There is an old saying that makes its way through church and seminary communities rather regularly: The purpose of the Gospel is to comfort the afflicted ... and afflict the comfortable!
It seems to me that much that is called “religious” in this world is consumer-driven and all too often obsessed with upholding the status quo of the comfortable. But this is clearly not the Gospel of Jesus, nor is it the faith of the Hebrew prophets.
One of the reasons I fervently support the work of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry is that it holds the local faith community accountable for doing the very work we are called to do.
We all preach and teach, as we should, we all do ministries of mercy, feeding the hungry, providing medical care and providing emergency relief in times of disaster or tragedy, as well we should. But we are far less intentional about doing justice.
And yet, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament call us to do this work as well. When systems of power treat the poor, the marginalized or the weak unjustly, indeed, when people are even exploited because they do not have power, the faith community is bound by its own holy writings to be that prophetic voice, or as Jesus put it, to be light in the darkness and salt in a bland and adulterated world. And in order to do this work well and effectively, we need each other.
To this end, it is rather astounding that, in just two short years, we have begun to build, not only a coalition, but a family of goodwill and trust, a family that is Protestant and Catholic, Christian, Jewish and Unitarian, black and white.
And together, with one voice, we have spoken on behalf of the children and youth of Charleston, asking our school representatives to work with us in insuring that our children read at grade level, maximizing their chances for success in academics and in life; and asking our law enforcement to assist us in reducing the incarceration rate for youthful, nonviolent offenders, seeking instead alternative programs other than the “pipeline to prison” that incarceration so often serves.
Let me be clear: Our educators and law enforcement officials are not oppressors; they are our partners in seeking the public good. But all systems need fresh and objective insight and mutual accountability.
And so in the New Year that is nearly upon us, we will begin again to gather and to work.
In the spring, we expect many thousands to gather for our Nehemiah Assembly, many colors, different faith languages, but one voice. A voice to speak loudly and clearly in a world in which, all too often, solitary voices and cries for justice go unheard.
In a very real sense, the work of justice completes all the other ministries that we seek to accomplish. For it is senseless to preach what we do not practice.
Father Dow Sanderson, rector of the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston
Features - Church of the Holy Communion. (Alan Hawes/Staff) 7/12/09 ¬ ¬ Published caption 7/19/2009: The Rev. Dow Sanderson, rector of the Church of the Holy Communion, administers the Eucharist to worshippers. The church's name speaks to the central place the sacarament of Communion has in its theology: Christ's presence in the Eucharist represents his living ministry on Earth, a ministry the church is obligated to respect.×