As I type this, I have just spent the weekend attending Ecumenical Advocacy Days in DC, and am demonstrating with a group outside of the Supreme Court of the United States. We are rallying ahead of arguments on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DAPA and DACA are the results of executive orders from President Obama intended to halt mass deportations and the separation of families. I’m here with the group Faith in Public Life, and I’m here as a matter of conscience, because what we’re doing to undocumented families is reprehensible. I also name it as a matter of racial justice, because most of who we’re targeting for detention and deportation are people of color.
This year’s EAD theme was Lift Every Voice: Racism, Classic, and Power. And the largest takeaway for me was that racial justice is incredibly intersectional. Of course, I knew that, but when the connections are drawn between racism and the environment, the environment and poverty, poverty and crime, crime and capitalism, and capitalism back to racism, one thing is certain: the devil is busy, and the church has to be busier.
Yesterday, I preached on Revelation 7:9-17 and Psalm 23. In Revelation, John was talking about what was happening then in his time. He was addressing the systemic persecution of Christians by the Roman state. The beast, the number 666 or 616, all of these are references to the emperor Nero and a reader at the time this apocalypse was circulated would have recognized that. I want to lift that up because what we were seeing at the time was a very deliberate, systemic, and calculated attempt to exterminate Christians in the Roman Empire. Why? Not just because of some nebulous attack of the devil, but because these Christians posed a threat to power. They challenged the sovereignty of the Empire and the divinity of the Emperor because they reserved those things for God in the person of Jesus Christ. So they had to be dealt with! And they were. By the thousands they were murdered and persecuted, but not just for their religion, but for the threat they posed to the status quo. That’s important, especially for our own context, because we’re seeing the same threats to power being dealt with systemically in our society.
Fair wages pose a threat to grotesque wealth. Voting rights pose a threat to those in power who don’t really work for the people. People of color pose a threat to those who have bought into the lie of white supremacy and who benefit from it. It’s not religions that are persecuted. It’s not certain skin tones that are persecuted. It’s threats to power that are persecuted. Power goes after that which threatens its position.
David wrote the 23 Psalm when he was hiding from king Saul who wanted to kill him, because David’s anointing and indeed his very existence posed a threat to Saul.
Now I ask you, to whom does the church pose a threat?
I submit that a church which is not under persecution is not a threat, and if it’s not a threat, it’s probably because it’s not effective. I stop short of saying we have to suffer for our faith as many saints have, because salvation is not in suffering for suffering’s sake. What I am saying is that if you are preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, if you are upholding the sovereignty and reign of God over all, and if you are loving your neighbor and doing for “the least of these,” you are going to attract attention from the powerful. Why? Because you’re coming for their kingdom. And if power is not irritated by our presence, much like Saul was irritated by David, then something is amiss.
At EAD we sat at the feet of Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, which she founded as a voice for poor children, children of color,and children with disabilities. She put it to us this way: “If you don’t want to be criticized, don’t do anything and don’t be anything, but don’t dare call yourself a Christian.”
I would hope that we as a church wouldn’t be afraid to challenge the status quo — including our own status quo — because of who it is that empowers us. So, church, let’s make some noise, and let’s keep on making it!