We are living in a time of political discord. This is true in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and throughout the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. To say that there are large segments of people in many countries who are dissatisfied with their political leaders is an understatement. In addition, the number of refugees in the world is greater than it’s ever been in recorded history. Rates of poverty are high, with more homeless people in developed countries than ever before. At the same time, levels of wealth among the super-rich are beyond the conception of most people who are just struggling to get by.
Political and economic struggles are not new even though they appear to be extremely pronounced today. There have been prophetic individuals who have called out the dynamics of economic and social oppression for exactly what they are. One of these prophets was a man I met in my youth: Dom Helder Camara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Recife in Brazil. He visited my college. I was invited to be part of a small group who visited with him over lunch. He was a quiet man with a penetrating gaze and piercing focus. Working among the poor in Brazil, he is famously said: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
As many countries take steps to limit immigration, turn their backs on refugees, reduce spending on social programs, and stand by while millions of people suffer due to food insecurity, there is a general societal expectation that churches and other communities of faith will help those in need through food banks and homeless shelters. Indeed, communities of faith have a responsibility to provide tangible care. But more than tangible care, people of the Judeo-Christian tradition have a Biblical mandate to speak truth to power and advocate for the needs of those who suffer because of society’s injustice.
Throughout the pages of scripture, the Hebrew prophets routinely questioned the status quo and to name the ways the rights of people were being denied in society, including the rights of the poor, and of women, children, and immigrants. The prophet Micah (chapter 3) accused the wealthy of “eating the flesh of the people.” Isaiah (chapter 3) charges that “the spoil of the poor” is in the homes of the wealthy. Ezekiel (chapter 18) exhorts those in power to behave honestly, generously, and respectfully. The plea of Amos (chapter 5) draws our attention even today: Let justice roll like a river. Yes, there is great injustice and immense suffering caused by governments and corporations.
While many people of faith see the need for societal and political change, knowing how to respond seems to elude most churches and religious communities. We are more comfortable with the saintly actions of feeding the poor than the kind of advocacy which questions why the hungry have no food in the first place.
A good friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Trish Greeves recently published an inspired workbook for congregations: Prophetic Faith: Exploring Social Justice Advocacy as a Congregation. In her work, the Rev. Greeves outlines a seven session process through which a local church or faith community can come to a greater understanding of the work of social justice advocacy. This adult study begins by exploring private faith versus public practice and moves toward ways to increase public witness to the prophetic aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition. While written with specific references to the United States, Prophetic Faith is easily adapted to international settings.
It is a challenge for faith communities to learn to step into the public sphere and to name the clear injustice committed today by politicians and many corporations. Greeves’ Prophetic Faith provides an accessible process through which congregations can realize the importance of social justice advocacy in public settings as a foundational response to faith. It is without reservation that I recommend Prophetic Faith to you as a critical resource in responding to the times in which we live. As people of faith, we are challenged to be like Dom Helder Camara and question why it is that policies keep people in poverty and want and marginalize them to the fringes of society.
Prophetic Faith by Dr. Trish Greeves is available at: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_15?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=prophetic+faith+trish+greeves&sprefix=prophetic+faith%2Caps%2C144&crid=J6VY22454V8L
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.