Saturday, May 21, 2022

White, Mainline, Suburban: Doing Justice Ministry

If White, Suburban, Mainline, Protestant congregations are rarely asked to employ critical reflection, then there's no wonder why gaping holes exist in witness, ministry and mission. How does nice Sunday morning church-talk of neighbor love matter when it comes to mutual relationships and enduring action for justice with others?

White privilege, when confronted, not only exposes hidden bias, but also backlash. The object is not paralyzing guilt., but to listen to those who suffer the ongoing, generational and institutional effects of White supremacy. We are not aware of what we don't know or have never experienced. Entitlement is the belief that I have deserved blessings because I have earned them, not because I was born on third base. 

Dualism pits the material world against the spiritual realm. This does not come from Jesus' Hebraic faith, but rather, through Greek thought. God's creation of everything we can see (and beyond) is "good." All of us, male and female, are created in God's own image and "very good."  Because of that, we are capable of covenant with God and each other- including doing good. We are created for both love and justice.

Hyper-individualism infects every facet of life, including church. Our salvation, however, is tied to one another (Matthew 25: 13 ff, Luke 16: 19 ff). The Gospel is often presented just as the eternal life of my separate soul. More than that, faith and hope supports me in doing what is my power to do by joining with others, not by fixing others.

Conflict-avoidance is an overriding factor for leaders. Teaching and equipping for justice ministry will meet opposition and resistance. It probably will not be widely popular or add to your numerical measurements. It may be criticized as simplistic, idealistic, or of no effect. 

Ideas to consider?

1. Identify and invite allies in justice ministry. Start a group, a community, a self-sustaining cadre who will begin a holistic justice ministry. A small group made up of clergy and parishioners can create an enduring ministry from a simple spark. 

2. Educate. Engage the group in a study of justice throughout the Bible, especially, but not limited to, the Torah and Prophets, the teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Justice is shalom. Justice and mercy are two feet of the same faithful action. Education for peace and justice will include the whole of study, action, and reflection. 

3.Coalesce congregations or community groups with a similar vision Plan carefully. Study, reflect and go out into the field to discover. Take your team with you. Together, listen, learn from and work with, not for, others. 

4. Many churches have a grant committee that provides limited funding to projects that are deemed worthy by church peers. Grants have limited funds and durations, whereas justice ministry invites us to form relationships that are formative and sustainable for long-term change.

5. Too, short term works of mercy can look good on social media and church reports. Justice asks why the suffering? The long, hard work of harmony in communities starts and continues by talking with each other. 

6. Read other voices not your own. Learn from them. I suggest Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Michael Eric Dyson. I especially recommend "Benediction," pp.195-212. 

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