Some days, I ask myself the question, what would I have done if I had lived during the time of chattel slavery? During the Holocaust? During the Civil Rights Movement? I like to think I would have been one of the brave ones, leading the charge for justice. But that is a lie. My own answer shames me as I realize the truth. I would not have done enough. I would have sat quietly for far too long, as I have now.
Why have I sat quietly? I don’t entirely know. Perhaps it is because my place of privilege allows me to ignore things that are not happening to “me and mine.” Perhaps it is because I am easily overwhelmed by the scope of what is happening. Perhaps it is because the truth is just too damn ugly and hard to face.
There have been people who have been speaking the ugly and hard truth for centuries – indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, the disenfranchised. I don’t belong to any of those groups. I’m a white, middle-class female married to a white, middle-class man. I have worked hard to get where I am in life, but I’ve had many advantages along my way. I’ve never had to worry about how to pay for my education. I’ve never had to worry about having a social safety net. I’ve never experienced oppression other than a little bit of misogyny. I’ve never dealt with persistent violence in my neighborhood. I’ve never had to flee my home because the danger of staying there is greater than the danger of crossing a border. I just do not know what it is like to experience any of those things because I had the random luck to be born in a particular social location, none of which was of my own making.
It would be much easier for me to keep listening to the progressive narratives that exist around me – that our country is making progress, that we are naturally becoming more just, that the American dream is alive and well – but that would be a lie. And I don’t want to live my life based on a lie anymore.
Every morning when I get up, I spend a few moments alone in the quiet, often reading the news before my toddler wakes up. In the early hours of this morning, I sat, reading the news, and yet another story of tragic loss came across my screen. A young father and his 23 month-old daughter drowned in the Rio Grande while desperately trying to seek asylum. But as I read, the softness and dilution of my own words hit me. This was not a “tragic loss.” A tragic loss is something that is often largely unavoidable – a freak accident, an aggressive illness that takes a life too soon. This was not a tragic loss. This was a travesty – this was a denial of justice – this was a symptom of systemic evil and sin.
St. Augustine defined sin as curvatus in se, which means that we are curved in upon ourselves, so that we do not see God and we do not see others – we only see ourselves. I continue to believe that this is the best definition of sin, and it certainly characterizes this moment in our collective life. The loudest narrative being proclaimed today as gospel truth in our country is the gospel of (white) America first. It’s the gospel of military might. It’s the gospel of wealth. It’s the gospel of walls. This gospel is a false gospel. We have exchanged the truth for a lie.
Evil is in our midst, and it’s metastasizing.
We know this is so when we barely blink an eye when the lives of those seeking to be free from violence are denied asylum in a country whose motto was once so proudly declared: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”
We know this is so when we say, “well, that [read: detention, separation, death] is what they get for trying to enter illegally.”
We know this is so when there are children, in our country, in the “care” of the government, who are living without their parents and in conditions no person ever should.
We know this is so when there are many, who without missing a beat, defend this practice of dehumanizing children.
In my silence, I have lent credence to this evil, to this false gospel that has been lived out in various ways over the centuries. I do not wish to perpetuate this false gospel any longer. As a follower of Jesus and an ordained clergywoman in Christ’s holy Church, I am called to proclaim the true gospel – the good news that is for ALL people.
The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends borders. The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends nation-states. The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends cultures. The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends age, sex, gender, ethnicity, race, ability, and whatever other boundaries we try to create for ourselves.
The gospel of Jesus Christ tears down the dividing lines and abolishes the categories of “us” and “them.” The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims “we.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims good news to the poor, frees the prisoner, gives sight, and sets the oppressed free.
The gospel of Jesus Christ lifts up the lowly and elevates children and women.
The gospel of Jesus Christ scatters the proud and arrogant and dismantles empire, bringing down rulers from their seats of power.
The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, “whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ promises that those who are lost or forgotten are the guests of honor at his table.
The gospel of Jesus Christ declares that love of neighbor is inseparable from the love of God.
The gospel of Jesus Christ compels me to action. I can no longer stay silent. I can no longer stay still. I can no longer live based on a lie. I can no longer perpetuate a false gospel.
May God forgive me for my complicity and show me how to live differently.
Here is a link to get you started with more information of how you might choose to take action in this moment.