Christian Abolitionist William Wilberforce said “you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
There’s a revival happening in our (United States) culture today that’s centered on justice and making wrongs right. Many people are no longer willing to sit silently in the midst of wrong doing. The world is leading this transformation, and unfortunately, many others (especially those in the United States church communities) are sitting in silence, as if we are powerless. Many people have said, “Just preach the gospel”, but are we really preaching the gospel if we don’t follow through with action? The whole gospel compels us to action. It is a powerful force that fills its recipients with boldness, and will not allow a person to sit motionless or silent in the midst of their fellow brothers and sisters suffering. Belief in this complete gospel leads us to put aside our comforts for the sake of those who are in need.
God challenged us through the book of James by asking us “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things they need, what good is that?” We cannot neglect and overlook a person’s physical condition in the hopes that their soul will thrive in the Lord. If only teaching the Good News was more than sufficient, Jesus would not have healed the sick or fed the hungry, so why do we believe it’s ok to not follow as He led. What about the orphans (and those in foster care), the widows (and single parents), the wrongly imprisoned? What about the class and gender wage disparities (irrespective of education), sex and human trafficking victims (and their pimps who are also enslaved), those manipulated into the adult “entertainment” industry, dramatic increases in rent and mortgage costs, high costs of education that create a cycle of debt and bondage while providing only limited access to the few wealthy people, or what about the families and children caught in the cycles of physical and emotional abuse?
These are the many faces of the poor and oppressed in our society. We know these people. They are our siblings, parents, cousins, friends, neighbors, teachers, students, pastors, small group leaders, babysitter, car mechanic, etc. We see these people on a regular basis, but believing the full gospel compels us to see them fully. We don’t have to go far to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, invite the stranger in, clothe the cold person, take care of the sick, and sit with the imprisoned.
Even if we (as individuals) do not have the direct means to free those who are bound in these situations, we as one body are compelled to do our part to address the systems and laws that perpetuate the conditions that keep people weighed down and oppressed. We cannot look the other way when those in our communities are suffering, then wonder why we’ve lost the God given, chain breaking power that God anointed us with in the first place. We must be willing to do what Jesus did – walk, eat, sit, listen with the people in our communities and empathize with their conditions. Then, we will experience the true power we have to bring the Good News to the poor, proclaim freedom to the prisoners, bring recovery of sight to the blind, and set the oppressed people free. Now that you know, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.
Written for Rays of Light Philanthropic August 2019 newsletter – “Open Your Eyes”