A few Sundays ago, in the downtown church my husband and I attend, I had the honor of singing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” during the offertory. Stephanie, our pastor, helps craft the music of the service to reflect the message of the sermon. And that morning’s music and message couldn’t have fit together more perfectly.
The prior week, Stephanie and several other pastors from the area participated in a simulation where they were given a set of obstacles common to people in the poorest of poor neighborhoods here in Birmingham—along with the resources likely to be available. She needed to figure out a way to get $40 to pay her parole officer, pick up her injured child from school, feed herself with only $15, retrieve a social security card from the administration, and all with only a cell phone and the help of other friends in the simulation.
She then spent a few days with churches and their members in Selma, Alabama. A city historically held up as the nationwide poster child for racism and poverty, Stephanie and the other pastors were fed, sheltered, and loved by a church full of people. People willing to share everything they had, even when everything wasn’t very much.
I live mere miles from women and men who face situations like these—and far more complicated ones—daily. But I was privileged enough to grow up in a middle class home with two parents who cared about education. I was privileged enough to go to college, where I not only received a great education that led to an amazing job where I use my skills and degree, but also where I met my husband who was blessed with similar opportunities—and adds another income to our household. I am privileged enough to have two reliable vehicles, a house with a functioning kitchen, heating for the bitter cold we’re experiencing now, air conditioning for sweltering Alabama summers, and enough room to grow into. I am privileged enough to have an amazing community in my family, friends, church, and job that will help me when things aren’t easy.
So many people, people I’m called to treat as my brothers and sisters, have few or none of these things. Yet for so long I, and so many other people, have stood by and told them to keep pulling those bootstraps, conveniently ignoring the fact that those bootstraps have been firmly nailed to the floor by the circumstances of the system they were born into.
The exercise Stephanie and other pastors went through helped her wrap her head around some of the struggles and issues, as well as gifts and blessings, many of her own church members go through. We are called to more than blind check-writing. We are called to empathy, but more importantly to partnership.
Though Pope Francis has caught some flack recently for pointing out where Christians have failed to care for the least of these, ignoring this system isn’t just a Christian problem.
As Gina has talked about before, people of all stripes in the liberty movement are notorious for scoffing at the idea that the plight of some portions of our society is no one’s fault but the people in that situation. We say it isn’t the government’s place to provide a safety net for the poor and those who fall on hard times, but we’ve done a dismal job of taking action to replace it.
Though conditions worldwide have drastically improved over the last several decades, there are people here and now who are starving, in pain, being profiled and abused by a “justice system” that is anything but. What are we doing today to address it?
Say a libertarian utopia is achievable: full, robust employment, a minimal (or non-existent) state, falling poverty and crime rates, etc. What do we do in the meantime? We say we value individuals, that people are important, and no end justifies the means of human sacrifice. But what about those we are actively discarding now?
If our beliefs mean anything, it’s not a thing we can stay still and silent about any longer. We must be just and merciful and act on our convictions. Beliefs are only good with action.