Without question, COVID-19 has revealed some things about the world, or perhaps more accurately, revealed pre-existing divisions many of us had chosen to ignore.
We know that the negative effects of this pandemic will be and are most personally effecting those who are already were economically and socially marginalized. We know that this crisis has revealed a class divide with gendered and racial influences that now are now impossible to ignore. We know that in a return to mostly “care for our own” nationalistic response around the globe, refugees and newcomer communities are at incredible risk and have little protection or assistance. We know there is a “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence for those (disproportionately women and youth) for whom home is not a safe nor comforting place to be. And in our own city, we know that for weeks, our most vulnerable neighbours were left, essentially, to fend for themselves.
Let’s be clear: this pandemic hasn’t caused a class divide based on socioeconomic, racial, or gendered factors. It’s simply exposed the realities that were already there. We’re not seeing the world change here (although the pandemic may negatively curtail some progress in mitigating these divides), we’re seeing it for how it actually was and is.
Despite the comforting mantras of “we’re all in this together” (usually espoused by the hyper-wealthy and hyper-famous from the comfort of their own homes), the reality is, we are not equally in this together. As humanitarian Ben Parker said, “We’re all fragile now, but we’re not equally fragile.”
Which is heartbreaking. And infuriating. And uncomfortable (especially for those of us who are comfortable). And as followers of Jesus, should move us to grief, lament, anger, sadness, prayer, and action.
God is not casually engaged in addressing injustice, ethnocentrism, classism, racism, misogyny, or greed, nor is He, in any way, unclear about the equal value of every single human life as made in the image of the living God. In fact, the very name of God is mercy. Israel’s “credo” of who God is is wrapped up in God’s revelation of himself to Moses in Exodus 34: 6-7: “the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Further, Psalm 89:14 paints a powerful picture of the centrality of justice to the character and work of God: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.”
Throughout Scripture God makes it absolutely clear that prioritizing the poor, the orphan, the widow, the marginalized and the oppressed – those from whom society has wrongfully stripped power, agency, or perceived value – is not an optional add-on to the life of faith, it’s central to it.
The danger of awareness then, is that we stop there. Jesus never asks us to simply be “aware” of the poor or the marginalized. He actually invites us into a way of living that is alongside them: as equals, as friends, as beloved community.
A particular challenge of our hyper-connected virtual world is that we can actually trick ourselves into thinking we’re doing something by talking, reading books or articles, and sharing articles and Instagram stories (a phenomenon, when not attached to tangible action is now known as “slacktivism”). These steps are certainly a good place to start, but we need to be careful that we don’t stop there.
We want to be people who think rightly, but we need to also be people who live rightly. As James reminds us succinctly, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-26)
And so the invitation of awareness is this: Step-in.
I won’t sugar-coat it. Justice as an idea may be appealing, inspiring, or even trendy, but in reality, it is messy, humbling, sacrificial, costly, and time-consuming.
But it’s also the very way of living that Jesus modeled for us and invites us into. This is part of the truly beautiful “life to the full” that Jesus talks about in John 10. We simply cannot live a faithful life in pursuit of Jesus without it. His love and care and equal value for all people demands nothing less and will settle for nothing less.
So let’s get practical.
The work of justice is nuanced and comprehensive to all areas of our lives, so it’s impossible to distill this into something like a “3-easy steps” or a clean to-do list. However, here are a few (non-exhaustive) suggested places to start:
1. Part of the work of justice, includes, but certainly is not limited to, the hard work of confronting our own social, economic, and ethnic privilege and repenting of the places where we have turned our eyes, time, resources, and lives away from the needs and inequalities around us or where we have been silent (in both word and in action) about the equal value and worth of all people. Take some time to think, pray, and inventory your life in these areas, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal places where you can grow in prioritizing and rightly seeing others and the needs around you.
2. Are you living with generosity with your resources? Are there places where you are able to limit your own spending so that you can sacrificially give to the work of organizations engaging with this work on a practical and systemic level, such as (but again not limited to):
- Jacob’s Well and UGM or Whole Way House in the DTES;
- Youth Unlimited working with at-risk youth and young families throughout the Lower Mainland;
- Kinbrace Housing Society in Vancouver or MCC Share your Table, internationally, working with refugees and refugee asylum seekers;
- Sheltermovers or The Dixon Transition Society working with victims of domestic violence in Vancouver;
For a consistent and simple practice, consider fasting or eating a simple meal of beans and rice once a week in solidarity and setting aside what you would have usually spent on this meal towards these aims.
3. Are you living with generosity in your time? Are the marginalized or far-off and removed group to you or are they your friends? Consider volunteering weekly or monthly with some of the above listed organizations, with a focus on long-term, consistent relationships.
Things are not as they should be. In this way, this global pandemic is reminding us of things we already knew. But, what if, compelled by the love of Jesus and the living hope we have in Him, this awareness-driven wake-up call doesn’t simply fill our minds with increased knowledge and our hearts with increased sadness, but inspires and catalyses us to actually live more like Jesus in pursuit of reconciling some of these wrongs?
*If you are drawn to further reading, consider:
- Generous Justice and Ministries of Mercy by Timothy Keller
- The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor by Mark Labberton
- The Great Chasm: How to Stop Our Wealth from Separating Us from the Poor and God by Derek W. Engdahl
- The Justice Calling, Bethany Hoang & Kristen Johnson