The recent killing of Trayvon Martin and the slow arrest of George Zimmerman has sparked many to engage in what could be called social justice. Many, out of outrage, have lifted their voices against this particular injustice, many have worn hoodies, and posted statuses, many have used the tagline “I am Trayvon Martin,” many have posted articles to their social networks: all claiming these are activities of social justice.
In fact I participated in these events; but I had to search myself and ask, what are the motives behind my actions? I noticed that for many, anger toward skin tone was the motive; it became one race against another.
Others claimed it was about institutionalized bigotry and prejudice. Others said that it was about racial profiling. Quite frankly I don’t disagree with any of these statements, but what I’ve seen that drove this issue and other national issues of justice, is an ‘Us against Them’ mentality.
When I see and preach social justice, it is not about us (the oppressed and those who advocate for them) against them (everyone who tries to stop progress). To me it is an ‘Us help Us’ issue. What I mean by this is that there is one community struggling against itself. Having a social consciousness is having the ability to see when we fight ourselves and shouldn’t have to. It is having a prophet’s heart. It is having the heart to cry to your brothers and sisters about the pain they cause themselves when they hurt others in the family. It is not about name-calling.
Although I am Baptist I paid close attention to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church this year. I read articles, read Tweets, discussed the conference with Methodist friends and professors and came to the conclusion that the many quarrels had an ‘Us against Them’ instead of an ‘Us help Us’ mentality. It hurt my heart to see family fight family. Social justice is not killing the dignity of those you disagree with, it is not name calling and power struggles. Social justice is crying out to the people you love that OUR ways are not holy and pure, that OUR politics are not fair, that OUR lives are not caring.
Because I am equally part of the community as those who I do not agree with, my role as a preacher who is charged to be socially conscious is not to preach us against them, but to preach that the problem is all of our faults. I would start with a sermon series first on the prophets repentance. The prophet was not exempt from the punishment laid on the nation of Israel and Judah. The prophet was deported, and was forced to wait on the salvation of the Lord just as everyone else.
As modern day prophets we need to see ourselves as one who critiques the community as well as one who is being critiqued by our own words. The next sermon would be about the hope for restoration with an emphasis in what we can do begin conversations on topics that divide us in a constructive way. The last sermon will be on the work and power of God. This would focus on the realization that we all must come to. We are not God and we cannot push progress past our human limits. We must cry out to our family, create space to talk constructively but realize when we have done all that we can. Social justice is more than being angry; it is about being extremely heartbroken, not with ‘them,’ but with ‘us’ and ‘self.’