Sunday, January 06, 2008

What it means to live out justice

The Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance (http://www.dallaschristians.org/) is based on Matthew 25. Their mission is to live the radical love, compassion and justice of Jesus and to promote these values in religious and public discourse and policy. Below is an email I received that struck me as powerful:


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"When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (Isaiah 1:15-17)


An Open Letter to the "Light the Highway" Campaign

In December of 2007, a group of Christians, including members of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, initiated a "Light the Highway" campaign focused on Interstate I-35, linking the freeway to Isaiah 35:8 (New International Version):

"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it."

Beginning October 28 and ending December 1, the group engaged in 35 days of prayer, and several members conducted actions such as standing outside of sexually oriented businesses with "purity" written across the sunglasses they wore. Among the issues upon which the group focused their prayers were pornography, drug abuse, government corruption, and, somewhat surprisingly, workplace injustices. Their web site states, "As we, the church, walk in purity, we will see a new generation arise who will reform our nations so they can stay transformed!"The media that covered this initiative included CNN, Channel 8 and the Dallas Morning News. Below is the DACPA response to this initiative.


Dear Sisters and Brothers of the "Light the Highway" campaign:

The Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance (DACPA) is an organization of grassroots Christians founded with a mission to live the radical love, compassion and justice of Jesus and to promote these values in religious and public discourse and policy. We have become aware of your campaign through the media and would like to with your our own ideas as to how we can best respond to God's call to be just and righteous people.

The words of the prophet Isaiah provide a powerful challenge to us as we set about to bring the reign of God to "earth as it is in heaven": "Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight. And to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high." (Isaiah 58:3-4) Our piety means nothing if we do not act justly.

To tackle the "sins of I-35," the members of DACPA would look to Jesus' words as the focus of our concerns, just as we have done the last two Good Fridays when we conducted our Good Friday Walk to honor Jesus' teachings on the day of his death. In Matthew 25, he calls the nations to: Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Give water to the thirsty. Heal the sick. Welcome the stranger. Visit the prisoner. This is how the nations are judged. Our nation, unfortunately, has fallen short in these areas, as you recognize in some of your own efforts. How many of those around us living in poverty are often forced to seek out charity in sometimes humiliating circumstances that strip them of their dignity?

Jesus told us that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets. Along with Isaiah, let us look to the prophet Jeremiah, and to Jesus' brother James who, among so many others in the Bible, spoke so forcefully of the sin of not paying fair wages.

"Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
And does not give them their wage." (Jeremiah 22:13-15)

"Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts." (James 5:4)

So as we reflect on the sins of I-35, let us think of the low-wage workers toiling in businesses all along this highway, often without insurance to pay for their illnesses nor those of their families. And let us also remember the low-wage workers who labor in back-breaking and dangerous circumstances in the fields not far from the road that connects us to our neighbors to the south. Every day they put food on our tables and provide the sustenance that we need to live.

Along that by-way, do those strangers who live among us feel welcome? Or will they continue to serve as political footballs when their "offense" was entering this country to seek a way to provide for their families? Following I-35, the Pan-American Highway, south of the border, we might see valleys that had once been a patch-work of farms that provided work for many all year round. Those valleys are now filled with crops for export that now only provide a month's employment. We pray for God's will to extend beyond our borders.

And when we visit the jails in the communities along I-35, what will we find there? Will we find humane conditions and the opportunity for redemption, or will the word "corrections" ring hollow?

In the Bible, God spoke over 2000 times of the poor and almost as frequently of the oppressed. Let us put our efforts into making this world a just place, along the I-35 freeway and beyond, a place that takes God's word seriously. A place where those of many faith traditions and where all those who care for humanity can live in a community based on our shared values of economic and social justice.

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Not a Penny More?

"Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins." (Amos 5:11-12)

What is one more cent for a pound of tomatoes? For Burger King the cost is $250,000 per year-more than the company is willing to pay the people who pick those tomatoes. It's a lot of money, except when you consider that the top 12 executives of one of its major shareholders, Goldman Sachs, paid themselves $200 million in bonuses in 2006. But the company can't, or won't, afford .015% of the cost of those bonuses for the migrant farmworkers who do the torturous work of picking the tomatoes served in their restaurants.

Taco Bell and McDonalds, after public pressure, can afford that penny. We can pray for Burger King to turn from its efforts to force those companies to reverse their one-penny-per-pound increase and to follow their example. And the next time we or our friends or our family members step up to the counter for that fast food meal, let's also reflect on what that Burger King Whopper truly costs.
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