer than the time we have even been a nation.  The American form of slavery was particularly brutal, allowing by law for the enslaving of people and their progeny for 12 generations.  As property, ANYTHING, could be done to a slave with impunity.  The law protected the benefactors of slavery, not the victims for the duration of those 12 generations and beyond into the years of Jim Crow laws in the South.  On the back of these slave’s lives, the slavers and their nations became some of the wealthiest the world has known.

 

What other biblical guidance is there?  Is there anything in the life and teachings of Christ that we can hold onto to assist us in recovering our conscience as a church?  Is there a way to find ‘true north’ again in the midst of this American Caste System?  As we work through the 8 Pillars of Caste Systems, I will attempt to show how dimensions of a caste system were still present biblical times and how Jesus responded to them, often ignoring, sometimes deliberately breaking, and at times denouncing the invisible ‘truths’ that his society and religious community held in order to justify the oppression of the many by the few.

 

Regarding the first pillar, Divine Will and Natural Law, I would call attention to two stories: The healing of a Centurion’s servant and the healing of a Syrophoenician woman’s child.  Both point to a Christ who disregarded Caste in the interest of wholeness.

 

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one[d] in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

 

 

The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir,[h] even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

 

The social context for both of these passages is the sharp distinction that Jews made between themselves and the goim or Gentile nations, those who didn’t share their ethnic identity or their faith on the basis of their understanding of the Divine Will that they were the “chosen people of God.”  Interchange with these others was a form of contamination.  For the Romans it was even worse.  Rome was the oppressor of their people and the centurion was a visible example of that oppression.  The Syrophoenician woman clearly understands her position in the caste system…she is a ‘dog who at least deserves the crumbs from the table.’  Yet in both cases Jesus sees them as human, even exclaiming that the Roman is an example of greater faith than he has found in all of Israel!  And Jesus allows the foreign woman to show him his own error in judgement, convincing Jesus that his mission is not simply to the children of Israel but beyond.  He sees her for the person she is and is even willing to learn from her.

 

I find these two texts to reveal a NEW way beyond the caste system that assigns persons greater and lesser value.  In the Christ we discover that even the Son of God can learn from a foreign woman, can find faith in a Roman oppressor and on the night of his betrayal to death, can even kneel to wash the feet of a dirty fisherman. 

 

If we as the Body of Christ are to be the compass, the conscience of the state…our state, ANY state or government, then we cannot continue to uphold doctrines that claim it is God’s design to make some persons greater than and other persons less than.

 


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Justicia Económica Aplicada

 

Justicia Económica Aplicada

 

A medida que avanzamos en nuestro examen de los conceptos de Justicia y Rectitud, Mishpat y Tzedekah, hemos considerado estos estándares divinos para la justicia económica:

 

-La tierra pertenece a Dios, somos mayordomos, no dueños;

por lo tanto, debemos hacer con los bienes de la creación lo que el Creador / Dueño desea que hagamos, no lo que deseamos hacer.

 

-Los medios de producción (o capital) deben distribuirse de manera que permita a todos

tener acceso a él, y se debe proveer lo necesario para aquellos sin acceso al capital (como los levitas).

 

-Estos medios deben redistribuirse periódicamente para garantizar que algunos pocos no

logren monopolizar estos medios para su enriquecimiento personal a costo de los

muchos por generaciones (Año de Jubileo)

 

En el centro de la noción bíblica de justicia económica es la convicción de que TODO lo que tenemos no es nuestro, sino de Dios, y nuestro papel es ser mayordomos en interés del Maestro. Además, el interés principal del Maestro es que usemos lo que tenemos de una manera que proporcione lo suficiente para todos, no solo para unos pocos privilegiados.

 

Ambos ideales bíblicos van en contra de las ideas que el mundo occidental en su conjunto y los Estados Unidos en particular consideran sagradas e inatacables: la propiedad privada y el individualismo. Nuestras convicciones profundamente religiosas sobre el carácter sagrado de la propiedad privada como una construcción política por la que moriremos, están plenamente en desacuerdo con el mandato bíblico de que la tierra pertenece a Dios; y están aún más en desacuerdo con las prácticas económicas comunales del mismo Jesús con los discípulos y más tarde, con la economía comunitaria de la iglesia primitiva inspirada por el Espíritu Santo.

 

En el siglo IV hubo un conflicto teológico entre Agustín de Hipona y Pelagio, un teólogo de origen celta, sobre la naturaleza de la Creación. Agustín argumentó que la materia creada surgió “ex nihilo” o de la nada. Pelagio argumentó que toda la materia creada no nació de la nada, sino de Dios y, por lo tanto, llevó la energía y la presencia divina. La opinión de Agustín ganó el día y Pelagio fue declarado hereje por votación del Concilio de Éfeso. Pelagio advirtió que oponer el espíritu a la materia como lo hizo Agustín conduciría al desprecio de la Creación y conduciría a la explotación de ella por los poderes del Imperio (el Imperio Romano en ese momento, ¡pero todos los imperios han seguido su ejemplo!). Al negar la naturaleza sagrada del mundo creado, el cristianismo occidental ha proporcionado la justificación religiosa para la violación de nuestro medio ambiente.

 

En la cultura de consumo del Occidente, no hemos cultivado una teología de ‘Suficiencia’, solo un apetito por MÁS. En lugar de estructurar nuestra economía para asegurar el beneficio compartido de los bienes de la Creación para todos, hemos abrazado con un celo religioso por la idea que cuando todos persiguen su propio interés en el mercado, de alguna manera májica, el bien común será servido. Si bien ha habido algunos beneficios entregadas por esta economía impulsada por el consumo y de libre mercado. Pero el resultado ha sido para grandes poblaciones mucho menos que suficiente, mientras que otros han adquirido MÁS que suficiente y no lo quieren compartir… y la situación está empeorando, no mejorando.

