Another is the series of fictitious emails between me and an imaginary parishioner.
I have to say your last email challenged me a little. I never thought of Jesus as having a different love for different people. To be honest, I am not sure I buy into your interpretation of the parable of the lost sheep. I think Jesus loves all people equally, and is not a respecter of individual persons. The relationship with my wife made more sense to me. I can only imagine how she would react if I told her that I love all people when she wants to know if I love her. I think your example would be stronger if instead of saying, “I love all people,” the husband says, “I love all women!” If I said that I would be lucky to be sleeping on the sofa!
But that raises another question. Are you saying that all African-Americans are lost sheep? That seems a little derogatory to me. I know the history of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow laws, but we should be far past that now. That was all in the past. Today things are very different for African-American people. We even had an African-American president! We have had civil rights acts and voting rights acts, and school desegregation and affirmative action. Isn’t time for people to stand on their own two feet?
I worked hard to get to where I am today. I hate to say this, but I don’t think it is fair to give an advantage to any group. I think we have to meet on an equal playing field.
Yours in Christ,
Thanks again for your email. I am glad to see that you are wrestling with these issues! Sometimes I wish life was easy, and all the answers were easy answers. We are both trying to dive into things that are really complicating and challenging. These last few weeks, people have really trying to become educated about BIPOC issues. (That stands for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, by the way.)
You raised two significant issues in your email, and I want to try to respond to both of them. The first was about Jesus and how he treats all people equally. Another parishioner recently shared this with me:
Jesus said much more that leads us to think he did not see all people equally. He was accused of hanging out with sinners, and he plead guilty to that charge. He says he came to save sinners, he came to help sick people. Latin American theologians talk about “God’s preferential option for the poor.” That stems from the passage in Luke where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor.” (Luke does not add, “in spirit.”) At the beginning of Luke, when Mary is told that she will bear the Savior of the World, she says:
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:50-53)
The “he” she is referring to is Jesus, of course. This text was banned for while in Argentina and El Salvador, by the way. Reading it in church could land you in prison, or worse. Clearly here Mary is saying that Jesus does not see all people equally. The rich, the proud, the rulers are on Jesus’ naughty list, and the humble, the poor, lepers, the blind and the lame, and all manner of sinners are accepted by Jesus. (I am going to use shorthand here, and refer these groups of people as the marginalized.)
This is not just true of Jesus. We see this throughout all of scripture. In Psalm 72, the psalmist is praying for the king. He prays the King would be powerful and mighty, and that all the nations will bow down to him. What is it that makes him great?
For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
I know that we like to think that all people were created equal, just like our Declaration of Independence says. (Actually it says all men are created equal. It took a while for women to be included, and within a few years they would define Blacks as three fifths of a person. Hardly equal!) I think we do better talking about equity, not equality. Our system assumes that from the get go, everyone is equal. Well to be honest, the Founding Fathers wrote great things about what America could be. Living up to that ideal has proven to be a challenge, even for the people who wrote them.
Finally I want to address your concerns about whether I am being derogatory when I refer to all Blacks as lost sheep. Clearly not every black person is lost. I did not mean that as a derogatory statement. But the fact is, racism has played such a large role in our nation, from its founding to today, that I think it is fair to say that many, most people of color are lost in the wilderness of America that racism created.
Think of this way.
Imagine you’re playing a game of monopoly. For the first 400 moves, your opponent gets everything. When you pass go, he gets $200. If you win a beauty contest, he gets the $25. You are not allowed to buy properties, and you are not allowed to get any money. If you get the card that says, “Advance to Boardwalk,” you cannot use it because you are not allowed in that area of the board. If you go to Boardwalk, you will be thrown in jail. Those are the rules for the first 400 moves. (Just to be clear, those are the years of slavery in the United States.)
Finally the rules change. For the next 100 moves you are allowed to buy properties, if you can ever manage to scrap up some money. But you can only buy Mediterranean and Baltic avenues. Maybe on Oriental, if the bank feels generous. And you still can’t land on any properties other than utilities and railroads on the rest of the board. If the dice don’t take you there, you can’t move. Oh, and your opponent is allowed three rolls of the dice for your every move. To top it all off, if you do something your opponent does not like, he can take or burn all your money. That corresponds to the years of Jim Crow laws.
The rules change once again. You are allowed onto all the properties, but if you want to buy any, you have to buy them from your opponent. He gets to control all the deeds, and can give the deeds he wants you to have, not necessarily the ones you can afford. Oh, and you have your own Chance and Community Chest cards, and every third card is a “Go to Jail” card. “Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” And there are no get out of jail cards. That goes on for fifty moves.
Finally your opponent says, “You know, you may have had some disadvantages in the last few rounds. From now on we will be playing by the same rules. Oh, don’t think I am going to let you have any of my properties or money. You are on your own, just as I was. You have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, just like I did.” Then he has the gall to say, “From now on, we will play as equals.”
Is that what equality is about? I don’t think so. We don’t need equality, we need equity. I’m going to end this with a drawing that shows the difference between equality and equity.
I don’t think Jesus has a problem with the small kid having two boxes, and the tall kid having none.
Again, thanks for hanging in there with me.
Yours in Christ,