This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: Fighting the ‘bear’

Hardly anyone could have imagined the dramatic shift in relationships that has happened in the past year in the United States. Our communities have become edgy, waiting for the next tragedy to happen.

John Powell

The madness that holds us captive is reminiscent of Days of Our Lives, a television soap opera where the characters deal with drama and tragedy every day. But our current experience isn’t fiction. These are the real days of our lives.

A significant part of society that is not white and rich is deemed un-American and treated unjustly. The Supreme Court has upheld a ban on immigrants from some Muslim and South American countries. Unqualified, ultraconservative judges have been appointed to federal posts. Taxes have been restructured to favor the wealthy.

Attacks on people in the margins of society have increased. People in power, including religious leaders, proclaim Christian values while publicly violating them. An ultraright mindset has pitted people against each other. Many are embracing, normalizing and giving tacit approval to prejudiced thinking and actions.

Civil and human rights that have been gained through blood, sweat and tears are being dismantled. God and country have merged. Direct action by justice-seeking people must intensify to assure that human rights and people’s dignity are protected.

In a recent conversation with civil rights activists, many indicated they were emotionally drained. They have observed obstacles being put in place to silence them. Municipalities are enacting ordinances that supposedly are meant to protect the peace but in fact are aimed at quelling the voices of those seeking justice.

In Washington, religious leaders were arrested at the Hart Senate Office Building while reading biblical passages that say God has a special love for outcasts.

In the midst of this turmoil, many are asking, “How can we keep going?”

We keep going because our communities desperately need healing. People who work for justice need fortification for the struggle ahead. We must be a prophetic voice for the outcasts. We need each other and our Creator to lead us in paths of justice. We need spiritual vitality for the struggle. And we need to look in the right places for it. For some of our neighbors, the current government and its leaders have become the god that will make everything all right. I believe people of faith must reject this claim. We do not trust self-proclaimed saviors.

I believe in kneeling for justice. While kneeling, do something. Pray! The prophet Micah tells us to walk humbly with God. Praying is a big step toward humility. It helps us discern how to care for ourselves and others. When our Creator walks with us, and we humble ourselves, we can discern what steps to take next.

People of faith in my Southern community always sought divine counsel as they dealt with oppression. Non­believers would mock them: “Prayer is all right in a prayer meeting, but it ain’t worth nothing in a bear meeting.” These people of faith did not heed the scoffers. They fought the “bear” of injustice with prayer, which led to action. Prayer was then, and is today, a powerful weapon for justice.

Sisters and brothers in the struggle, prayer is power. Let’s use it!

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

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