 

En los últimos 50 años, según un Pew Research en 2020, el 20% más rico de los estadounidenses expandió su participación en nuestra riqueza del 43% a más de la mitad de la riqueza total de EE. UU. (52%). Dentro de ese grupo, el 5% superior posee más del 23% de la riqueza total de la nación. Mientras tanto, el mismo número de personas en la parte inferior (el 20% más pobre) tiene que dividirse entre ellos solo un 5% de la riqueza de la nación. Y los trabajadores pobres y las clases medias también han perdido más de su parte del pastel estadounidense. Hoy en día, la desigualdad de ingresos en los EE. UU. es la peor de todas las naciones del G7, y la brecha entre los hogares estadounidenses más ricos y más pobres se ha más que duplicado en los últimos 50 años.

 

Estamos experimentando la concentración de la riqueza en manos de cada vez menos personas en nuestra sociedad, y hay poco o nada en nuestra cultura o mitología nacional que nos ayude a evitar que esto empeore. Este es precisamente el tipo de concentración de riqueza que las reglamentos del Año del Jubileo en Israel fueron diseñadas para evitar mediante una redistribución de riqueza en forma de redistribución de la tierra. Hoy, usaríamos la estructura de impuestos para lograr esto. En Israel, el diezmo del 10% para la manutención de los levitas que no poseían tierra era una forma de redistribuir parte de la riqueza de las otras tribus para proveer a los levitas sin tierra. Pero cuando otros miembros de las tribus perdieron su tierra, la única forma en que pudieron recuperarla fue en el Año del Jubileo. Una estructura de impuestos que refleje la noción bíblica de justicia económica requeriría que las personas más ricas de la nación redistribuyan su riqueza en forma de impuestos para garantizar que TODOS los ciudadanos reciban algún apoyo básico que pueda garantizar una vida con dignidad … cosas como atención médica, educación, comida y refugio.

 

¿Qué evidencia hay en la enseñanza de Jesús para apoyar tal idea? Mateo 25: 14-46 es donde yo señalaría. Dos parábolas contadas por Jesús consecutivas en el evangelio de Mateo: la parábola de los talentos (dinero) y la parábola de las ovejas y las cabras (juicio final de las naciones).

 

En la Parábola de los Talentos, (un talento era un peso particular de dinero), un Maestro que es conocido por ‘cosechar donde no sembró’ se prepara para irse por un tiempo y ‘confía su propiedad’ a cada uno de los tres sirvientes en el forma de una cierta cantidad de dinero. Dos de los sirvientes salen a comerciar con el dinero y le devuelven al Maestro poco tiempo después el doble de lo que les habían dado. Son elogiados. El tercero, no usa el dinero de una manera que honre los deseos del Maestro y le quitan el dinero y lo echan afuera a la oscuridad. La lección central aquí es sobre lo que significa ser el administrador de la propiedad de otra persona … ¡haz con lo que tienes lo que haría el Maestro!

Aplicado a nuestra conversación sobre justicia económica, esto significa que:  su propiedad no es suya, es de Dios. Entonces haz con él lo que Dios quisiera que se hiciera.

 

¿Y exactamente qué quiere Dios que hagamos con la propiedad que se nos ha dado para administrar? Lea la próxima parábola …

 

La Parábola de las Ovejas y las Cabras es el único lugar en el que Jesús da a entender cuál será la naturaleza del Juicio Final. No es un juicio individual, sino el juicio de naciones. Naciones “cabras” y naciones “ovejas”. Te pregunto: “¿Cuándo tuviste un maestro que te dio tanto las preguntas como las respuestas a un examen final en la escuela antes del examen?” Probablemente nunca. Sin embargo, esto es exactamente lo que ha hecho Jesús. Él nos muestra en qué estará la prueba y cómo debemos responderla.

 

En primer lugar, el juez da la bienvenida a las naciones ovejas porque se han preocupado por del mismo juez sin saberlo, proporcionando comida a los hambrientos, bebida a los sedientos, ropa a los desnudos, cuidado de los enfermos, bienvenida al extranjero y contacto humano a los presos. . ¡ESTAS SON LAS PRIORIDADES DEL PADRE DE LA HUMANIDAD! No se puede aclarar más. Las naciones que aseguran estas provisiones son elogiadas y bienvenidas en el “reino”. Las naciones “cabras” que no lo hacen porque no pudieron reconocer las prioridades de su Hacedor, y mucho menos abordarlas, son dejadas de lado.

 

Estas dos parábolas juntas exponen las claras prioridades económicas de la justicia y rectitud del Maestro. Los vulnerables deben ser atendidos … punto. Debe ser una prioridad fundamental. No hacerlo tiene consecuencias eternas. La economía de la nación debe reflejar las prioridades del Maestro o, lo que se ha dado, se le quitará.

 

Recientemente vi una cita del ex presidente Jimmy Carter que decía:

“Si no quiere que los dólares de sus impuestos ayuden a los pobres,

luego deja de decir que quieres un país basado en los valores cristianos,

porque tu no! “

 

Cuando miro los debates sobre qué tipo de gasto de estímulo debe ocurrir ahora, los más vulnerables deberían estar en la parte superior de la lista … Cuando hablamos de políticas en áreas como salud, desempleo, educación, asistencia para la vivienda e inmigrantes (son los ‘extranjeros’ en Mateo 25); las prioridades deben inclinarse claramente hacia asegurar que nuestros recursos y nuestra economía estén organizados para proteger a los más vulnerables. Si bien–puede haber desacuerdos con respecto a las mejores formas de lograr esto, ¡pero NO debe haber desacuerdo en cuanto al objetivo!

 

La Escritura es clara en cuanto a que Dios está dispuesto a actuar para cambiar los sistemas que no proveen ni protegen a los vulnerables. Solo dos pasajes del Nuevo Testamento para apoyar mi afirmación.

