The Seeds of Justice: United Together
Ephesians 4:15-16, 22-25, 31-32
Rev. Sandy Johnson
April 23, 2017
This morning we begin a three-week series called “The Seeds of Justice.” I plan to present three areas that need our attention in our social justice ministry work and then ask ourselves, “what seeds of justice do we want to plant so that our children and grandchildren will live in a world of peace and justice?” In the coming two weeks, we’ll continue to dig deeper as we uncover some of the issues affecting our society. It is my prayer that we will gain a biblical perspective and identify our role in creating a better world for our neighbors and ourselves.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
What is social justice and why is it important?
The term social justice originated around 1840 and was originally a Catholic term used to describe “a new kind of virtue (or habit) necessary for post-agrarian societies.” Over the years, it has been reformed and redefined and can be described as “the capacity to organize with others to accomplish ends that benefit the whole community.” Social Justice.
“It implies, among other things, equality of the burdens, the advantages, and the opportunities of citizenship. Social justice is intimately related to the concept of equality, and that the violation of it is intimately related to the concept of inequality.”
“The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Wesley and the early Methodists expressed their opposition to the societal ills of their time, such as slavery, smuggling, inhumane prison conditions, alcohol abuse, and child labor. We believe that salvation entails renewal of both individuals and the world.” Our response to God’s grace is that we respond to the Great Commission and seek to share God’s message with everyone we meet. Our mission statement in the UMC is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Part of that mission is founded through our work improving our society and working for justice in our local settings.
“Just as our own discipleship occurs both at a personal and communal level, our work in the world extends beyond helping individuals to transforming the conditions that create injustice and inequality: “it is our conviction that the good news of the Kingdom must judge, redeem, and reform the sinful social structures of our time,” this from our Book of Discipline 2012, p. 53.”
Our church is known “as a denomination involved with people’s lives, with political and social struggles, having local to international mission implications. Such involvement is an expression of the personal change we experience in our baptism and conversion. Belief that God’s love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty.”
We are the United Methodist Church. We are a collection of many different people from different countries with different skin tones, languages, and all manners of worshipping God. We are united in our belief that Jesus Christ has commissioned us to be disciples for the transformation of the world. It is a big job but one that we are prepared for, when we will allow God to lead us. Because we are not to be simply observers. “We care enough about people’s lives to risk interpreting God’s love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out, a faith perspective,” to boldly serve God by serving others.
One of the issues that we have fought valiantly for is related to race, to the leveling of the playing field so that all of God’s children may be treated equally, united together. Unity is the goal. It is the ideal. We are called to be united in Christ. Sometimes there are things that get in the way of unity. There are glaring systemic problems with how we interact with one another, how we treat one another, how we support one another. Sometimes we don’t even know that what we are doing, or how we are acting that might be causing disunity, conflict or discord.
This series will focus on just three of these systemic conditions that make our jobs as Christians difficult, but not impossible. Our topic this morning is something that gets in the way of being united, it is a means of division that I hope to shine light on so that maybe, just maybe we dig a little deeper into our own self, our own life’s practices and make some different decisions to improve our race relations. Today we discuss “White Privilege.”
Next week, we’ll unpack racism and the following week immigration and our treatment of refugees. Some may be thinking, these are awfully political topics for a Sunday morning. We are supposed to park our political ideals at the door. Inside these walls, we only talk about Jesus. We worship God and remind ourselves that we are a forgiven people. What does privilege, racism or immigration have to do with that?!
If we are to be followers of Christ, I mean real followers of Jesus – not just in what we say, but what we believe and most importantly what we do, we must be willing to look at the issues of our day through the lens of Christ and discern where we can offer Christ’s love to bring peace and unity to a situation.
And so, we dive in. White Privilege. Have you heard the term? The term originated in an article written in 1988 by Peggy McIntosh entitled, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In her article, she wrote that people who look like me, those with white skin, carry an invisible backpack, one in which holds privileges that we don’t even know we have. It is so hidden, so invisible it came as a shock to me when I discovered this backpack and began unpacking it.
