Social Justice & The Gospel

Hello friends, and welcome to another summer blog post. In years past, memories of the Fourth of July have been nothing short of fond, filled with the excitement of being on summer vacation, being able to stay up way past my bedtime to enjoy a captivating firework show (and oftentimes taking part in those shows), and eating all the traditional American-slash-Filipino food to my heart’s content. We were in a vastly different political climate at the time. It was a far simpler time. This year, my social media feeds were overflowing with posts that fell into two categories: those in protest of celebrating the holiday, and those who fully embraced it. Where did I fall in the Venn diagram of “should I or should I not participate in the festivities?” It was a battle trying to figure out which end of the spectrum I wanted to fall into that ultimately forced me to confront the internal exchange that I’ve been having. And I’m here to share that with you all.

Let me back track a bit and invite you all into the internal dialogue I’ve been having and how it all began. This past semester, I took a diversity class in my higher education leadership program, where we learned how we can serve students of all different backgrounds as higher education professionals. While the subject matter got really heavy at certain points, it was all still really good. Privilege and oppression were foggy topics for me, but this class helped me better understand what those words mean both in my life and in a greater societal context. When I talked about this class with people from my social circles, the same question always popped up: How can the Gospel be tied into this? Believe me when I say that literally every single person I’ve talked about this class with has asked me that question, almost verbatim, every single time it was asked. A friend once told me that if God was trying to tell you something, He’s going to find a way to tell you. Having this question be asked of me on almost a weekly basis made that message abundantly clear, and I knew this was something that I needed to confront at some point.

The amount of heated social justice social media posts I saw on Fourth of July (and on every other day throughout the year) was astounding, but expected. There were posts that were purely celebratory in nature with photos of friends and family gathered around hosts of fireworks and feasts of burgers and hot dogs. The posts that dominated my feeds, however, were the ones that were connoted with a wide range of emotions – grief of the current state of our country to extreme hate for the country itself. But where did I stand on that spectrum? I wanted to celebrate because of the tradition and the fond memories of summers as a child the Fourth of July brought me. I wanted to celebrate what freedom meant to my family, who came to this country to escape hardship in their home country to ensure my safety and prosperity. But all of this felt so selfish and I dissolved into overwhelming guilt because I also wanted to grieve those that don’t experience the freedom that our founding fathers promised two hundred years ago. I wanted to mourn with those who are on the verge of being separated from their families, those who are already separated from their families, those who won’t have the luxury of creating the memories that I was able to make as a child. It felt wrong to celebrate while others are pinned down by racism and oppression.

I read many posts that quoted Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Admittedly, it was seeing this quote as many times as I did that caused me to be swallowed by guilt. In the context of the state of our country, I understand that quote. I can identify with it. It holds a lot of weight and speaks to how broken our country is. But from a biblical perspective, there’s so much to unpack. The simple truth of the Gospel is that by the grace of God, we are saved through our faith in Jesus Christ. Though painful as it is to admit, not everyone has been saved. But does this take away from the salvation of those of us who have put our faith in Jesus Christ? Does this mean we cannot feast and celebrate our own salvation? Absolutely not! We have been promised a seat at God’s table for all eternity, and there is so much to celebrate there. But just as we celebrate each other’s salvation, we are also called to grieve those who have not been saved yet. Grieving those who haven’t been saved does not mean denying our own salvation. Celebrating our salvation does not mean turning a blind eye to those who haven’t been saved. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations, so that we may one day celebrate together under the righteousness of God. In that same vein, it’s okay to show gratitude for the liberties and freedoms that you experience by living in America. It’s okay to honor traditions, if that symbolizes what previous generations sacrificed for you to be here. Being grateful is not selfish. With that being said, being grateful for these freedoms and liberties does not equate to turning a blind eye to those who don’t experience them. Just as we are called to mourn those who haven’t been saved yet, we are also called to grieve with those who are plagued by racism and oppression everyday of their lives. It’s important to listen to them, and not toss them aside, calling them unpatriotic. Unity does not only mean being able to celebrate having the same freedoms and liberties – it also means to grieve with and lift up those who don’t.

Suffice it to say, making sure that people from different communities are heard and properly represented is extremely important. It’s important to shine a light on the fact that oppression and racism are still very much prevalent in today’s society, no matter how much we would like to believe that they aren’t. This is why it is important to have people who can advocate for historically underprivileged people. It’s important to listen to the voices that were previously silenced. If we are to dub ourselves as social justice warriors, we need to empower those who have been historically oppressed. From what I’ve seen, this is where a lot of disconnect takes place. As a society, we’ve grown accustomed to trying to lift up one group of people by bringing down another group of people. We’ve grown accustomed to responding to hate with more hate and anger. Call me naive or hippy-dippy, but this exchange feels counterproductive, and agitates the situation more than it helps it. These heated exchanges are a direct result of pride, something that is so deadly to those who are consumed by it and are victims of it.

With every exchange between folks coming from privilege and those who are victims of oppression, there needs to be grace from both sides. Those who are privileged need to recognize and acknowledge their privilege, and realize that not every person they talk to experience the same freedoms they do. But since this is oftentimes easier said than done, those on the other side of privilege need to graciously educate others on why certain things are hurtful and problematic. Gone needs to be the days where we respond with name-calling and slander. Gone needs to be the days where we respond to hate with more hate. I recognize that living in a world filled with peace and harmony is, at this point, a pipe dream. The funny thing is that we try to promote peace and love without first pursuing Jesus, the very source and definition of love. As a society, we’ve grown so far away from the Lord and have allowed ourselves to be consumed by pride, wrath, and the “everyone is out for themselves” mentality, it’s no wonder why society is as broken as it is. We can try and try to achieve universal peace and love, but if we try to do so while denying our brokenness and our need to be made whole by the perfect and undying love of the Lord, we’re going to keep sprinting towards nothing, becoming exhausted, unmotivated, and staring over the edge of giving up.

It is okay to be grateful for the things that are given to us. It is okay to want to celebrate these freedoms and liberties that our founding fathers promised us all those years ago. With that being said, it is important that while we are celebrating what we’ve been given, we need to acknowledge the fact that not everyone has been given those things, and not everyone experiences “free America.” But if there is something to take away from this overdrawn, at times preachy, blog post, it’s that we need to acknowledge brokenness – our own, and of those around us.  We need to encourage each other, lift each other up, and educate those of us who don’t know better. It is important to do all of these things lovingly, and in order to radiate anything close to perfect and selfless love, we need to embrace the constant, undying love of the Lord.

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