When Israel left Egypt, they were given a Law to follow. Most people know the 10 Commandments. Or at the very least, they know the 10 Commandments exist. Some of those other laws, however, are less known. Because let’s face it: reading a book of numbers, a book of priestly duties, and a book that repeats and summarizes everything in the previous three books can get kind of boring.
(My apologies to all my Old Testament professors for such a poor job of describing Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.)
But when we pay attention, we learn that from the beginning of God’s covenant with God’s people, God was concerned with how the people pushed to the margins were treated. The weak. The defenseless.
Consider these examples from Exodus:
“Do not wrong or oppress any outsiders living among you, for there was a time when you lived as outsiders in the land of Egypt” (22:21).
“You must not take advantage of any widow or orphan. If you do oppress them and they cry out to Me, I will certainly hear them, and My wrath will be kindled” (22:22-24a).
“Do not deny justice to the poor among you in their disputes” (23:6).
Outsiders (or foreigners; or immigrants). Widows. Orphans. The poor.
These are the voiceless. These are the ones God’s people need to speak for.
Throughout the Law, there are repeated calls to take care of these groups of people. Those calls continue through the Psalms. The Prophetic books detail punishment on God’s people resulting from their failure to watch out for people who were pushed aside. In fact, in Amos goes so far as to say God hates the worship of the Israelite people because they have neglected justice.
When Jesus began His public ministry, He quoted from Isaiah pronouncing that He would be going to the lost, the poor, the hurting, the lonely, the oppressed.
One of the Apostle Paul’s main objectives on his missionary trips was collecting money from richer Christians (who were often more generous than they were wealthy) to distribute among the poorer Christians. Paul was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles because he spent so much time proclaiming how the Jewish Messiah was the Savior for all people.
In his letter, James wrote that pure religion is that which looks after those who are in need: the widow, the orphan, the poor.
For those who are voiceless, the people of God should be viewed as advocates. The people of God should be looked to as people of refuge, security, and justice. The people of God should be the ones speaking up for those whom no one else will listen to.
So, people of God, I ask us all this question: are we doing it? Are we being a voice to the voiceless? Are we advocating for those with no power? Are we relieving the suffering of the hurting? Are we providing for those who have nothing? Are we giving homes to the homeless? Are we speaking up?
Stuff has been crazy for the last two weeks.
Do you know what is wrong with that statement?
Primarily this: stuff has been crazy for years. The last two weeks have just highlighted part of that problem.
Ever since the Ferguson grand jury came back with no indictment, social media has exploded. Many have been decrying the system and its inherent weaknesses and injustices. Many have been saying justice was done and everyone just needs to accept it.
Some have attempted to start conversations and some have just yelled. Some Christian leaders have spoken up and others have tried to avoid addressing any current event situation.
Then the Eric Garner grand jury came back with no indictment in spite of the video and the medical examiner ruling the death a homicide. More anger. More yelling. More avoidance of the issues.
Protests keep popping up in cities all across the country and the world. Some observers are supportive and realize the message that is being delivered: we are being disregarded and it needs to stop. Other observers respond with annoyance, rage, and dismissiveness.
What are we missing? How can things be so contentious in 2014?
I believe one of the major problems to be this: those who are in the majority people group (in this case, White people) have failed to truly listen to the voices of the people in the minority people group.
Consider the history of Black people in America: from the 1620s until the 1860s they were treated as a commodity: kidnapped, chained, transported to another country, sold, beaten, bred, worked to near death. They were not even considered fully human. From the 1860s to the 1960s, slavery was no longer allowed, but indentured servanthood was. “Separate but equal” was the rule.
340 years of oppression, suppression, and generally being disregarded. We just celebrated the 50 year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. 340 years is much more than 50. More than 8 generations of oppression followed by just over 1 generation of (supposed) freedom.
Do we really think everything is going to be okay that quickly?
We must listen to the voices of the millions of people in our nation who feel they are treated as less than. We must listen to the voices of the millions of people who are afraid of the people hired to protect us. We must listen to the voices of the millions of people who live in neighborhoods that are financially deprived. We must listen to the voices of the people who are protesting. (Side note: did you realize that the protests have been occurring daily for the past 122 days? They did not start with the grand jury decision; they started the night Michael Brown was killed.)
Are we willing to listen?
There are people hurting in your communities. They believe they have no voice. Will you be willing to do two things?
First, listen to them. No reply. No explanation. No defensiveness. Just listening. Listen to their stories. Listen to their hurt. If you feel you must ask any questions, make them questions of clarification or explanation. Listen to the experiences people have endured.
Second, only after you have truly listened, lend your voice to theirs. Speak out right along with them. Be bold in what you say. Let people you regularly interact with learn the lessons you have learned. Understand that for voiceless people to have their story heard, people need to listen and then lend their voice.
This will not solve all of our problems. This will not cure all of our society’s ills. But maybe it can short circuit some of the arguing. When people post pictures and make comments that rub you the wrong way, listen to the pain behind the statement. Before you dismiss someone by telling them to get over it consider the past experience that has led to their current pain.
Then, maybe you can share some of those things, as well; pictures like the one at the end of this post. You might upset some people. You might make some people angry. But that’s okay. In order to process our hurts and move to a better place, we will need to move through some discomfort.
So, people of God, I ask again: will we do it? Will we be a voice to the voiceless? Will we advocate for those with no power? Will we relieve the suffering of the hurting? Will we provide for those who have nothing? Will we give homes to the homeless?
Will we listen?
Will we speak up?