Given the reality of our broken social system that privileges some groups while oppressing others, what is the Christian to do? Is there any hope for change?
Although it has taken various forms and shifted between overt and covert expressions, systemic oppression has been around for hundreds of years. What can we do? The answer is act. God clearly describes what He desires from His followers with regard to systems of oppression in Isaiah 58. Isaiah, God’s prophet, addressed the Israelites who were shaking their fists and grumbling against God. They were frustrated because they felt God was ignoring their fasting and religious efforts. God responded to their frustration by telling them how little he was impressed with their religious rituals. He called His people to something more. Indeed, God painted a clear picture of what He desires from those who bear His name: to loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, share food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked, and care for one’s family (Isaiah 58:6-7). God was calling His people to act against oppression and injustice.
This has great implications for us today. Rather than just settling for church on Sunday morning, God wants His people to actively fight against injustice, inequality, and oppression. In essence, God is saying, “If you want to worship Me, love your fellow human beings that I created in My image.”
Therefore, in light of the worship God desires, Christians should be at the forefront of social justice issues. Where is there discrimination? Prejudice? Oppression? Inequality? Disadvantage? Unfairness? Exploitation? Abuse? Poverty? Those are the places where Christians should be, doing all we can to fight injustice and oppression.
This broken, unjust system of privilege and oppression thrives on silence. To do nothing is to perpetuate the system. Whether we like it or not, inaction sends the message of acceptance. It is only when people begin to speak up and take action that the system starts to crumble.
What does this action look like? How do we as Christians loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free? Here are a few suggestions:
If you are White, own your privilege. It is not a reason to feel guilty—this is how God created you—yet it comes with responsibility. You must grow in your awareness of how this broken, unjust system operates and identify oppression when you see it.
White men and women should use their influence to help other White individuals become aware of systemic privilege and oppression. Changing the system should not be a burden for oppressed group members to carry.
When you witness manifestation of oppression, say or do something. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Don’t stand idly by.
Create genuine, collaborative relationships with members of other racial groups and truly listen to their lived experiences. Validate and accept their reality even if it differs from your own. These connections are the only way to develop empathetic understanding.
Be prayerful about changing the system. Ask your Heavenly Father to help you forgive those who have treated you unjustly, to seek forgiveness for biases held against others, and the courage to advocate for the others.
No one socialized in America is immune to the internalized biases that the system creates. Everyone carries assumptions, preconceived notions, and knee-jerk conclusions about other people. We can change that! By spending time with those who are different from us and growing in humility and empathy, we can begin to combat the biases we hold.
God says the worship He desires is to fight injustice. He calls His children to respond to the oppression cultivated by our broken social system. Therefore, may we not stand silently on the sidelines. May our love for our Heavenly Father and His creation compel us to act.