 

Lucas 1 cuenta la historia de la madre embarazada de Jesús, María, visitando a su prima Isabel, también encinta (Juan el Bautista). En el saludo, María irrumpe en un poema / oración que conocemos como el Magnificat (Mi alma magnifica al Señor). Dentro de este arrebato profético encontramos estos versículos que describen la santa expectativa de agitación debido a la venida del Mesías, el hijo de María …

Su misericordia es para los que le temen

de generacion a generacion.

51 Ha mostrado fuerza con su brazo;

ha esparcido a los soberbios en el pensamiento de sus corazones.

52 Derribó a los poderosos de sus tronos,

y exaltó a los humildes;

53 A los hambrientos colmó de bienes,

y despidió a los ricos con las manos vacías.

Se trata de un cambio total del status quo en favor de los vulnerables “humildes” y “hambrientos” y una degradación deliberada de los poderosos y orgullosos. Dios no se está engañando con esto.

 

El segundo texto adicional que describe la actitud que Dios tiene hacia aquellos que parecen no poder priorizar el compartir con los necesitados viene de Santiago 5: 1-6.

 

Venid ahora, ricos, llorad y aullad por las miserias que os están llegando. 2 Tus riquezas se han podrido, y tus vestidos están carcomidos por la polilla. 3 Tu oro y tu plata se han oxidado, y su herrumbre será prueba contra ti, y comerá tu carne como fuego. Has acumulado tesoros [a] para los últimos días. 4 Escucha! El salario de los obreros que segaron tus campos, que tú retentaste con fraude, claman, y los clamores de los segadores han llegado a oídos del Señor de los ejércitos. 5 Has vivido en la tierra con lujo y placer; engordaste tu corazón en el día de la matanza. 6 Has condenado y asesinado al justo, que no te resiste.

 

“Has engordado tu corazon el día de la matanza …” James no se anda con rodeos. Los ricos se han enriquecido gracias al trabajo de los pobres; porque los ricos no han actuado con Tzedekah, con la justicia que exige a uno pagar un salario justo. En la economía divina pagarán por su fracaso en vivir la justicia económica que Dios desea.

 

Hoy, el Coronavirus ha arrancado la máscara de las disparidades históricas en nuestra nación y ha revelado las graves desigualdades en nuestra economía, nuestro sistema de salud y nuestro sistema educativo, todos los cuales están fallando a los más vulnerables que ahora son los más desempleados y hambrientos. los que mueren con las tasas más altas y aquellos cuyos hijos no pueden cerrar la brecha digital cuando las escuelas se conectaron.

 

“Habéis engordado vuestros corazones el día de la matanza …” James no se anda con rodeos. Los ricos se han enriquecido gracias al trabajo de los pobres. Porque no han actuado con Tzedekah, la justicia que exige pagar un salario justo. En la economía divina pagarán por su fracaso en vivir la justicia que Dios desea en términos económicos.

 

Hoy, el Coronavirus ha arrancado la máscara de las disparidades históricas en nuestra nación y ha revelado las graves desigualdades en nuestra economía, nuestro sistema de salud y nuestro sistema educativo, todos los cuales están fallando a los más vulnerables que ahora son los más desempleados y hambrientos, los que mueren con las tasas más altas y aquellos cuyos hijos no pueden cerrar la brecha digital cuando las escuelas tuvieron que usar formas digitales para enseñar.

 

A medida que enfrentaremos el desafío de reconstruir muchos de estos sistemas en nuestro país durante los próximos años, haríamos bien en prestar atención a la guía de las Escrituras sobre el asunto de la justicia económica.

 


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Economic Justice Applied

 

Economic Justice Applied

 

As we move forward in our examination of the concepts of Justice and Righteousness–Mishpat and Tzedekah—we have considered these divine standards for economic justice:

      -The earth (the land) belongs to God, we are stewards, not owners;

            therefore, we should do with the goods of creation what the Creator/Owner desires us

            to do, not whatever we desire to do.

      -The means of production (or capital) should be distributed in a way that allows for all to

            have access to it, and those without access to it (like the Levites) should be provided

            for.

      -These means should be periodically redistributed to ensure that some don’t end up

            monopolizing these means for their personal enrichment at the expense of the many

            for generations (Jubilee)

 

Central to the biblical notion of economic justice is the conviction that ALL we have is not ours but God’s, and our role is to be stewards in the interest of the Master.  Furthermore, the core interest of the Master is that we use what we have in a way that provides enough for all, not just for a few privileged folk.

 

Both of these biblical ideals fly in the face of ideas that the Western World as a whole and the United States in particular hold sacred and un assailable: Private Property and Individualism.  Our deeply religious convictions about the sacredness of private property as a political construct we will die for are strangely at odds with the biblical injunction that the land belongs to God, and is further at odds with the communal economic practices of Jesus himself with the disciples and later the early church’s Spirit-inspired communal economics.

 

In the 4th century there was a theological conflict between Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius, a theologian of Celtic origin, regarding the nature of Creation.  Augustine argued that created matter emerged ‘ex nihilo’ or out of nothing.  Pelagius argued that all created matter was not born of nothing, but born of God and thus bore divine energy and presence.  Augustine’s opinion won the day and Pelagius was declared a heretic by vote of the Council at Ephesus.  Pelagius warned that setting spirit against matter the way Augustine did would lead to the disregard of Creation and would lead to the exploitation of it by the powers of Empire (Roman Empire at the time, but all empires have followed its lead!). By removing the sacred nature from the created world, Western Christianity has provided the religious justification for the rape of our environment.  

 

In the consumer culture of the West, we have not cultivated a theology of enough, only an appetite for MORE.  Rather than structure our economy upon ensuring the shared benefit of the goods of Creation for all, we have embraced with a religious zeal the tenant that when everyone pursues their own self-interest in the marketplace, somehow the common good will magically be served.  While there have clearly been some benefits to this free market consumption driven economy, for many, the result has yielded far less than enough, while others have acquire far MORE than enough…and the situation is growing worse, not better.

