Loving Jesus and loving others
My six-year-old’s current favorite movie is Black Panther. Perhaps it’s an unusual choice for a little girl, but I’m not complaining. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the short version: The king of the thriving African nation of Wakanda is killed, and his son, Prince T’Challa, takes his place on the throne. Wakanda appears to be a third-world country, but is actually a technological and scientific marvel due to the huge deposit of the metal vibranium upon which the nation was built. An elaborate plan to dethrone T’Challa is in the works and he’s got to figure out how to fight it and protect his country.
This film has prompted so many questions from my daughter that led to deep, fruitful conversations: discussions of slavery and segregation, the role of women in society, death and resurrection, just to name a few. We’ve discussed questions like:
Is it ever okay to kill someone?
Why would anyone betray their family?
How could someone abandon a child?
Why do some white people not like black people?
How come those women get to be warriors?
However, Black Panther poses one question my daughter and I haven’t yet discussed, but we as the church need to discuss.
Do those who are blessed (in terms of money, resources, or power) have a responsibility to help the oppressed?
Surprisingly, the movie’s villain, Erik Killmonger, has the most compassionate response: YES. While the Wakandan empire thrives technologically, scientifically, and financially, their prosperity is hidden from the rest of the world. Killmonger condemns Wakandan leaders for sitting comfortably in their secrecy instead of using their power to stop the oppression of people, specifically people of color, around the world.
This accusation does not fall on deaf ears. King T’Challa is broken by this. Over the course of the movie, he sees that though Killmonger’s plan to free oppressed people by creating a whole new system of oppression is not the right method, the villain’s diagnosis of the problem is accurate. Those who have been blessed do have a responsibility to help the oppressed. Wakanda had the technology, the resources, and the power to help those in need, and now, with the king’s new, enlightened perspective, Wakanda can actually make a difference.
Now, as the church, our blessing looks a little different. Many of us have been blessed financially. Some of use hold positions of power or are connected with people who can make things happen. But even deeper than those material blessings, we are so, so blessed. We have been purchased by the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-19). We have victory over death and we have the promise of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We have been chosen by God, adopted by him, redeemed by Jesus, forgiven of our sins, covered with the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:3-10). We have an inheritance.... we are co-heirs with Christ (Ephesians 1:11-12, Romans 8:16-17)! We’ve been given the Holy Spirit as a helper and a guarantee of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). We have everything we need.
So, since we have been immeasurably blessed, are we responsible to help the oppressed? Are we called to fight for justice? To use our blessings, our giftings, our resources, and our power to care for the hurting, the oppressed, and the marginalized?
Without question, yes!
As believers who have been set free from the slavery of sin, who have been transformed by the love of Jesus, who have been rescued from depravity, who have been given grace upon grace, we should be the fiercest fighters against injustice. We should have the loudest voices and swiftest feet when it comes to battling racism, misogyny, abuse, the destruction of families, and systems that permit abuse and protect abusers. We should be the most generous with our time, money, and lives. We should be the first to care for orphans and widows, the first to have compassion on the lost. The first to love our neighbors. The first to welcome refugees. We should be the first to take action to protect the most vulnerable. We should be the first to set aside our comforts and conveniences, get into the trenches, and fight for justice.
Micah 6:8 is a verse that sounds nice and looks pretty hanging on the living room wall, but it lays out a really hard calling: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. The parallel structure is pleasing to the ear, but in reality, it is a hard, messy, and bloody business. We are to fight for justice because we have been justified. We are to offer mercy because God has been merciful to us. And we are to walk humbly because without God, we are nothing.
When Killmonger first calls King T’Challa out regarding Wakanda’s apathy toward those who are suffering, T’Challa denies responsibility for “people who are not our own.”
How easy it is for us to distance ourselves from the suffering in the world, even in our own neighborhoods, with that same thought! They’re not my people, not my responsibility.
As it turns out, all people are our people. We all have the same origin; we were all, every single one of us, made in the image and likeness of God. Every single one of us was knit together by God in our mother’s womb. He has numbered every hair on our heads. He has sacrificed his Son to pay for the sins of all of us. Every single one of us is in need of Him. All people are like us. All people are our people.
These issues of social justice may seem political, but they’re not. They’re issues of imago Dei - the image of God. These injustices are attempts to mutilate and destroy the image of God. If we believe in the sanctity of human life, then we must fight against assaults on the image of God. Racism and discrimination. White supremacy. Police brutality. Sexual assault. Human trafficking. Abortion. The systematic murder of babies with Down Syndrome. Separation of refugee children from their parents. Systems that protect abusers. Pornography. Terrorists murdering school children. The death penalty.
Regardless of political preferences or your party’s stance on certain issues, we must stand for the sanctity of human life. We are ALL created in his image.
So, if we are in fact responsible for acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, what should we do?
Repent. Whether we have actively oppressed image bearers or passively stood by while it happened, we need to repent. We need to repent individually and corporately. The church has been wrong in its dealings with many social justice issues, from slavery to women’s rights to its treatment of LGBT people. In many ways we have not acted justly, shown mercy, or walked humbly. We need to confess this and turn from it.
Listen up. We are not nearly as smart as we think we are. The first things we need to do after repenting are listen and learn. We need to learn from people of color. From immigrants. From native peoples. From LGBT people. From people with disabilities and parents of people with disabilities. Our white, middle class, Bible-belt experience is not the only one that exists. There are innumerable resources available at our fingertips. Read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a TED talk. We must educate ourselves about the struggles, the oppression, and the suffering of the other 7 billion image bearers in the world.
Speak up. The church cannot remain silent when it comes to social justice issues. As believers, we must speak out against evil. We must condemn injustice. We must affirm the value of every single human life. Especially if we carry any sort of privilege, we must speak up and make things right. Call out racism when you hear it. Denounce policies that tear families apart. Write to your Congressmen (and women)!
Give. The internet is full of opportunities to donate to organizations that fight injustice. Give globally at sites like International Justice Mission, Preemptive Love Coalition, or Compassion International. Give locally at Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, or Evany Clinic. Give to your local church. Give to families in need (outside the church and within it).
Love. This one is hard. It requires us to step into the fray, to get our hands dirty, to put ourselves out there. It is not glamorous - these are the ordinary, nitty-gritty, every day acts of obedience that protect and promote the dignity of other people. This might look like becoming a foster parent, volunteering at a pregnancy clinic, teaching English to immigrants, or serving at a soup kitchen. This might mean inviting people over for dinner, starting a book club, being an ally, or attending a march. Mostly it means believing that all people are made in the image of God and then acting accordingly.
God help us act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you to preserve the dignity of all humanity for your glory and our good.