Which Side Are You On? A Call to Our Christian Elders
March 2004

Many Churches today stand on the side of empire building, militarism, and injustice. They do not speak out on issues such as racial or religious profiling, national ID cards, or the careful dismantling of our civil rights with the USA Patriot Act. Instead, they use their pulpits to sound the call of war and white supremacist and patriarchal domination of the earth and all of its inhabitants. They echo this death call in their congregations or they are silent. Their silence creates a moral, spiritual and political crisis for Christians and for the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us in 1963 from the Birmingham Jail that more often than not the Church stood on the side of the status quo and the forces of oppression. He said, "The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."

Today the church's silence requires those of us long distance runners who believe that the church must stand on the side of peace, justice, non violence and spiritual growth to use our authority as witnesses and elders to step into this vacuum and build a radical Christian movement. We can use our power in the church as an elder to initiate conversation about the violence of our national and international policies. We must also use our power to demand that the church be a source of truth and a safe harbor for those who hunger for justice, peace and spiritual wholeness.

We are called upon to be on the front line of building up a new world, both inside and beyond the church. To imagine gray haired witnesses as active and front line participants in a struggle for peace and justice is a radical notion in a culture that diminishes the value of older people. It turns our understanding of movement building upside down and gives older people a more front line and activist role. In thinking about movements, we usually envision youth as the frontline organizers with the strength and agility to stand the body blows of state repression. We also believe that youth possess the daring and energy to point out our contradictions.

We face a different reality today. Young people today have lived most of their lives under a rightwing political movement and popular discourse that undermine the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Movement, Lesbian and Gay Movement and other social justice movements. Today they continue to live under a right wing leadership that fragments our connections to God, each other and the environment. Within this non-relational world, young people get the message that a good life means self-absorption and survival of the fittest. Very few of our public or private institutions encourage them to feel deeply, care about others, or believe that they can make a difference in the world. Rather, we thwart their feelings, hope, and spirits by saddling them with huge college loans and credit cards that inhibit their ability to meaningfully engage life.

Who will go before power and speak for our young? Will we step forward and say send me? We must. We are called upon as gray haired witnesses to open up the world for them and to ignite in them the passion, hope and vitality that our communities stirred in us during our young adulthood.

As gray haired witnesses, many of us feel powerless in the face of all of this bad news. However, we are not powerless. We are the largest population of voters in this country. United we can change the course of US domestic and foreign policy and hold the line on our civil liberties. Our power also comes from our survival as witnesses to the astounding changes that ordinary people brought about during the Civil Rights and other post World War II democracy struggles.

Over and against the voices of Christian coalitions and forces that spray communities and the land with violence and blood, our testimonies as a mighty cloud of gray haired witnesses offer tangible evidence of another way. Our testimonies must underscore the radical and humanizing meaning of Jesus' message and witness. It is important to remind the world Jesus preached a healing spiritual and social message that makes whole our social and spiritual brokenness. It is not a message that maintains the status quo. Nor is it a message of materialism. The call to live life abundantly is not a call to capitalism or materialism. Instead it is a call to rearrange social structures and our spiritual practices in ways that encourage us individually and collectively to live more fully and lovingly.

Love, memory and hope must be at the center of our work for peace and justice. With love, we turn our vision toward God and each other. We develop a new vision of the world that causes a radical change in the core of our being. Love is relational and mutual. It changes and rights our connections with God, each other and all of creation.

Memory helps unveil the lies of systemic injustice. Without memory, we forget who God has been for us, and who we have been for each other. Without memory, powers and principalities fashion us in their images, and we forget what it means to be made in God's image. Without memory, they make us believe that their work is more important than the people's work. Without memory, the powers and principalities rewrite the people's history and make us believe that they are the winners, and we are the losers. Memory builds our hope and gives us the courage to resist injustice and to creatively build a new world. Memory and hope are intertwined. Where there is a loss of memory, there is a lack of hope.

Today we face a world where the President and his allies try to erode our memories by creating false ones that place them on the side of peace and justice. In doing this, they appropriate freedom language that comes out of the peoples' yearning and struggles for justice and peace. They use their power and access to power to convince us to turn away from our social and religious resolve to fight disease, war, poverty, illiteracy and bigotry. Instead, they tell us that the world is an unsafe place where our security and safety require us to kill or be killed. They also tell us that it is not only our patriotic duty to join them, but it is also our Christian duty. In doing so, they call us to our lowest potential as a nation and as Christians. They call us to a vision of Christianity where we march forward in lock step with the cross in one hand and the gun in another.

Using homeland security after 9/11 as a rationale for an endless war on terrorism, President Bush and his allies seek to unify the nation with fear. They tell us that national ID cards, neighbor to neighbor spying through Operation TIPS, racial and religious profiling, suspension of our amendment rights, rounding up and detaining the most vulnerable members of our society and government spying on our emails and reading materials keep the bad guys out and strengthen our national union.

As Americans and Christians, we know that they are downright wrong! Our history teaches us that fear does not unify us or make us more secure. Instead, it seeds and grows the social and spiritual disfigurements of hate, repression and systemic injustice. These malformations contaminate and diminish all of our lives and cause us to demonize and dismiss strangers and outsiders. In short, hate breaks and severs our connections with God, the environment and others.


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