For my bleeding-heart liberal friends…I am grateful for your edification. Let me explain my views on social justice, even if you find me unbearably cynical. Forgive me, I do indeed have a heart.
I tutor a few kids. When parents ask me to teach their kids how to read and write, I go to my favorite piece of fiction: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Please excuse me if this 7th-grade interpretation is much too simplistic)
In HF, there is an ancillary but dramatic scene where a character, Sherburn is threatened by an angry mob. The mob is large and an ostensibly angry, threatening to lynch Sherburn for killing the town drunkard in broad daylight. The crime was undoubtedly severe and Sherburn surely should have received some sort of reprimand for his brutality towards another innocent, albeit flawed man. Unfortunately for the mob, Sherburn calls their bluff and demonstrates assurance that he will remain unscathed by the mob. His confidence is justified, as he chastises the mob for displaying little conviction behind their threats. He knows very well that none of the members are confident enough on their own to attack by themselves. When they approached his house, he was resolute, sitting in a chair with his rifle ready for their arrival. He boldly gave a speech lambasting their cowardice knowing full well though as a collective they were ready to attack him, no individual man had the conviction to actually make the first move. Nobody dares to take a stand against this man with his rifle and risk death for the sake of fighting injustice. Eventually they scatter, leaving Sherburn alone without even any sort of punishment.
In that sense, Twain is also criticizing the lack of conviction society had against the injustice of slavery. Throughout the novel of Huckleberry Finn, Twain paints a picture of many of Huck’s peers as seemingly resolute in their own convictions, yet brutally unaware of their inclination to conform to the screwed up standards of society. Many people were aware of the stark disparity in their own lives and those of their slaves. But they were able to move on partially due to an indifference buoyed by society’s own indifference to the treatment of slaves. Although Sherburn’s crime was malicious and detestable, the speech was extremely profound. Our own tendencies that are similar to the mob, holding meaningless convictions that appear heartfelt but are essentially vacuous. Perhaps lynching him was not the solution, but the bigger failure was how easily this crime was soon forgotten. Injustice, like Sherburn, mocks from a distance, knowing full well of our reluctance to pay the price and fight it.
Just yesterday, I was able to see a presentation about Love 146 an organization that fights for the abolition of child sex slavery. I thought the presentation was great; the speaker Rob spoke extensively about the need to be “audacious” in our approach to social justice. He pointed out when we hear about AIDS, cancer, poverty etc. its easy for them to now just become another “issue” to us and our connection to them becomes superficial. We need to connect our issues back to faces, that child over there is not just some random statistic, but a daughter and a future mother. Distilling his message to its essence, Rob told us the story about the boy and the starfish; how it matters to that SINGLE starfish. I’m not gonna lie, I am that man who tells the boy “Why are you wasting your time?” Hence, Conspicuous Cynic.
Regardless, you wonder as much as Rob is passionate about his work and goals, there is so much injustice out there we don’t even know where to start. I don’t think its unfair to say, when most of us see injustice its hard for us to believe it will every disappear completely. No matter how much we do, it seems injustice will lurk and remain prevalent in this world. I believe this is ultimately rooted in our own selfish dispositions. Child sex trafficking might be the most visceral and disturbing perversion of the idol of sex and greed. But I can argue our own behavior during this financial crisis was just as bothersome, in that the idols of status and comfort were widespread and significant across all social classes, races and faiths (Yes, even Christians).
Again this is why I find comfort in the Christian response to social justice. Wait what? Every serious post seems to be reductio ad Jesu. Bear with me for a moment. Remember the mob before, ready to lynch Sherburn? Their ultimate failing was that no one was ready to take the first step, to “audaciously” stand up to the injustice of this murderer. The cross is that first step: Christians believe JC died to take on the sin and injustice of the world. Ultimately, I am aware of my unwillingness to take that first step, but I believe JC did, knowing full well death would be the result.
You say, “well BDK” this story is a nice one but “who cares?” Well, I do. Maybe people wonder how Christians can see a Savior amidst all this injustice. I wonder how we can accept this world devoid of a Savior. For one, it helps Christians respond to injustice. Christians should acknowledge we are inherently timid souls and help others not out of our own goodness or courage but because we follow the lead of one who “audaciously” took the first step. Love 146, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Compassion International etc. are all playing “follow the leader” and slowly unraveling injustice. Secondly, I think when we see these things something ticks in our hearts: “This is not the way things should be” and we yearn for redemption. Although our collective attempts to restore order to this world might fall short, we hold steadfast knowing that God took the ultimate injustice upon himself to pay for all of the injustice of the world. This is the final hope.
I know, I can be a cynical punk because its easy to blog from a distance, scoffing like the lonely curmudgeon I am. But I am fully aware of my own imperfections: I am deeply insecure, incredibly selfish and commit injustices everyday. I am reminded that the healing of brokenness starts at the micro-level; in my own heart. I know this is the generator of injustice that I can change, not because of anything I could ever accomplish, but because of JC’s own “audacious first step”.
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