 

In the last 50 years, according to a Pew Research in 2020, the wealthiest 20% of Americans expanded their share of our wealth from 43% to more than half of total US wealth (52%).  Within that group the top 5% own over 23% of the total wealth of the nation.  Meanwhile the same number of people at the bottom (the poorest 20%) have to split among themselves a mere 5% of the nation’s wealth!  And the working poor and middle classes have lost more of their share of the US pie as well.  Today the income inequality in the US is the worst of all the G7 nations, and the gap between the richest and the poorest American households has more than doubled in the last 50 years.

 

We are experiencing the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people in our society, and there is little if anything in our national culture or mythology to stop this from worsening.  This is precisely the kind of wealth concentration that the Year of Jubilee provisions in Israel were designed to avert through a redistribution of that wealth in the form of land redistribution.  Today, we would use the tax structure to accomplish this.  In Israel, the 10% tithe for the support of the Levites who owned no land was a way to redistribute some of the wealth of the other tribes to provide for the landless Levites.  But when other tribe members lost their land the only way they could recover it was in the Year of Jubilee.  A tax structure that reflects the biblical notion of economic justice would require that the nation’s wealthiest persons redistribute their wealth in the form of taxation to ensure that ALL citizens were given some basic support that can guarantee a life with dignity…things like healthcare, education, food, and shelter.

 

What evidence is there in Jesus’ teaching to support such an idea??  Matthew 25: 14-46 is where I would point.  Two parables told by Jesus back to back in Matthew’s gospel—the parable of the Talents (Money) and the parable of the Sheep and Goats (Last Judgment of Nations).  In the parable of the Talents—a talent was a particular weight of money-A Master who is known ‘to reap where he didn’t sow’ prepares to leave for a while and ‘entrusts his property’ to each of three servants in the form of a certain amount of money.  Two of the servants go out and trade with the money and bring back to the Master some time later double what they had been given.  They are praised.  The third, fails to use the money in a way that honors the Master’s wishes and the money is taken from him and he is cast out.  The central lesson here is about what it means to be the steward of someone else’s property…do with it what the Master would do!!

Applied to our conversation on economic justice this means…your property is not yours, it is God’s.  So do with it what God would want done.

 

And what exactly would God want us to do with the property we have been given to manage?  Read the next parable…

 

The parable of the Sheep and the Goats is the only place Jesus intimates what the nature of Final Judgment will be.  It is not an individual judgment, but the judgment of nations.  Goat nations and Sheep nations.  I often ask, “When did you have a teacher give you both the questions and the answers to a final exam in school before the test?”  Likely never.  Yet this is exactly what Jesus has done.  He shows us what the test will be on and how we should answer it.  First, the judge welcomes the sheep nations because they have taken care of the Judge himself unaware by providing food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothes for the naked, care for the sick, welcome to the stranger and human contact for the imprisoned.  These are the priorities of the FATHER of humanity! It cannot be made any more clear.  The nations that ensure these provisions are praised and welcomed into the ‘kingdom.’  The goat nations that fail to do so, because they could not recognize the priorities of their Maker, much less address them, are cast aside.

 

These two parables together lay out the clear economic priorities of the Master’s Justice and Righteousness.  The vulnerable are to be cared for…period.  It is to be an essential priority.  To fail to do so has eternal consequences.  The economics of the nation should reflect the priorities of the Master or, what has been given will be taken away.

 

Recently I saw a quote by former president Jimmy Carter who said:

“If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor,

then stop saying you want a country based on Christian Values,

because you don’t!”

 

When I look at the debates around what kind of stimulus spending needs to occur, the most vulnerable should be at the top of the list…When we talk about policies in areas like healthcare, unemployment, education, housing assistance, and immigrants (the ‘strangers’ in Matt 25);  the priorities should clearly lean toward ensuring that our resources and our economy are organized to secure the most vulnerable.  While there might be disagreements regarding the best ways to do this, there should be NO disagreement as to the objective.

 

Scripture is clear that God is willing to act to upend systems that do not provide for and protect the vulnerable.  Just two New Testament passages to support my claim.

 

Luke 1 tells the story of Jesus’ pregnant mother, Mary, visiting her cousin Elizabeth, also with child (John the Baptist).  At the greeting Mary bursts into a poem/prayer we know as the Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord).  Within this prophetic outburst  we find these verses describing the holy expectation of upheaval because of the coming of the Messiah, Mary’s child…

His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

This is a complete overturning of the status quo in favor of the vulnerable ‘lowly’ and ‘hungry’ and a deliberate demoting of the powerful and the proud.  God isn’t bluffing on this.

 

The second additional text describing the attitude God has toward those who cannot seem to prioritize sharing with those in need comes from James 5: 1-6.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure[a] for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

 

“You have fattened your hearts on the day of slaughter…” James doesn’t mince words.  The rich have gotten rich because of the labor of the poor.  Because they have not acted with Tzedekah—the righteousness that demands paying a fair wage.  In the divine economy they will pay for their failure to live out the economic justice God desires.

 

Today, the Coronavirus has ripped the mask off of the historic disparities in our nation and revealed the grave inequities in our economy, our healthcare system and our education system, all of which are failing the most vulnerable who are now the most unemployed and hungry, the ones dying at the highest rates, and the one’s whose children are unable to bridge the digital divide as schools went online.

 

As we will face the challenge of rebuilding many of these systems in our country over the coming years, we would do well to heed the guidance of scripture on the matter of economic justice.

 

 


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Justicia Económica

Mishpat y Tzedekah: La Justicia Económica

 

Hemos estado considerando los doble mandatos bíblicos a la justicia: Mishpat: las decisiones legales y judiciales; y Tzedekah, la aplicación social de principios justos, a menudo traducida “justicia” en inglés y “rectitud” en español.

