Last year, I participated in an identity activity with my socially-conscious, liberally-minded staff. In this activity, everyone wrote down several forms of personal identity on index cards: name, race, gender, religion etc. Then, one by one, we had to choose index cards to throw away. We discarded pieces of our identity until we were left with only two cards each; then, the facilitator instructed us to choose one of our neighbors’ identity cards and throw it away.
My neighbor – and close friend – chose my “Mormon” card and threw it away. When we debriefed as a group I realized that, given the option, other staff member also threw away their neighbors’ Christian identities. I reflected on this pattern of disregarding, disdaining, devaluing, opposing, ridiculing and even reviling Christian religion and believers – particularly in more liberal spaces. We discussed it briefly.
But, I have thought about it often.
Meanwhile, I watched and read bits and pieces of the Republican National Convention, noting the number of times something along the lines of “returning to values” and “Christian values” and just straight up “Jesus Christ” have been referenced to support the campaign of a man who has fanned flames of division, racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry and hatred across our nation. (Watch: The Divinity of Donald Trump).
It seems that there is a deep, fundamental misunderstanding about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. On both sides of the aisle. Between conservatives and liberals and people who don’t fit on the spectrum. Right to left. Left to right.
At best, it is a misunderstanding. At worst, it is a shameful misappropriation and propagandizing of Christ.
In circles where I work and often socialize– urban educators, social justice activists – I find that people are surprised to discover that I am Mormon. Surprised that religion is the foundation of my life.
To many friends, religion – especially Christian religion – holds connotations of imperialism, colonization, genocide, Westernization, ignorance, bigotry. There are a few who stopped speaking to me when I decided to serve a mission. I find that many are quick to recognize Islam as a religion of peace. Quick to support Muslims against rhetoric equating terrorism with Islam. Quick to embrace Eastern religions. Quick to make the distinction, I am spiritual but not religious. But slow to recognize the disconnect between those who twist the Bible to support immoral acts and the actual teachings of Christ.
Christianity seems to holds a negative connotation to many liberals. They work and sacrifice for the acceptance, love and rights for all, yet seem to frown on Christianity.
I am often asked How can someone who believes in social justice also be so religious?
As a member of a church whose members tend to lean conservative, finding fellow like-minded individuals creates an instant connection. I have been surprised to discover the number of closet liberals surrounding me at church. Surprisingly, my blog has facilitated this ongoing discovery. I’ve had people send me private messages of support and affirmation, or approach me in private moments to express their appreciation. Why do we tend to be less vocal in more public settings?
When Andy wore his “Mormons for Obama” t-shirt the day President Obama was re-elected, he was all but booed and spat on in his classes at BYU-Idaho, a bastion of conservative thinking. Thank goodness for the two professors who stood up for him.
In conservative circles, I find many good-hearted men and women who are quick to serve others, yet slow to recognize White Savior complexes. Quick to love, yet slow to realize the ways they differentiate between “us” and “them.” Quick to give, yet slow to acknowledge the personal judgments that differentiate those deemed deserving from those deemed to be undeserving. Slow to see ways in which some people are blamed for their circumstances, while others are helped. Slow to recognize the ways their world is shaped by racism and privilege.
In more conservative religious circles, I am often baffled by the juxtaposition of genuine, pure-hearted love with privileged ignorance.
In these spaces I am not asked outright but abruptly terminated conversations and upraised eyebrows imply the question, How can someone religious be so liberal and social justice-oriented?
My question is, how can I not?
I don’t profess to be a religious expert. But everything I know about Christ shows me that He is an advocate of social justice. Tim Kaine said that in high school, “my faith became something vital. My north star for orienting my life. And when I left high school, I knew that I wanted to battle for social justice.” It was my favorite line from his entire speech at the Democratic National Convention. I feel the same way about my faith.
I cannot be a disciple of Christ without seeking to change the injustice and inequity in the world.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. – 1 John 4:7-8, 11
Jesus Christ is pure love. He loves every single person who lives, has lived, and will live on the Earth. We cannot comprehend the infinite depth of His love and nothing can separate us from it. Christ doesn’t just teach tolerance. He teaches love. His gospel teaches us to love our neighbors, our enemies, the Lord. Love everyone. We are to love each other as Christ loves us, and this means seeing each other as brothers and sisters. We are sons and daughters of God and part of a human family.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. -Mosiah 4: 19, 21,26
Basically, we are all beggars. Everything we have is from God. He gives us every blessing. Even when we work hard, we don’t deserve any of it. We are nothing without him. The rich are not more righteous; the poor are not less deserving. God showers blessings in different ways.
If God gives so freely to us, then we should give freely – spiritually, temporally – to others. Without judgment (and Wo! To those that judge, it does not sound pretty). We should give what we have to the poor, hungry, naked, sick. Time, talents, gifts, resources…give give give.
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. – Alma 7:11-12
Christ took upon himself the pains and afflictions, the weakness and sins, of every person on Earth. He has tread the path before us and knows every hair on our heads, every fiber of our souls. He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He knows each one of us perfectly.
With this perfect knowledge, Christ is our Advocate with God. Through Christ, we receive mercy. His Atonement accomplished what we could not, and still He walks with us and works with us in everything else. He teaches us to follow His example – understanding, empathy, compassion, mercy. We are to be advocates for others as He is for us.
And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers. – Alma 9:26
Christ sees each of us for who we are. He understands our identities, our stories, our circumstances. He sees color; He sees gender; He sees all. He knows the realities of our lives in today’s world. And He invites us to come to Him. Christ knows exactly how to succor and strengthen us. He doesn’t give everyone the exactly the same things; He gives each of us what we need. This is equity.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life – John 14:6
Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness. – Alma 38:9
Jesus Christ is truth. He is the way and the light. This is how I see the work of social justice. It is a discovery and unveiling of truth and an increasing of light in the world. It is not some politically correct way of changing vocabulary preferred by dominant groups. It is helping people to embrace truth, and empowering them to create change.
Christ’s gospel is about love and truth and change. He teaches us that we can change, become better, more light, more kind, more honest, more generous, more understanding, more loving. We can become more like Him.
Which means we can change the world.