catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 16 :: 2005.09.09 — 2005.09.22


The beloved community

I never aspired to be an activist. Sure, I wanted to help the poor and hungry?I majored in social work after all, but my mental image of an ?activist? wasn?t favorable. To me, an activist was someone whose face was screwed up in impassioned rage still chanting their mantra as a policeman drags them away from a protest. They seemed so disruptive and uncompromising, and that just wasn?t me. I tend to avoid confrontation of that sort, so I thought I would never be, nor would I want to be, an activist. I could spend a lot of time discussing the sources of my misperception of activism?was it the media that formed my opinion? Was it my privilege as a white, middle class person? Or was it my personal tendencies that drove me to form a less than admirable and rather narrow view of activism? Regardless of where the negative and narrow view came from, my journey to a new understanding is one that includes a new, broader understanding of community, a ?Beloved Community? that seeks redemption and reconciliation as an end goal of humankind?s relationship with God, with one another and with creation.

I went to a Christian college where we talked a lot about cultivating a worldview; a worldview that declared Christ as sovereign over every part of one?s life. Nothing could be separated from the rule of God?art, music, family life, work, education, even politics. As Richard Mouw explains it in Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport,

[God] set out to call to Himself a redeemed people who would show the world how he originally intended human beings to conduct their lives?. The people who are redeemed through the atoning work of Jesus are called by God to work at transforming culture?doing what they can here and now to honor God?s original creating purposes for the world/cosmos.

I like to think of this call to redemption as bringing glimpses of heaven to a broken world. Can followers of Christ succeed at healing all brokenness? No, that will only come with Jesus? return when all things will be made new again. But if you believe as I do, that Christ has sovereign rule over every part of life, the call to transform culture, the call to redeem creation to God?s original purposes, is difficult to ignore.

Through education and life experiences, I came to understand that my initial desire to help vulnerable people through my calling as a social worker broadened my sense and definition of community. Perhaps the most basic understanding of community is ?the brotherhood of man.? We are all created in the image of God, and therefore, my neighbors and those in my community are those who are near and far. That understanding of community has had implications for my actions especially as I became more aware of social justice issues. I learned more about social justice and about how there are certain economic, political and cultural systems and policies that keep certain groups of people oppressed. I learned about the high debt payments that very poor countries have to make to various economic institutions for debt that was often incurred decades ago, preventing the country from providing basic infrastructure and services for its citizens. I learned that in the United States, a family with two working adults making minimum wage could still be poor and hungry.

I desired to have my faith and worldview permeate all areas of my life, but if I truly believed that I was to work to bring redemption to this earth and ease suffering of my neighbors near and far, I knew that I needed to do my part in changing oppressive systems and policies. So how does one work to change or better systems and policies? Through political action?letter writing, phone calls, visits to congressional offices. And what is a person who is active in the political process usually called? An ?activist.?

So what to do about my negative view of activists? I was clearly becoming one, and yet the term still didn?t sit well with me. My faith had propelled me to consider a world in which I worked toward redemption and reconciliation, but I had failed to see how activism fit into that picture or how it could be used to stand up and care for my neighbors near and far. It wasn?t until I read Charles Marsh?s book The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, From the Civil Rights Movement to Today, that I realized that my understanding of ?activism? missed a crucial point?activism is one way to work to bring about redemption and reconciliation in a world with broken systems and policies. Marsh describes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?s view on what was happening during the civil rights movement:

Although a boycott was necessary in Montgomery to bring an end to discriminatory laws, King urged the church people in the movement to keep in mind that a boycott and its achievements do not in themselves represent the goal. ?The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption,? he said ?the end is the creation of the beloved community.?

Reading that passage was an ?Aha!? moment for me. Activism itself is a means to the end goal of the creation of beloved community, a community marked by redemption and reconciliation. This passage melded and articulated a new perspective for me?one that combined my ideas and beliefs of faith, community, social justice, and redemptive work.

I think I might be an activist. Ok, so you still might not catch me being dragged away by policeman, but I now have no problem writing a letter to my congressperson, or calling in to their offices when I want to urge them toward a specific piece of legislation that will make the world a better place for my neighbors. In fact, my job now is to get others involved in such activities! We have incredible opportunities as citizens of a democratic country to use our voices for those in our community who are voiceless and vulnerable. In doing so, we are doing redemptive work, glorifying God by easing the suffering that is still all too prevalent, and we move a step closer to Dr. King?s vision of the beloved community.

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