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Living in Light of the Good Samaritan: Giving Value to the Devalued

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

Recently, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in New York City (NYC) has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As of March 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,700 homeless people living on the streets of NYC. If you walk more than a block in NYC, you will be confronted with this reality.

After preaching the parable of the Good Samaritan at the Gallery Church(click to listen to the message), I was headed to Harlem for dinner with my girlfriend, Liz. As we were walking up the stairs to exit the subway, I saw him; a nameless elderly man dressed in dirty clothes, begging for change. This isn't out of the norm to see at a subway stop. But for me, this time was different. I watched as people walked by and refused to acknowledge his existence. Yet, he persisted, "can I have a dollar for a sandwich?" I watched as each person actively chose to look down rather than to look up at the face of the man. Honestly, I have to confess that I also walked by. However, with each step, my feet felt heavier to the point that I could no longer continue. I now heard two voices. One was the faint, defeated voice of the man asking for change. The other voice was my own, reciting the remnants of that morning's sermon I had just preached: "don't be the levite, don't be the priest, who walked by and refused to love the man who was vulnerable."

Too many times, we dehumanize the very people that God loves and values. Tim Keller in his book, Generous Justice, explains that "Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart." His point is that a heart that is not bent towards grace and mercy is one that has not experienced true compassion. The mere fact that we choose to ignore the poor whom God values  points to a "heart" that doesn't value God.

Dehumanization, or the active refusal to give value to other humans, drives all forms of exploitation. This is especially seen in commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking. A person is "dehumanized" when the "personhood" of the individual is stripped away and they are left as nothing but an objective commodity to be bought and sold. From the moment that we dehumanize our "neighbor," it is not a far leap to objectification and commodification.

In the Newsweek article, The John Next Door, the reader is invited into the mind of someone who buys sex. Leslie Bennetts, the author, explains that "the attitudes and habits of sex buyers reveal them as men who dehumanize and commodify women, view them with anger and contempt, lack empathy for their suffering, and relish their own ability to inflict pain and degradation." In a related study, several "johns" were asked to comment on the women from whom they bought sexual services. One "john" explained that "she is just a biological object that charges for services." While another sex buyer said that "being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee, when you‘re done, you throw it out." Another man went as far to say that "the relationship has to stay superficial because they are a person and you're capable of getting to know them. But once you know them, it's a problem, because you can't objectify them anymore."

Unlike these "johns," the majority of us devalue other human beings unconsciously.  Whether we do it out of self protection, fear, or apathy, our response to those who are weak and vulnerable indicates where they rank in our value system. In the parable, Jesus did not investigate whether or not the reasons that the "priest and levite" walked by the dying man were valid; that was not His point. The issue was that regardless of their reasoning, they actively chose to walk away and not show compassion. They chose not to love their neighbor.

By giving this lesson in the form of a parable, Jesus challenges the reader to identify with the characters. He wants us to see our reflection as we see the lack of love of the priest and levite. He wants us to see our own neediness as we see the "man lying in the ditch." Unlike the "half dead" man, the Bible says that we are completely dead in our sins. In our sin and spiritual deadness, We are enemies of Christ. However, Christ did not leave us to die.  He didn't call to us in our deadness and say, "Now if you do this, then you will live." He spoke life into my death, when I could not love God and I could not love others. He didn't merely risk his life to help us, He freely gave it. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the character of the Good Samaritan. He came to us in our brokenness and rescued us by his grace. By his vicarious life, death, and resurrection in my place, He graciously saved me. There was nothing that I could to earn his favor.

As a response to his free grace, I am moved to act in compassion and trust God with the results. My response is to care for the vulnerable and to give graciously. Only as we reflect on the Gospel can we go from someone that desires self protection to someone that desires to protect others. The Gospel motivates us to see every person as someone whom God values, rather than merely a statistic. The Gospel empowers us to value those whom society rejects as those whom have been created in the image of God.

With that fact fresh in mind, I turned around and began talking with the man. Liz later told me that his face brightened up as I acknowledged him. I asked him what he needed and he told me that he just wanted a sandwich. So we quickly went to the local bodega and I told him to order whatever he wanted. As we talked, I began to notice a change in my own heart. This man, who I had originally chosen to ignore, had a name. Timothy, or "Dreads" as he liked to be called, told us about his life. He was so excited that we would stop to spend time with him that he invited us to swing by his shelter and ask for him anytime. He even gave us the phone number for his "brand new" prepaid phone. "What are you doing for the Fourth of July," Timothy asked. "Because a few other friends in the shelter and I are getting together to have a little bar-be-que, we would love for you to come and spend some time with us," he explained. After this invitation, I was moved as I realized that I now spoke to this man as if he were a member of my own family. Honestly by the end of the conversation, I could tell that the feeling was mutual and that we both valued one another.

