Charity and Justice

Mary Kay Sauter July 15, 2018

Scripture Isaiah 65:17–25

Good morning. It is an honor to be here this morning. You don’t know me in this role, so I’d like to explain some of what I believe so the sermon makes more sense:

The Bible: I do not take it literally—seriously, but not literally. Further, I don’t believe anyone takes it all literally, but rather we tend to take literally or seriously the parts that support our beliefs.

Jesus: I have a low Christology—that means I do not believe Jesus was God incarnate and was crucified because God needed a sacrifice. I can’t worship that God. I do believe that Jesus lived an incredible life showing us how we are to live faithful lives.

Theology: My theology is Process Theology. In every moment of every day, God knows what our choices should be for there to be true peace and harmony throughout the world. In the next moment, given all our choices, God knows what our choices should be. God doesn’t control us, it’s not about free will—if it were, God could take it back and fix the world. God is limited by our choices. Everything in our past is also an influence—genetics, upbringing, books, movies, friends, school—everything that has happened to us. Sometimes our past works with God and sometimes against. Our job is to be as open to God as we can. That takes trust. We can trust God—a loving God we do not need to fear, ever.

Congregation: I realize there is a broad continuum of people here. Some will agree with me and others won’t. Let’s talk. In the meantime, remember that our Congregational/UCC denomination believes in freedom of the pulpit, so we can preach whatever we believe we are called to preach. We are also a non-creedal church, so you don’t have to agree with me.

Finally, I am very grateful to the people on the Racial Justice Task Force and the Immigrant Welcoming Working Group and Plymouth’s staff. I have learned so much from all of you and am grateful for you.

Let us pray:

You are here. You bless us. Open our hearts and minds to hear your word this day. Amen.

*             *             *

The group gathered by the river for a picnic. It was a lovely summer day, the water was clear and flowed by swiftly. They ate their food, drank their wine, the children played tag—talk and laughter filled the air. It was lovely. Without warning, all changed. Bodies began hurtling down the river. As one, the folks jumped up, waded and swam in and began pulling the bodies out of the river. Those who weren’t dead were tended to. More bodies kept coming and coming—it was overwhelming. Someone yelled—some of you stay here and keep the rescue going; we’ll head upstream and see what’s causing this horror. Did I go too dark too fast? That’s life.

This story is often used to explain the difference between charity and justice. Charity is tending to people—feeding, clothing, housing, offering medical care. Justice is determining why folks are in these situations and doing something about the cause. Justice is creating a world described in our Isaiah reading. Both are important. Both need our attention. Charity is usually easier and makes us feel good. Justice is harder, more complicated and sometimes we don’t feel so good when we realize we are part of the cause. The cause in one shape or another is about oppression—the -isms that many people face every day: racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism and more. As people of faith, we need to take this very seriously because God is on the side of the oppressed.

It’s okay if you’re not buying this. When Rev. Dr. Carolyn Pressler, Old Testament professor at United Theological Seminary, said to our class “God is on the side of the oppressed,” it did not go over well. We argued—mainly we said, “Yes, but, . . . yes, but, God loves everyone.” Then we figured out that, yes, God loves everyone, even the oppressor, even people like Hitler, but that doesn’t mean that God is on the side of the oppressor. Because of God’s incredible, pure love for all of creation, God can only be on the side of the oppressed. God was never on and is not on the side of slavery, the buying and selling of humans, the breeding of humans to increase one’s stock, the whipping, murder, lynching of humans. God was never on and is not on the side of homophobes, those who hate LGBTQ people and people with different gender identities because of who they are, as they work to imprison them, “cure them” and even have them legally killed.

God has never been on and is not on the side of misogynists, those who hate women, want to control us, feel justified in punishing us, sometimes still invoking Eve’s name—after all, sin is all her fault. Nor is God on the side of an Internet group called Incels: Men who believe women are to blame for their being celibate. We don’t understand our role. One of them was the Toronto driver. God was not on and is not on the side of those who take away land, colonize a people’s land, as we did with the people native to this land. God was never on and is not on the side of those who demean, dismiss and devalue differently abled people. God was never on and is not on the side of those who persecute others because of their religion. God was never on and is not on the side of those who believe that because they have more money, they are better than others. I thought greed wrong, but there are those who believe it is good, even though the greed for power over others is usually at the basis of the -isms. As Rev. James Forbes, a Black preacher and pastor emeritus at Riverside Church in New York City, said in a speech to Black college students—racism is an intramural sport compared to classism . . . which we can’t even talk about. God was never on the side of, is not on the side of, those who believe they are better than everyone else because they have more money, are white, are male, are straight, see themselves as winners. No, if being a winner means you are an oppressor, God is not working within or through you.