 

La semana pasada exploramos cómo las decisiones judiciales sobre la igualdad de derechos de las mujeres (mishpat) han tomado más de 100 años para llegar a la justicia social o la acción justa (tzedekáh) de la sociedad en su conjunto … y aún no se han realizado plenamente .

 

Hoy quiero ver las formas en que las Escrituras definen y esperan que la justicia divina se extienda a la esfera económica como justicia económica que aborda otro “ismo” en nuestra sociedad: el clasismo o la división entre ricos y pobres. La esencia de la visión bíblica es que los bienes de la Creación son entregados a la humanidad para proveer a TODOS, no para ser explotados por unos pocos en detrimento de los muchos.

 

Aunque esto está articulado y respaldado en toda la Biblia, esta publicación analizará específicamente tres casos en los que se presenta esta directiva divina:

-Distribución de tierras para el pueblo de Israel y el concepto de Jubileo.

-La Denuncia Profética de la falta de esta distribución y del abuso de los poderosos que

atesoran y controlan la tierra y sus productos

-Las Prácticas de las comunidades cristianas primitivas de la distribución de sus riquezas

y recursos.

Encontraremos que en estas tres arenas de testimonio bíblico hay una clara directriz divina para compartir y no atesorar o explotar de una manera que hiera a los pobres o cree pobreza.

 

Distribución de tierras

Cuando las doce tribus de Israel entraron en la tierra prometida, Joshua emitió lo que equivalía a concesiones de tierras a cada una de las doce tribus, excepto una … los levitas. ¿Por qué? Porque los levitas eran la tribu encargada de cuidar el Tabernáculo (y más tarde el Templo) y la adoración de Israel. No debían tener tierra, sino el resto de las tribus debían apoyarlos mediante la entrega de sus diezmos y ofrendas. De esta manera, se introdujeron lecciones importantes en la comprensión de la nación:

 

Primero, la tierra pertenecía a Dios … simplemente eran inquilinos, que estaban obligados a dar un diezmo del 10% de su producción y los primeros frutos de la tierra y de los animales sostenidos por la tierra a Dios, y al hacerlo apoyar a la tribu sin tierra de Levi. Esta es la lección de Gratitud, que también reforzó a quién la tierra realmente pertenecía!

 

Segundo, al apoyar a la tribu de levitas sin tierra, la práctica de compartir con aquellos que

no tienen el acceso al capital (en este caso, a la tierra) debía integrarse en la práctica de la

nación. Esto es la lección de la generosidad. Somos bendecidos para transmitir la

bendición.

 

La articulación de estas lecciones se celebra en la primera línea del Salmo 24, traducida tradicionalmente así: “La tierra es del Señor y toda su plenitud”. Pero igualmente legítima es esta traducción que aclara aún más la teología de la tierra: “La tierra le pertenece a Dios y todo lo que produce “.

 

Año sabático y la provisión del jubileo (Levítico 25)

 

Levítico 25 extiende el concepto de sábado a la tierra. Guardar el sábado, que para muchos cristianos significa algo completamente diferente de su diseño original, no solo se refería al cese del trabajo en el día de descanso, sino que se extendió a la importancia de ¡darle un descanso a la tierra también! Cada séptimo año, la tierra debía permanecer en barbecho y no ser plantada para poder recuperar la fuerza y ​​la fertilidad. Esta práctica evitó la sobreexplotación de la tierra para beneficio personal. (¡Algo que nuestra propia comunidad agrícola podría aprender!) La tierra se puede agotar y dejará de producir si no se le da un descanso también. Esta es una lección sobre no explotar un recurso para el enriquecimiento personal.

 

Aún más sorprendente es el establecimiento del año del Jubileo que se detalla en este mismo capítulo. Después de 7 años sabáticos (7 x 7 = 49 años), el año siguiente se consideraría un Año de Jubileo, un concepto extraordinario de alivio de la deuda y redistribución de la riqueza de la nación. Durante un año de Jubileo, toda la tierra debía regresar a la familia de propiedad original. Sí, lo leíste bien. Devuelto punto. Si había adquirido el terreno mediante una venta, tenía que devolverlo a la familia original. Había podido usar el recurso durante varios años, pero ahora debe volver a los propietarios originales. ¿Por qué?

“La tierra no se venderá a perpetuidad, porque la tierra es mía;

conmigo no eres más que extranjeros e inquilinos ”Lev. 25:23

La tierra debía servir a TODO Israel, no solo a unas pocas familias. Incluso si unos pocos lograron asegurar grandes extensiones de tierra durante su vida, el beneficio no podría explotarse durante más de dos generaciones. De lo contrario, clanes enteros serían perpetuamente desposeídos e incapaces de salir de la pobreza. Esta es la lección de la redistribución de la riqueza para el bien de toda la comunidad.

 

Además, en un año de Jubileo todas las deudas fueron canceladas, lo que prohibió el endeudamiento de generación en generación e interrumpió la capacidad de los pocos ricos y poderosos de esclavizar económicamente a otros para su beneficio personal. Esta es una lección que prohíbe el enriquecimiento de unos pocos a través del endeudamiento de muchos.

 

Mi amigo Edgardo García, que trabaja en Guatemala con World Vision, una organización de ayuda global, me contó la historia de estar en una cosechadora en Iowa con un pequeño agricultor mientras cosechaba su cosecha de maíz. Edgardo le estaba describiendo cómo los pequeños agricultores indígenas guatemaltecos estaban siendo expulsados ​​de sus granjas por las grandes empresas agrícolas del país. Estaban aplastados por la deuda y no podían pagar tuvieron que vender sus tierras. El granjero estadounidense detuvo la cosechadora, salió y agarró unas mazorcas de maíz de su campo y se las entregó a Edgardo. “¡Dile a mis hermanos guatemaltecos que conozco su dolor! ¡Lo mismo está sucediendo con los pequeños agricultores familiares aquí en los Estados Unidos también!