People continually ask, "What should my first step be in fighting exploitation?" My answer is simple: return value back to those from whom you have taken it. Give value to those whom you have devalued.

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The Foundation of the Christian Abolitionist

In the "Parable of the Good Samaritan," Jesus calls an expert in the Torah to the metaphorical carpet. Though the man attempted to catch Jesus off guard, Jesus showed him that he wasn't as much of an 'expert' as he may have originally thought. Jesus frames his response to the lawyer in the form of a parable. His point is simply that if you are loving God with all of your being, you will love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus uses the "Good Samaritan" as a picture of what it looks like to love your neighbor. Last week, I examined the disconnect between having "good theology" and doing acts of justice. At this point, I want to address the disconnect by answering the question: "does the Bible REALLY call Christians to care for the weak and vulnerable?" Please take time to read, study, and/or memorize the following 20 scripture passagesphoto-3 copy

Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Psalm 140:12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.

Psalm 146: 5-9 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Isaiah 56:1 Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed."

Jeremiah 21:12 O house of David! Thus says the Lord: “‘Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds.’”

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Zechariah 7: 8-10 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

Takeaway: God cares about justice. His heart breaks for the oppressed. God calls and enables us to be changed by His grace. But He also calls us to live in light of His justice. As we follow him, we will love and embrace what God values.

Psalm 10:17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water,whose waters do not fail.

Takeaway: Prayer and fasting focused on trusting God to bring justice will bring both personal and corporate revival.
Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil (repentance),17learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause (Justice).18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Gospel).

Luke 11: 42 But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Takeaway: Resist the temptation to have a mere theological knowledge and a sense of religious duty. Christians are called to care for the oppressed. The Gospel that frees us from sin motivates us to see others taste freedom. As we live in light of the Gospel, we are motivated to do justice.

Acts 2:43-45 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
1 John 3:17-18 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Matthew 25: 31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’..." (The phrase "least of these" refers to the those in the believing community.)
Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan: 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Takeaway: Christians are called to do 'justice' amongst those that are suffering and vulnerable within christian community as well as those outside of it.
Final takeaway: As you reflect on these 20 verses, rest in the fact that though the world is broken, God will bring justice and He desires to use you. Remember when we stand on the Gospel, we will stand against injustice.

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The Crux of Abolition Part 1

"Raleigh, what made you move to NYC? Why would you choose to work with Human trafficking abolition?" Believe it or not, I get this question all the time. If you are anything like me, you probably spend a good bit of time wondering what makes people tick, as well. You think to yourself, "why do they do what they do or why did they choose that particular career path over another possibly more logical choice?" Why would an 18th century English parliamentarian risk his political equity by seeking an end to the "socially accepted" slave trade in England? Why would a person leave a promising law career in NYC to work with a struggling non profit organization? What do you need to be properly motivated to live a life of justice?

To inspire NYC pastors to encourage their churches to fight human trafficking, we hosted a showing of the film "Sex and Money."

For the Christian, two motivations will stand head and shoulders above the rest; namely, the character of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From cover to cover, you can easily see the theme  of God working through his people to bring justice to the world especially to the orphan, the widow, the refugee, and the poor.  This group of four is mentioned repeatedly in scripture. God's love for the weak and vulnerable stems from his character. Of the many passages that speak of the justice of God, one text in particular speaks of God's heart for this population. In Deuteronomy 10:16-19, the reader discovers that because God is "the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe (all attributes of his character)... He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing." In verse 19, God pleas with his people to do the same. This passage is written in such a way that as the believer reflects on the character of God, he or she will be driven to respond in a similar fashion. Greg Beale explains this concept in his book, We Become What We Worship. His basic point is that “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” Ergo if we worship the God of justice, then we should naturally care for the things for which He cares, like the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the poor. Jimmy Lee, the Executive Director of Restore NYC, reminded a group of pastors at an event called "Let My People Go, "that the scariest thing about human trafficking is that it's preying on the most vulnerable populations." These are those without a voice or an advocate. Through the light of scripture, we discover that though we may not actively care for the broken of society, God does. This love, grace, mercy, justice and overall goodness of God should be a motivation that drives all of his followers. Can this be said for you?

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