Now, of course, this gets more complicated because most of us are both—oppressed and oppressor. When I have thrown out an idea at a meeting only to have it ignored, and then 15 minutes later have the same idea applauded when suggested by a guy, I am being oppressed. Whenever women have been silenced, or made fun of, or haven’t had the same opportunities as men, have been raped or have experienced domestic or workplace abuse, we are oppressed and often blamed. But when I respond in a racist, classist, heterosexist way, even when I really, really don’t want to, I am the oppressor. God’s love cannot work through us when we are the oppressor. God’s love works through us when we are working against oppression. In keeping with Process Theology—we are only open to God when our choice is to work against oppression; we are closed off from God when our choice is to oppress. And it can be so subtle. Like White privilege.

Those of us on the Racial Justice Working Group have been studying White privilege. As we have become more aware, it has lost some of its subtlety but is still insidious. It’s a privilege those of us who are white take for granted, don’t even realize it exists, for it is just life—it is the norm; it is just how things are done. White privilege means I can go over the speed limit without fear of being stopped, certainly without fear of being arrested, unlike many of our nonwhite brothers and sisters—the statistics are amazing. I have tried driving slower in solidarity but then I’m just another old white-haired woman going the speed limit, which can be very frustrating. But what about DWB, Driving While Black? I know a Black psychiatrist who lives in Minnetonka and works in Saint Paul—he is stopped on the freeway numerous times a year . . . after all, what is a Black man doing driving a fancy car? He must be doing something illegal. I can go into any store or coffee shop and not fear accusations of shoplifting. I’m not followed around in a store. I can ask to use the restroom. I don’t fear when a cop comes in for a cup of coffee. Not true for our nonwhite sisters and brothers. White privilege exists, everywhere; these are but a few examples.

Here’s a surprise from Glenn Beck, former Fox news reporter—I am quoting from a New Yorker article: “‘I did a lot of freaking out about Barack Obama.’ But, he said, ‘Obama made me a better man.’ He regrets calling the President a racist and counts himself a Black Lives Matter supporter. ‘There are things unique to the African-American experience that I cannot relate to,’ he said. ‘I had to listen to them.’”[1] Never underestimate the power of God’s love when shared with others.

Melanie Morrison is a White UCC pastor who has done extensive anti-racism work following in the footsteps of her father, Truman Aldrich Morrison, Jr. (Senior was an ardent segregationist) and recently was in town speaking. In her book Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham, she quotes her father: “To love God you must work for justice, and justice cannot be realized in this country until racism is eradicated!” So, for justice to be done in any of the areas mentioned, we must first acknowledge that justice is missing, determine what the world would look like if there was justice and work towards that end—listening to those who have been oppressed, changing oppressive laws, because even if it’s legal that doesn’t make it ethical or moral. After all, slavery was legal, executing LGBTQ people was legal, paying women less for the same job was legal, taking native land was legal. We must build relationships, eradicate greed, even if there are those who say it is good, and make peace with our brothers and sisters. We never know when what we say or do can make a difference.

Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family” closes with “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” There is no DNA for race. Race was created by the powerful to separate the White lower class and the Black lower class when, together, they objected to how they were treated. In this country, it took place in the late 1600s in Virginia and Maryland: Laws were enacted that gave lower-class Whites privileges not given the lower-class Blacks. The law very successfully pitted them against each other. To this day, fear of the Other on both sides keeps us separate when we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

What if instead of bemoaning, or fearing, or belittling our differences, we celebrated them? What if we built bridges across our differences? What if we realized that we can learn the most from each other because of our differences? How might the world be different today if the opinions of women, people from different ethnic groups, religions, gender orientations and races and differently abled people had been as valued over the years as White men’s? Women, for example, not being trusted because we are too emotional and can’t think straight. After all new studies show that all of us feel first and then think—women don’t have to rationalize the emotions away; we know how to live with the emotions. Further, some believe that long ago it was felt women needed to be controlled because of the power we have to bleed for five days and not die. Sounds ridiculous now, but giving birth was a mystery as well.