 

Esta realidad, tanto en los Estados Unidos como en muchas otras naciones, es exactamente lo que el año del Jubileo fue diseñado para evitar. Cuando las personas pierden permanentemente el acceso al capital necesario para mantenerse, el cáncer de la pobreza comienza a extenderse.

 

Este Mishpat de Justicia Divina con respecto a la tierra, desafortunadamente no siempre estuvo acompañado por el Tzedekah de la justicia social necesaria para beneficiar a la gente. Hubo muchos en el liderazgo y en el poder de Israel que se negaron a vivir los principios establecidos en la Torá. Cuando no lo hicieron, fue el papel de los Profetas denunciar su falta de actuar con justicia. Hay tantas instancias de esta protesta profética que no puedo mencionarlas todas, pero compartiré tres para dar una idea:

 

En Isaías 3: 13-15 … YHWH (Dios) presenta un caso en la corte del cosmos y se levanta

para discutir el caso divino contra el liderazgo de Israel que:

“Devoró los viñedos de los pobres y que tienen sus

productos legítimos en sus hogares; quienes aplastan a mi gente y

moler la cara de los pobres “

Los ancianos y los príncipes de la gente han adquirido las propiedades de los menos afortunados y han tomado el producto que los habría sostenido económicamente y lo han puesto en sus propios hogares y almacenes. La ira de Dios se enciende contra ellos por su incapacidad para encarnar la justicia social que requeriría de ellos una distribución más equitativa y justa de la riqueza de esa tierra y la devolución de los terrenos y sus productos a sus dueños.

 

-En Isaías 10: 1-4 … El profeta arremete contra los ricos que crean leyes para robar a los

pobres de la parte que les corresponde y rechazan la justicia que a los necesitados se merece:

Ah, tú que haces decretos inicuos,

quienes escriben estatutos opresivos,

2 para apartar a los necesitados de la justicia

y para despojar a los pobres de mi pueblo de su derecho,

para que las viudas sean tu botín,

¡y que puedas hacer de los huérfanos tu presa!

3 ¿Qué harás el día del castigo,

en la calamidad que vendrá de lejos?

¿A quién huirás por ayuda?

¿Y dónde dejarás tu riqueza?

4 para no agacharse entre los prisioneros

o caer entre los muertos?

Por todo esto su ira no se ha desvanecido;

su mano está extendida todavía.

El juicio de Dios está listo para derribar a quienes usan el sistema legal para acumular poder, privilegios y riquezas para sí mismos a costo de los pobres vulnerables. La ira de Dios se enciende contra tales líderes que manipulan la justicia de Mishpat para su propio beneficio personal y que no muestran ningún deseo de encarnar la justicia de Tzedekah que abriría sus manos para redistribuir una parte de su abundancia a aquellos que tienen poco o nada.

 

– Amós 4: 1-2 … El profeta no pierde palabras cuando critica a las mujeres ricas

de Basán:

Escuchen esta palabra, vacas de Basán.

quienes están en el monte Samaria,

que oprimen a los pobres, que aplastan a los necesitados,

que les dicen a sus esposos: “¡Traed algo de beber!”

2 El Señor Dios ha jurado por su santidad:

Seguramente el tiempo viene sobre ti

cuando te llevarán con ganchos,

incluso el último de ustedes con anzuelos.

La imagen de estas amplias mujeres de riqueza arrastradas por los ganchos como vacas muertas como juicio por su incapacidad para incorporar los principios de justicia económica en su tratamiento de los menos favorecidos es horrible e ilustra la indignación que los profetas sintieron por el fracaso de la clase alta en reconocer su responsabilidad de compartir su riqueza.

 

Para los profetas, cuando la repartición de la riqueza no incluye a los pobres … Se acerca el juicio. Cuando a los pobres les hayan quitado los medios de apoyo … Dios los vengará.

 

 

Finalmente, me gustaría examinar la práctica cristiana primitiva de la justicia económica:

 

Juan el Bautista: Lucas 3: 10-14

John, la voz en el desierto que llama a Judea al arrepentimiento es cuestionada por algunos de los que vienen a verlo al desierto …

Y las multitudes le preguntaron (a John): “¿Qué deberíamos hacer entonces?” 11 En respuesta, él les dijo: “Quien tenga dos abrigos debe compartir con cualquiera que no tenga ninguno; y quien tiene comida debe hacer lo mismo “. 12 Incluso los recaudadores de impuestos vinieron a bautizarse y le preguntaron: “Maestro, ¿qué debemos hacer?” 13 Él les dijo: “No recojan más de la cantidad prescrita para ustedes”. 14 Los soldados también le preguntaron: “Y nosotros, ¿qué debemos hacer?” Él les dijo: “No extorsionen a nadie con amenazas o acusaciones falsas, y queden satisfechos con su salario”.

En su respuesta, las directivas divinas para compartir, no explotar y no usar el poder para tomar lo que no es tuyo se refuerzan. John entiende claramente cómo se debe vivir la justicia divina en la justicia social de las relaciones con los demás en la sociedad.

 

También sabemos por Juan 13:29 que Jesús y sus discípulos tenían una bolsa común administrada por Judas. De este bolso común pagaron sus gastos y también dieron a los pobres. La práctica de los 12 era compartir equitativamente lo que tenían entre ellos y aún con los menos afortunados. En su práctica, encarnaban la tzedekah de la justicia divina en el ámbito económico.

 

Aún más convincente es el testimonio en el libro de los Hechos de la forma espontánea en la que los primeros que respondieron al derramamiento del Espíritu en Pentecostés organizaron su vida económica juntos. Es un claro ejemplo de lo que Dios nos invita, (¡y es anterior a Karl Marx por alrededor de 1900 años!). El Espíritu de Dios, cuando se le permite fluir libremente, transforma nuestro egoísmo en el desinterés que permite a todos tener lo que necesitan.

