I’ve had some conversations in recent days about how to hold onto original blessing while engaging actively in social justice. I love this question because one of the common misconceptions about original blessing is that it’s a worldview that requires you to hold everyone’s hand and sing camp songs and think happy thoughts, which is never really possible but certainly not possible in a world where very real evil is happening.
Luckily for us, original blessing requires nothing of the sort.
Original blessing requires us to see the world as God sees the world. That means we must call out injustice when we see it, protest in defense of human rights when it is threatened, speak up to protect the environment when harm may come its way. We fight for these things not despite of original blessing but because of it.
So when you see or hear someone saying or doing something to attack, demean or insult someone, you are acting in original blessing when you stand up against it. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. If that doesn’t happen naturally, call it out. When you see racism or sexism or any kind of discrimination that seeks to rob another person of their worth, call it out. When there are laws that threaten to take away the rights of people, call it out. When you hear hate speech and dangerous rhetoric, call it out.
Our role as Christians is to seek the welfare of the victim first. That’s where we start. But listen: you are not only defending those under attack. You are not only defending yourself, and your beliefs. You are also defending the humanity of the person who is saying or doing these awful things. You are calling him to his better self. You’re trying to limit the hurtful damage he’s doing, for the victims first, but also because you don’t want to see him go down that road, either. Hateful words and actions are a threat to everyone. They degrade everyone, including the person who is saying it. Call it out. Reject it. Fight against it.
Because God loves all of creation, we are called to do the same. And we are called to protest those who don’t. How we protest- that’s the difference.
If we truly believe in original blessing, there is a line that we cannot cross. That line is dignity. Any action or words that aim to take away the dignity of another person (or of the environment) is not in line with our calling to be people of God. Original blessing declares that every person has inherent worth and dignity that cannot be removed. It is not something we earn, but something God gives us. So no matter what we do, that dignity remains. True social justice does not seek to eradicate that dignity, but to restore it. People who are working against the ways of God in the world are tarnishing that light within. The answer isn’t for us to come along and add more layers that may cover it up.
I can’t give you a flow chart to explain where that line is. But if you’re paying attention and you’re asking the question, you’ll know it. It might be that you’ll learn where the line is after you cross it, and you realize in the pit of your stomach how it felt “off.” Learn that lesson and hone your discernment for the next time.
But I can offer this example. During the last election, someone made a naked statue of Trump and had it on display. Photos were passed around social media for people to heckle. The intention was to reject his own statements and views about women’s bodies, and black and brown bodies, and bodies of people with disabilities, which are demeaning and unacceptable. (That is not up for debate.) But there is something sacred about our human bodies, and this act was a belittling one. It sought to attack his dignity as a human being, and in so doing, it produced the same kind of thing as his comments did in the first place. If we want to stand up to those who are denigrating human bodies, we have to do so by honoring all bodies.
I also think original blessing encourages us to stay away from actions that are mean-spirited, even if they do not directly threaten the dignity of a person. For example: if you believe in a cause, and you want to donate to that cause, that’s fantastic. If you donate it in the name of a person who vehemently disagrees with the cause, and then send them a postcard letting them know, that’s mean-spirited. The Golden Rule is helpful here. How would you feel if your most closely cherished beliefs were upended by someone donating to an organization that goes directly against them? Even if there is a clear right and wrong at play, this just isn’t necessary. Give your money. Raise your voice. Don’t shove it in their face. Let your words and actions speak for themselves.
I want to be very clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying to be pushovers, or to be so nice that you don’t ever offend anyone. If you’re standing up for justice, you’re definitely going to offend someone. If you’re pushing up against the principalities and powers that seek to rule by power rather than to abide by the rule of love, you are going to need to have a loud voice and stand tall. Do those things. Absolutely do those things. Just don’t forget what you’re standing up for in the first place.
There’s a postcard on our fridge with a quote from Ghandi: Be Truthful, Gentle, and Fearless. Any of these things by themselves is sorely lacking. We all know people that are so truthful that nobody can handle being around them for their lack of tact. We know people that are so gentle they get walked all over. We know people that are so fearless that they put themselves, and often others, in danger. But in concert, these three things create a rather golden concoction. Speak the truth in love, Paul tells us, which is another way of saying the same thing. Be brave enough to speak, and to speak truthfully, and do so in love.
I really, really want to do that as best I can. I am not going to do it well all the time. I am going to fail, and slip into a bout of sarcastic wit or a quick laugh over something I probably shouldn’t find funny. But I am going to check myself, and exhale, and return back to that place where I am working to become the person who speaks truthfully, gently and fearlessly. Every time.
Will you join me?