Tag Archives: social justice

The Fury Behind the Furor

In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict (not guilty), I found myself in quiet reflection, wondering why exactly this case bothered me. Black children (children of all races, actually) die tragically and unjustly every day and yet those don’t bother me. As a side note, that’s a sad indictment of me and my indifference to human suffering. Still, why did Zimmerman’s verdict stick with me for some time?

Two things disturb me greatly, three make me angry (with apologies to the Hebrew poets for borrowing their literary convention): the deafening silence from the evangelical community, the counterattack by non-blacks who suggest that racial disparities don’t exist, and the reminder that my son will grow up in a hostile legal system.

  1. To be fair, some evangelicals did respond. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, had a great blog post where he recognized that his talk with his son will be different than mine. The Gospel Coalition had several people reflect on the results (although at first blush, many seem to be African-American bloggers). However, in the conservative evangelical circles that I live day-to-day, life moved on. I heard more people talk about their planned missions trips overseas than about the death of a teenager killed while standing his ground against a stranger. By implication and action, the (mostly Caucasian) people around me simply didn’t care that Trayvon died. Predictably, only the few African-Americans in my circle found the results disturbing, and all of us for similar reasons.
  2. It didn’t help that, pretty consistently, when African-Americans brought up the racial disparities, the public has responded that (a) racism doesn’t exist, nor does injustice nor white privilege. Unfortunately, the record of Supreme Court decisions indicates that the courts have consistently ruled against fairness for African-Americans and, as just one example, even the U.S. Higher-Education System Perpetuates White Privilege. In other words, our social and legal system are document-ably against African-Americans. Telling me that it’s just my imagination that women in the place that I work and live clutch their purses when I’m around and move between me and their children, or tell their daughters they’re not allowed to be romantically involved with me (an actual experience for me, circa 2008) doesn’t help .
  3. It bothers me that I have to explain to my son one day that the reason that parents snatch up their kids when he goes to the park and suddenly leave, or move to swings on the opposite side of the park (both true, actual, experiences within the last three months of this writing) is because of his skin color. If he stands up for himself, the public and the law will first vilify him and then justify his attacker. In spite of the guaranteed constitutional rights, the courts will not support or protect him in many cases, or it will take years before the courts recognize the wrongs perpetuated against him.

And that makes me angry.


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Social Justice, Brain Development, and Christian Responsibility

She studies how poverty might change the brain – CNN.com.

Stumbled across this interesting article. It discusses how, Dr. Martha Farah, founder of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscence and Society, examines the impact of poverty on brain development. In particular, she notes several issues:

  1. “Poor children don’t get as much exposure to language as their wealthier counterparts, research has found, and they tend to get more negative feedback. What they do hear is not as grammatically complex, with a narrower range of vocabulary.”
  2. “Stress is another huge factor in these disparities. Parents of low socioeconomic status have uncertainty about having basic needs met, dangerous neighborhoods, crowding and other factors, causing stress for children and their parents. Stressed parents are less patient and affectionate, further stressing their children, according to Farah.” On the surface, it should be plainly obvious that a stressed child will learn less. A child thinking about whether they will eat will not have the mental space to memorize facts or think beyond their immediate concern.

Granted, she has only begun her studies and so much of the article involves research hypotheses and conjecture. Also, the writer (as do I) resists the urge to say, “my environment made me do it,” and instead looks at the implications of poverty from a long-term standpoint. However, this reinforces the idea of privilege and the generational spiral of systemic discrimination. In plain English: poor and uneducated people make children who are poor and uneducated. This is a general principle, not a firm rule (I can think of at least one personal example of someone who has parents who barely graduated high school who themselves has a PhD).

It seems to me, however, that Christian responsibility demands that we care for the “least of these” by working to ensure the poor have not only access to a better way, but also the training and resources to sustain that better way as an expression of the gospel. Sidestepping the role of government in carrying this out, I assert that the role of Christians is to act as agents, advocates, champions, and support for helping children and families in dangerous and low-income neighborhoods. This doesn’t mean “hand-outs” (as in giving them stuff) or “hand-ups” (as in providing jobs). I think that Freire has it right when he advocates for cooperation and unity as a means to free the poor from the poverty cycle, as well as his idea that the “oppressed” must liberate themselves rather than waiting for the “oppressor” to liberate them. In that, I think the critical pedagogy advocates may be on to something.

Here’s the thing: Christianity (and especially evangelical Christianity) has to change this attitude of viewing the poor as the enemy, and obstacle, or a problem (as some of the political rhetoric frames it). Instead, we need to consider the poor as people who need to hear the gospel, and the manifestation and intersection of the gospel in this case has to do with their educational and economic situation. It’s time for the poor to experience the Kingdom of Heaven.

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