At Occidental College, justice is the thing. It is the hot topic on everyone’s tongues, and the passion burning in many a student’s heart. From clean water, to curing cancer, to women’s rights to ending trafficking, it seems that everyone has some sort of justice passion. It is a discussion that never ends, and it makes Occidental what it is.
A large part of the Occidental community, though, is often left out of the conversation. These are the spiritual groups on campus. The widely held reason for this among members of the spiritual community is that, regardless of what faith they profess, they never feel especially welcome to participate, particularly in the classroom where they often feel a bitter animosity toward spirituality.
But the students comprising the Occidental spiritual community do have a passion for justice as well. They too ought to have a place to share their passions and how their faith drives their desire for justice.
This blog intends to address that discrepancy. This will be a blog about the intersection of faith and justice. It will discuss the idea of a God, or a faith, that not only exists but considers the need for justice in all areas of the world. With the help of frequent guest writers, this blog will cover issues such as trafficking, poverty, racial conflict, the foster care system, gendercide and gender inequality. We will be initiating discussion, making connections and asking the student body and spiritual groups on campus questions about how different faiths are called to respond to such issues.
Justice, though, does not exist simply in reference to groups, institutions or issues. Justice is for individuals as well, and that is what I want to begin with on this blog. As a Christian, I’ll start the conversation from the lens of the Bible.
At Occidental, Jesus is usually seen as neither loving nor lovable to any extent, mostly because the church representing Him throughout history has often been neither. Understandably, opinions on Christianity range from Christians being old-fashioned to being repressive and abusive.
The Christian church, according to what Jesus says in the Bible, is supposed to be one that reaches out to people in compassion. Perhaps there are differences in lifestyles, values or beliefs. There will be disagreement over what is valued, what is just and what is right. But regardless of such differences, regardless of race, gender, age or social status, the Church is exhorted all throughout the Bible to be as Christ’s body, hands and feet, loving on others as He loved us first.
If we are honest, though, we have not done that. Throughout history, we have not been compassionate toward different groups of people. We have not been just in the face of issues sorely needing the intervention of justice. And we have not been loving toward individuals with struggles or burdens. We have not been like Christ toward many of you.
Instead, we have often been like the religious leaders shown in the Gospel itself:
“Again [Jesus] entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And [the religious leaders] watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…” (Mark 3:1-3 ESV)
Here the religious leaders cared much more about their traditions and their way of running the Sabbath than they actually cared about the people they were meant to be caring for. Instead of having eyes for the needy, they had eyes solely for deviations from their rules for a proper Sunday service. Jesus Himself grieves over them for preaching what they do not practice and “[shutting] the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” while neither entering themselves, nor allowing those who would enter to go in (Matthew 23:13 ESV).
They were so preoccupied with doing things their way that they forgot their original purpose and mission. They forgot what it meant to be the Church, and that is exactly what we have done too often.
A #nofilter Gospel is what I am putting forth first, as it is something I know – the Church as it simply is with #no(spiritual)makeup. Here there are uglier, cruder parts. They are not hidden. Behind nicely planned events, dramatic skits or even the provided snacks, there have been flaws and even injustice associated with the Christian Church and Gospel. And they have been rightly associated, for too many people who delivered the Gospel have been flawed or unjust in their actions.
For this reason, as a Christian and leader for the campus Christian fellowship, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I want to begin by apologizing on behalf of my community, the Christian Church, for how we have failed in justice toward the world community, and specifically toward the Occidental community. If anyone has felt condemned, hurt, humiliated, discriminated against, or attacked by the Christian Church, I want to say I am sorry. No one ever deserves such treatment. It was not right.
I have also seen, though, the beauty of a #nofilter Gospel. Ignoring the mostly superfluous details of event planning, skit rehearsing and bright lighting, the Gospel we believe stands alone as beautifully simple, as well as simply beautiful. And it is the news that we have a God who not only finds justice in large, worldwide settings relevant to Himself, but also finds justice for the individual equally as important. In short, we believe in a God that knows and cares about people.
The religious leaders in the passage may not have cared about the man with the withered hand. But Jesus did.
“[Then] he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.“ (Mark 3:1-5 ESV)
He finds every person relevant. And as He invited the man to reach out toward Him and be healed, I hope that the Christian body on campus will in time be able to demonstrate a clearer and truer image of Jesus and the Gospel by being counter-culturally compassionate and providing a safe place for students; no more filters making the Church more perfect or less broken than it is. That is something we ought to be more honest and upfront about, with no filters of greed, arrogance or self-centeredness. We have no need for the Church to tear down more people. I hope that we will instead be more like Christ, as He really is in the Bible. And in turn I hope that Occidental’s own filter of Jesus and Christianity as a harsh, condemning and archaic institution will come down as we diligently labor to earn that trust back. I pray that in time, justice instead of injustice will be rightly done in the name of Christ, as He desired it to be. With #nofilter.
“Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to The Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?…If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:4-10 ESV)
What are your spiritual beliefs, or do you not have any? What role do you think faith ought to play in justice issues, if any?
What do you think about Occidental’s attitude toward spirituality? Is it accurate or justified?
What should Occidental do to include the presence of the spiritual community more in campus discussions about justice?