When will we begin to really value our differences and, at the same time, recognize how much alike we are? Rather than believe—as some do and have through all the colonizing that has taken place throughout the world, including in this country—that Christian, straight white guys are superior to everyone. Don’t get me wrong. I know some amazing Christian, straight white guys. I’m married to one—50 years, next year—and most of the time, we value our differences.

Let me offer a little pastoral care here, because this is heavy stuff. It seems as if we’re more divided. Fear and hate are increasing. Many of us are depressed. We have lost something—an understanding of who we thought we were as a nation—and also now realize that the fear and the hate have always been there. I was speaking with a therapist at a Trampled by Turtles concert, and she said that she is seeing more depressed people and is doing more marriage counseling because the differences are more evident. Some of us are grieving, which involves denial, anger, depression and acceptance. I recognize now that I have been in denial, angry and depressed. Acceptance is next. We must be careful with the acceptance—it doesn’t mean that we accept the world as it is. We accept that, for now, this is our reality and we work to change it—we seek justice. To do this we need hope.

Hope—hope is what we’re all looking for. I find hope in heroes, and often my heroes aren’t the famous. Adun Sam On—14 years old, stateless, one of 12 youth in the Thai cave. Knows four languages and was the interpreter for the Brits who got to them first, as well as helping keep the younger ones safe. Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, the coach who, after hearing they had gone in and were missing, went in after them and got them through partly by teaching them mediation—not by shaming them to act like men, but by compassion and gentleness. David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and others who survived the Florida school shooting and are on tour—encouraging people to sign up to vote and calling for sane gun laws. They were in town for Pride this year. Nancy Nord Bence, ELCA pastor, executive director of Protect Minnesota: Articulate and compassionate, she cares deeply about the 80 percent of gun deaths in rural Minnesota that are suicides and anybody whose life is damaged because of gun violence.

My heroes are the parents and their children who have been separated at the borders and the lawyers, judges and nonprofit groups who are working to unite these families. My heroes are people who demonstrated against the policy, like the 7,000 people who marched in Minneapolis a couple of Saturdays ago, including my granddaughters. My husband Orv and I were debating whether to go when we received a text from our daughter Carrie saying they were going: Did we want to go along? End of debate: We went and saw other Plymouth people there. Our granddaughter Phia suggested it to some school friends and one of the families made shirts to sell that said on the back, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. —Desmond Tutu.” Half of the money went to RAICES attorneys working pro bono to reunite families in Texas. Another hero is John Humphrey and 17 others who chose to nonviolently stop people from getting to work at the Whipple Building, home to the ICE five-state headquarters. They stopped deportations for a week—the Icebreakers 18 broke the law and will be in court. I have many heroes from the past—the LGBTQ people and allies who organized the successful defeat of the marriage amendment—Plymouth had a huge role in that. My heroes are all the leaders, organizers and participants who through the ages have helped bring about justice.

Justice and Charity—Plymouth people do both very well and have from the beginning, when the church was burned down because of our anti-slavery positions and opposition to the alcohol and prostitution businesses, to today, whether it is housing or feeding or seeking justice for all our neighbors, through Great River Landing, Re-Imagining a World Without Violence, Playshop’s migration play and much more. You can do something today. From noon to 6 in Loring Park is the Twin Cities World Refugee Event with music, food and speakers.

Our work isn’t done. You can sign up to receive e-mails from both the Racial Justice Task Force and the Immigration Welcoming Working Group so you know what is happening and can participate. In all things, we must never stop seeking justice, working against oppression within ourselves and oppression directed at our neighbors. We are to love God with our whole being and our neighbors as ourselves—everyone is our neighbor. Let’s create a world where no one destroys or hurts anyone in God’s creation. Please, let’s do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God, who is with us every moment of every day and knows the best choices we can make and needs us to make those choices. Amen.

[1]Nicholas Schmidle, “Glenn Beck Tries Out Decency,” The New Yorker, November 14, 2016, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/14/glenn-beck-tries-out-decency (accessed July 19, 2018).