Discourse presented at Red River UU in Denison, Texas – December 4, 2022
Sometimes being for love and justice in the world requires us to work against those forces in the world that perpetuate hate, violence, and injustice. My discourse this morning addresses the difficult and complex reality of how living a life for love and justice leads us to actively work against the systems of hate and injustice in the world.
We cannot be fully for something unless we are also against the systems that keep what we are for from coming into reality. We cannot simply all get along with each other when some of us are supporting systems and beliefs that are unjust and harming others. Getting along with each other in that context would be perpetuating the injustice and harm.
If we say we are for racial justice, but we do nothing to work against the systems that perpetuate racial injustice, then we really are not for racial justice.
We cannot be for love and justice without being against hate and injustice. We cannot be for democracy without being against autocracy and fascism.
We cannot be for the poor without being against the economic systems that exploit them.
We cannot be for women without being against patriarchy.
We cannot be for the liberation of the oppressed without being against those who oppress them.
With the world’s climate scientists informing us that we have less the 10 years to make a radical shift away from fossil fuels, we cannot be for climate justice without being against long term infrastructure projects that continue to make us dependent on the use of fossil fuels.
We cannot be for Beloved Community without being against the evils of racism, poverty, militarism, and ecocide.
Being for something without being against anything is most likely going to change nothing. Those with excessive amounts of wealth and power are fine with other persons being for a number of causes as long as they don’t actually start working against that which keeps them rich and powerful.
Being against injustice in the world is not easy, nor is it a risk free task. Martin Luther King Jr. was not killed because he had a dream, he was murdered because he worked against the systems keeping the dream from becoming a reality. And it should be noted that very little frustrated King more than so called white moderates who said they were for racial justice, but who were against taking the actions necessary to make it a reality.
If Jesus had only been for love and for the forgiveness of our individual sins, he might have died of old age, but he was also against injustice and oppression, and Rome would not allow that.
No one benefits more from the narrative that Jesus “died for our sins “ than the purveyors of empire who would prefer that we not focus on the fact that Jesus was executed because he was seen as a political threat to the empire. Empires would much rather we see Jesus’ death as a sacrifice of blood atonement for our wrongdoings instead of seeing it as the unjustified execution of an innocent person who rather than dying to bleed for our sins, was murdered because he was living to liberate persons from oppression. Empires would much rather we point the finger of blame for Jesus’ death at our own individual sins rather than seeing it as the state sponsored murder of a person who was bringing good news to the poor and liberation of the oppressed in resistance to the unjust systems of empire.
The Christian denomination that I have served as a minster for 32 years provides us with another illustration. Over the past 54 years, the United Methodist Church has been a case study of a muddled middle expression of centrism that cannot hold. It is a case study that shows us we cannot be for some things without being against other things.
For the sake of unity, my United Methodist Church allowed our institutions to be both for and against the same things. We said we were for the inclusion of all people, but we were against actually including all people in the full life and ministry of our churches. We said we were for caring for all creation, but we were against divesting from the fossil fuel industry that is destroying a livable climate. We said we were for peace, but we were not against honoring a United Methodist president who executed one of the most unjust wars in our nation’s history. We said we were for immigrants and refugees, yet we were against holding a United Methodist attorney general accountable for using a warped interpretation of Romans Chapter 13 to justify separating refugee children from their families and holding them in detention camps.
Now that the United Methodist Church is splintering in spite of its misguided efforts to preserve unity by being both for and against the same things, will my denomination finally recognize that we are not called to be the muddled middle but rather to draw the circle of inclusive love wide, bring peace and justice to all creation, and welcome the stranger? Will we finally recognize that the Beloved Community does not come through the muddled middle of centrism but rather through the revolution of values that only radical love and justice can bring? Will we finally recognize that being for love, justice, peace, and the care of all creation means that we have to be against the evils of racism, prejudice against persons who are LGBTQ2S+, poverty, militarism, and ecocide?
In the fierce urgency of now, the world does not have time for religious institutions to be both for and against the same things in the false hope of maintaining unity for the sake of institutional survival. What we need now are both religious and non-religious institutions to take the well-being and survival of the world and humanity more seriously than institutional survival. And if we are for the world’s survival, we have to to be against all of the systems that are tearing it apart.