“White skin privilege is not something that white people necessarily do, create or enjoy on purpose. Unlike the more overt individual and institutional manifestations of racism, white skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society. White skin privilege serves several functions. First, it provides white people with “perks” that we do not earn and that people of color do not enjoy. Second, it creates real advantages for us. White people are immune to a lot of challenges. Finally, white privilege shapes the world in which we live — the way that we navigate and interact with one another and with the world.”
What does White Privilege look like, you might ask? Let me share a few thoughts.
When I was in school and “I cut my finger, the nurses office first aid kit, had the flesh-colored band-aid generally matches my skin tone. When I stay in a hotel, the complimentary shampoo generally works with the texture of my hair. When I run to the store to buy pantyhose at the last minute, the ‘nude’ color generally appears nude on my legs. When I buy hair care products in a grocery store or drug store, my shampoos and conditioners are in the aisle and section labeled ‘hair care’ and not in a separate section for ‘ethnic products.’
But it’s not just about beauty products. “The second function of white skin privilege is that it creates significant advantages for white people. There are scores of things that I, as a white person, generally do not encounter, have to deal with or even recognize. For example:
- My skin color does not work against me in terms of how people perceive my financial responsibility, style of dress, public speaking skills, or job performance.
• People do not assume that I got where I am professionally because of my race (or because of affirmative action programs).
• Store security personnel or law enforcement officers do not harass me, pull me over or follow me because of my race.
The third thing that white privilege does is shape the way in which we view the world and the way in which the world views us. The perks and advantages just described are part of this phenomenon, but not all of it. Consider the following:
- When I am told about our national heritage or “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- Also related, the schools that I have attended use standard textbooks, which widely reflect people of my color and their contributions to the world. The history of people of color are taught in a separate class, specific to their heritage, if they are even taught at all.
• When I look at the national currency or see photographs of monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., I see people of my race widely represented and celebrated.
You may be thinking, yeah? So, what! Imagine you are someone who doesn’t self-identify as white? How would your experience of the world be different? How many of these things that we take for granted are stumbling blocks for a person of color?
When we realize that our invisible “backpack was acquired through blood and death and rape and cruelty; through slavery and the massacre of indigenous peoples; through the theft of bodies and the theft of land; what we were once told was an inheritance we will come to know as an inheritance of others, stolen through the blood of their ancestors.” I don’t say that to make all of us white people in the room feel guilty. That would not prove to be helpful in the least.
Our job as Christians is to be Christ followers and to strive for real unity, the unity with Christ that Paul speaks about in our scripture this morning. We are called to speak “the truth in love” so that we can “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” We are growing and seeking to be part of the “whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
As Christians, we are “taught to put away our former way of life,” we have been born anew, we are a new creation and as such we are to behave in a manner that is different from the rest of society. The bar has been set higher. We are to “Put away…all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
We must recognize the harm we have done and continue to do, with our undiagnosed privilege and strive to not allow guilt to hamper our efforts. After all that would keep the focus on ourselves. “Instead, social change will come through the acceptance of responsibility and the resulting action that seeks to alleviate the pain of others, rather than remaining focused on our own.”
Certainly, as white folks we have worked hard to have attained the successes in life that we have. I am not taking away any of the effort that we have put in. The challenge is that people of color have roadblocks that we never see, because they don’t exist for us. To be a united people we must see one another as God does, as beloved children and work diligently to level the field, to work together to bring equality to all of God’s people.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord God, we don’t mean to cause harm, we say things and do things because we don’t know better. Shine the light on our actions, help us to stop being complicit in white privilege and to learn what we can do to work toward global unity. I pray this in Jesus name. Amen.
Next week we will talk about racism and you will appreciate knowing that members and clergy of the UMC were instrumental in fighting racism, they were on the front lines making a difference in the civil rights movement. Sometimes doing what Jesus calls us to is edgy, it requires us to consider what Jesus would do. I hope you will join us next week as we continue the lesson on the seeds of justice.
 Ephesians 4:15-16
 Ephesians 4:31-32