In the spirit of some of the discussions of the past few days, I remembered an email Lisa Davidson had sent me from one of her professors, Dr. Elisa L. Everts. These are her words, what she terms her “social justice covenant challenge”.
I understand that I may have inherited classist ideas through cultural transmission in the same way that I have inherited white privilege, an evil that I am likely to be completely blind to until someone (God or any of His emissaries) shows me what I cannot show myself.
I will not assume that I know why another soul is poor, or that I know how they can fix the situation.
I will not assume that fiscal irresponsibility, fiscal ignorance, or unwillingness to work hard are the causes of a person’s poverty.
I will not recite unquestioningly the American mantra that education and hard work solve all social ills.
I will not blame the poor for their poverty anymore than I would blame a person with autism for their incapacity, nor a cancer victim of their terminal disease (Jesus did not).
I will acknowledge that my status in society is no evidence that I am more virtuous than my poor brothers and sisters—I will not contend that I work harder or smarter and therefore deserve my relative comfort to their relative desperation and dis-ease.
I will not assume that God’s will is for all poor people to become middle class people (which is not the same as saying that it is God’s will for people to be poor).
I will not behave as though I believe that poor people are failed versions of non-poor people (as Aristotle thought women were deformed versions of men).
I will endeavor to treat poor people with the same dignity and respect that I would afford any dignitary and most especially Christ Himself, who came to earth as a poor and illegitimate Jew and remained so until His resurrection.
I will not treat the choices, secrets and private lives of the poor as if they were more legitimately scrutinized by the public eye than I believe are my own (e.g., whether they brought lunch at McDonald’s).
I will not criticize the poor for making their needs known. On the contrary, I will criticize myself when needs I should have seen have to be brought to my attention by the needy.
I will endeavor to discover who among those God designates “my neighbor” is in need.
I will endeavor to discover what that neighbor needs with the maximum secrecy and anonymity that I am able to achieve.
I will give sacrificially out of my abundance to the poor in maximum anonymity and in a manner that will protect the face needs and sense of dignity of the receiver.
I will endeavor and aspire to match the widow’s mite in my giving to God and others.
I will not pretend, like Ananias and Saphira that I am giving more sacrificially than I am.
I will not merely “throw money” at the poor and hope their situation improves. Rather, I will give of my time and my heart as well as my material resources. I will covenant to pray for the poor regularly.
I will develop a close lifetime relationship with at least one needy person or family and will endeavor maintain that relationship with the greatest degree of symmetry and equality between us as I possibly can.
I will commit myself to understanding that the poor have something to give me, which no amount of money could ever buy and strive to earn the right to receive that gift.
I would certainly be interested in hearing your comments on these ideas – they are both challenging and humbing to me, and ring true on many levels.
3 Replies to “social justice covenant”
My only reservation is the implied suggestion that we should assume some guilt for being born into a white, educated, privileged background. We had no more choice in the matter than many poor and uneducated people did about their lot in life. (I could be reading too much into it.) That said, how we choose to view and treat the poor, needy, mentally disturbed, and uneducated members of society does say a lot about how closely we follow in Christ’s footsteps.
agreed – i believe that in some sense the shoe must also go on the other foot, turning each of the statements around – “I will not blame the rich for their wealth anymore than I would blame a person with autism for their incapacity, nor a cancer victim of their terminal disease…” “I will not assume that family inheritance, blind luck or good fortune are the causes of a person’s wealth.”
again, i think the fundamental issue and hope is that we would truly become blind (or as blind as possible) to wealth (race/gender/sexual orientation/family background/religious conviction) in regard to how we treat people – just as Christ did.
Thank you for posting this. Would it be okay for me to repost the text of the email on my (protected) blog? I’d like to share it with some people I know.
Also, did you get my email full of questions that I sent…like in April?