This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: Courage to step up

Russia’s intervention in our democratic process and the government’s response have consumed the media’s attention lately. We are inundated with news of possible coverups by government officials.

John Powell

While this is important, inadequate attention is being given to policies that are unraveling the social framework of our communities. Though executive orders have not changed many laws, they have set in motion actions that drastically affect access to health care, education and criminal justice. Marginalized and vulnerable people are left to fend for themselves.

These conditions affect the way we relate to each other. Civility has left our vocabulary. Assaults, physical and verbal, are on the rise. Less attention is given to the proliferation of violence against racial and religious groups than to verbal racial attacks. On the international front, more than 50 million people have been forced to flee their countries because of war and Western imperialism.

Oppressed people are asking, “Will someone defend our cause?” Are we less concerned about our brothers and sisters everywhere than we are about “protecting our soil”?

These conditions affect me in many ways. What about you?

Do you get angry because of never-ending hostility around you? If you do, it’s OK if it’s righteous anger. That anger must be turned into action.

A friend jokingly called me a blood-sucking liberal. We laughed because we both confront “isms” that separate people and communities. Alone, I reflected on our conversation and admitted that if being a blood-sucking liberal meant advocating for the dispossessed and working to dismantle oppressive systems, then I claim that distinction. I am a compassionate person, and compassion heals.

It’s time for people of faith to step forward in this time of crisis. For different reasons, many of us hesitate to get involved. One might be that you may be labeled a blood-sucking liberal, and that’s not who you are. You see yourself as a compassionate person, but stepping forward puts you outside the norm of your community — even your faith community.

People of faith believe Scripture and understand God doesn’t have favorites. God accepts a religious expression that looks after the dispossessed and keeps oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27). God bids us to love, not hate, and make communities whole, where all nationalities, social and economic groups live in communion. God expects us to live and act outside the norms of our community if that community is oppressive.

It takes courage to step away from whatever it is that keeps you enslaved. Before you take a courageous act for reconciliation, you must have a courageous conversation with yourself. You must seek to discover what’s at stake for you and humanity. How you initially handle this question will bolster or weaken your resolve to enter the fray of discontent. You may initially recoil. Let God’s inner voice move you to act because you know that’s the just thing to do.

Mother Teresa once said, “Do not look for Jesus away from yourselves. He is not out there; he is in you. Keep your lamp burning, and you will recognize him.” To address the pressing issues of oppression, we must let our personal truth encounter God. Your community and the people of the world need you to act.
I pray that you will heed the inner voice of the Creator, resisting and persisting for reconciliation.

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

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