 

“Todos los que creían estaban juntos y tenían todas las cosas en

común; venderían sus posesiones y bienes

y distribuir las ganancias a todos, según sea necesario ”. Hechos 2:44

 

“Ahora todo el grupo de aquellos que creían que eran de un solo corazón y alma, y ​​nadie reclamaba la propiedad privada de ninguna posesión, pero todo lo que poseían se tenía en común. 33 Con gran poder los apóstoles dieron su testimonio de la resurrección del Señor Jesús, y gran gracia estaba sobre todos ellos. 34 No había una persona necesitada entre ellos, ya que muchos de los terrenos o casas en propiedad los vendieron y trajeron las ganancias de lo que se vendió. 35 Lo pusieron a los pies de los apóstoles, y se distribuyó a cada uno según lo que necesitaban “. Hechos 4: 32-35

 

Por último, en la Epístola de Santiago, uno de los principales apóstoles en Jerusalén, en donde sucedió esta efusión del Espíritu, conecta claramente la naturaleza de la verdadera fe y las acciones que lo demuestran. Si uno profesa fe en Dios, pero no puede compartir con alguien que lo necesita, entonces esa fe no tiene valor. La fidelidad a la directriz divina de la justicia requiere que un seguidor de Jesús encarne el tipo de confianza en Dios que no teme compartir la riqueza de uno para el beneficio de los necesitados.

 

“De qué sirve, mis hermanos y hermanas,  si ustedes dicen

¿Tienes fe, pero no tienes obras? ¿Puede la fe salvarte? 15 si

un hermano o hermana está desnudo y carece de comida diaria, 16 y uno

de ustedes les dice: “Id en paz; mantente caliente y come para llenarse”

y, sin embargo, usted no satisface sus necesidades corporales, de qué sirve eso?

Santiago 2: 14-16

 

En conclusión, el testimonio constante de las Escrituras del Antiguo y Nuevo Testamento es que Dios desea tanto el Mishpat de justicia legal que apoya a los económicamente desfavorecidos, como la Tzedekah de rectitud o justicia social que crea una comunidad que vive de las lecciones de compartir con los necesitados, redistribuir la riqueza en beneficio de toda la comunidad y compartir generosamente porque esa es la manera en que nos recordamos regularmente que nada es nuestro … que todo le pertenece a Dios y debemos hacer lo que tenemos de acuerdo con los deseos de Dios , no el nuestro.


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Economic Justice

Mishpat and Tzedekah:          Economic Justice

 

We have been considering the dual biblical injunctions to justice: Mishpat—the legal, judge and court decisions; and Tzedekah—the social application of just principles often translated ‘righteousness’ in English and ‘rectitud’ in Spanish. 

 

Last week we explored how the court decisions around the equal rights of women (mishpat) have taken over 100 years to work their way into the social justice or righteous action (tzedakah) of the society as a whole…and have still not been fully realized.

 

Today I want to look at the ways in which scripture defines and expects divine justice to extend into the economic sphere as economic justice which addresses another ‘ism’ in our society: Classism or the divide between rich and poor.  The essence of the biblical vision is that the goods of Creation are given to humanity to provide for ALL, not to be exploited by the few to the detriment of the many.

 

Though this is articulated and supported throughout the bible, this post will look specifically at three instances where this divine directive is presented:

      -Land distribution for the People of Israel and the concept of Jubilee

      -Prophetic denunciation of the lack of this distribution and at the abuse of the powerful who

            hoard and control the land and its produce

      -Early Christian practices of the distribution of their wealth and resources

We will find that in all three of these arenas of biblical witness there is a clear divine directive to share and not to hoard or exploit in a way the injures the poor, or creates poverty

 

Distribution of Land

When the twelve tribes of Israel entered the promised land, Joshua issued what amounted to land grants to each of the twelve tribes except for one…the Levites.  Why? Because the Levites were the tribe that was commissioned to care for the Tabernacle, (and later the Temple) and Israel’s worship.  They were to have no land, but the rest of the tribes were to support them through the giving of their tithes and offerings.  In this way important lessons were imbedded in the nation’s understanding:

      First, the land belonged to God…they were simply tenants, who were obligated to give a 10%

            tithe and the first fruits of the land and of the animals supported by the land to God, and in

            doing so support the landless tribe of Levi.  This is the lesson of Gratitude, that also

            reinforced Who the land really belonged to!

      Second, by supporting the tribe of landless Levites the practice of sharing with those who have no

            access to capital (in this case land) was to become embedded in the practice of the nation. 

            This is the lesson of Generosity.  We are blessed in order to pass along the blessing.

 

The articulation of these lessons is celebrated in the first line of Psalm 24, traditionally translated like this:  “The earth is the Lord’s and all the fullness thereof”   But equally legitimate is this translation which makes even clearer the theology of the land: “The land belongs to God and everything it produces.”

 

Sabbatical Year and the Provision of Jubilee (Leviticus 25)

 

Leviticus 25 extends the concept of Sabbath to the Land.  Keeping the Sabbath, which for many Christians means something altogether different from its original design, not only pertained to the ceasing of labor on the day of rest, but extended to the importance of giving the land a rest as well!  Every seventh year the land was to lie fallow and not be planted so that it could recover strength and fertility.  This practice guarded against the over exploitation of the land for personal profit.  (Something our own agricultural community could stand to learn!) The land can be depleted and will stop producing if it is not given a rest as well.  This is a lesson in not exploiting a resource for personal enrichment.

 

Even more surprising is the establishment of the Jubilee year which is detailed in this same chapter.  After 7 sabbath years (7 x7=49 years) the following year would be considered a Year of Jubilee, an extraordinary concept of both debt relief and redistribution of the nation’s wealth.  During a Jubilee year, all land was to return to the original family of ownership.  Yes, you read that right.  Given back.  Period.  If you had acquired the land through a sale, you had to return it to the original family.  You had been able to use the resource for a number of years, but now it must revert to the original owners.  Why?

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine;

with me you are but aliens and tenants” Lev. 25:23

The land was to serve the WHOLE of Israel, not just a few families.  Even if a few managed to secure large land holdings over their lifetime, the benefit could not be exploited for more than two generations.  Otherwise entire clans would be perpetually dispossessed and unable to rise out of poverty.  This is the lesson of redistribution of wealth for the good of the whole community.

 

Furthermore, in a Jubilee year all debts were cancelled, thus prohibiting crushing indebtedness across generations, and disrupting the capacity of the wealthy and powerful few to economically enslave others for their personal gain.  This is a lesson prohibiting the enrichment of few through the indebtedness of the many.

 

My friend Edgardo Garcia, who works in Guatemala with World Vision, a global relief organization, told me the story of being in a combine in Iowa with a family farmer as he harvested his corn crop.  Edgardo was describing to him how the small Guatemalan indigenous farmers were being squeezed out of their farms by big agribusiness in the country.  They were being crushed with debt and unable to pay had to sell off their land.  The American farmer stopped the combine, climbed out and grabbed a few ears of corn from his field and handed them to Edgardo.  “Tell my Guatemalan brothers I know their pain!  The same thing is happening to small family farmers here in the US as well!” 

 

This reality, in the US as well as many other nations is exactly what the Jubilee year was designed to prevent.  When people permanently lose access to the capital necessary to provide for themselves, the cancer of poverty begins to spread.

 

This Mishpat of Divine Justice regarding the land was, unfortunately not always accompanied by the Tedekah of the social righteousness necessary for it to benefit the people.  There were many in leadership and in power who refused to embody the principles laid out in the Torah.   When they didn’t, it was the role of the Prophets to denounce their failure to act justly.  There are so many instances of this prophetic outcry that I cannot begin to mention them all but I will share three to give an idea:

 

      -In Isaiah 3:13-15…YHWH is presenting a case in the court of the cosmos and rises to argue

            the divine case against Israel’s leadership who have:

                  “devoured the vineyards of the poor and who have their

                  rightful produce in their homes; who crush my people and

                  grind the face of the poor”

The elders and princes of the people have acquired the properties of the less fortunate and have taken the produce that would have sustained them economically and put it in their own homes and storehouses.  God’s wrath is kindled against them for their failure to embody the social justice which would require of them a more equitable and just sharing of the wealth from that land.

 

 

      -In Isaiah 10:1-4…The prophet lashes out against the wealthy who create laws that rob the

            poor of Their rightful share and turn away the needy form the justice they deserve:

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
    who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
    and that you may make the orphans your prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth,
so as not to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.

The judgment of God is ready to strike down those who use the legal system to accrue power, privilege and wealth for themselves at the expense of the vulnerable poor.  God’s wrath is kindled against such leaders who manipulate Mishpat justice for their own personal gain and who show no desire to embody the Tzedekah righteousness that would open their hands to redistribute some of their plenty to those who have little or nothing.  

     

      – Amos 4:1-2… The prophet does not mince words when he lambasts the wealthy women of

            Bashan:

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
    who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
    who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!”
The Lord God has sworn by his holiness:
    The time is surely coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
    even the last of you with fishhooks.

The image of these ample women of wealth hauled away on meat hooks as judgment for their failure to embody the principles of economic justice in their treatment of the less advantaged is horrific, and illustrates the outrage that the prophets felt at the failure of the upper class to recognize their responsibility to share their wealth.

 

For the prophets, when the sharing of wealth does not include the poor…Judgment is coming.  When the poor have taken from them the means of support…God will avenge them.

 

 

Finally, I would like to examine Early Christian Practice of Economic Justice:

 

      John the Baptist: Luke 3:10-14

            John, the Voice in the Wilderness calling all of Judea to repentance is questioned by some of

            those who come to see him in the desert…

And the crowds asked him (John), “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

In his response the divine directives to share, to not exploit, and to not use power to take what is not yours are all reinforced.  John clearly understands how divine justice is to be lived out in in the social righteousness of relationships with others in society.

 

We also know from John 13:29 that Jesus and his disciples kept a common purse administered by Judas.  From this common purse they paid for their expenses and also gave to the poor.  The practice of the 12 was to share equitably what they had with each other and with those less fortunate.  They embodied in their practice the tzedekah of divine justice in the economic realm.

 

Even more compelling is the witness in the book of Acts to the spontaneous way in which the first respondents to the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost organized their economic life together.  It is a clear example of what God invites us to, (and predates Karl Marx by about 1900 years!!).  The Spirit of God, when allowed to flow freely, transforms our selfishness into the selflessness which allows all to have what they need.

 

“All who believed were together and had all things in

common;  they would sell their possessions and goods

and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” Acts 2:44

 

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Acts 4:32-35

 

Lastly, in the Epistle of James, one of the lead apostles in Jerusalem where this outpouring of the Spirit took place, clearly connects the nature of true faith and the actions that demonstrate it.  If one is to claim faith in God, but is unable to share with someone in need, then such faith is worthless.   Faithfulness to the divine directive of justice requires a follower of Jesus to embody the kind of trust in God that is not afraid to share of one’s wealth for the benefit of those in need.

 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[e] if you say you

have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If

a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one

of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your

fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is

the good of that?  James 2:14-16

 

In conclusion, the consistent witness from the Scriptures of Old and New Testament is that God desires both the Mishpat of legal justice that supports the economically disadvantaged, and the Tzedekah of social righteousness or social justice which creates a community that lives by the lessons of sharing with those in need, redistributing wealth to the benefit of the whole community and generously sharing because that is the way we remind ourselves regularly that nothing is ours…it all belongs to God and we are to do with what we have in accord with God’s wishes, not our own.


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