Those of us concerned for “the least of these” are faced with political choices that most reflect our faith or social conscience. Though we ought not place our primary trust in any government of men and women so influenced by a multitude of political motives, and those with the most wealth, social position, and power.
The Judeo-Christian prophet Micah enjoins us that we must walk humbly with our God, and Jesus Christ through his ministry on Earth to be present with the poor and lowly in their trials and troubles. The Great Buddha focused those who would follow him on how we relate to that higher power within us. Hindus have the central idea that our lives repeat a cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth again until a more perfected being emerges and they become one with all the representations of God, and that how we behave in this life is central to our karma, or likely appearance in the next. Muslims, as Christians and Jews, worship Allah, God, and Yahweh looking to that guiding force’s merciful grace and compassion for us.
Humanists, Agnostics, and Atheists obey their consciences in a moral construct that when best expressed puts a common humanity before power, and the corruption engendered by that power.
We would do well to pay attention to what the faith community and those who identify with all those who struggle for justice are doing to personally act to be part of positive societal change that is peaceful and orderly, but that presses our leaders to deal more justly with the range and breadth of humanity. It is what we do where we meet suffering and injustice that counts the most, not simply the electoral support we provide to a political party, and its candidates, or even those who lead in a system that is either only partly democratic or authoritarian.
When we identify with the oppressed among us we provide evidence that others know and feel intensely what they are suffering, and that we all work for that injustice and suffering to come to an end. The black Theologian Howard Thurman wrote in Jesus and the Disinherited that as Jesus and his fellow Jews confronted a Roman government that stifled the positive expression of their whole people that the antidote was humility, for humility itself cannot be humiliated.
Thurman, though supporting traditional Christian salvation through Christ in the next world, noted that their existence in this world turned the underprivileged days into despair without consolation. “The basic fact is,” Thurman wrote, “that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed.”
When Christians obey the injunctions of Christ to give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to the unclothed, visiting those in prison, aid to the orphan and widow, and favoring “the least of these” they come into direct contact with that humility which so many of our most marginalized citizens have in greater abundance than anyone else. We know too, that in this life we might become one of the marginalized.
Spiritually or intellectually connected and moral non-believers know this truth as well when they volunteer to do the very things Jesus proscribes in Matthew 25, with the failure to do so by the wicked and wealthy leading directly to that place without God and no salvation or eternal life with him.
Political questions must be addressed by all of us who act to combat social injustices of all kinds one at a time, and with real people in need face-to-face. That is where we who fight and support struggles for justice can be most effectively employed.
Presently, the United States of America, the political community of which we ourselves are members, has begun the process of selecting those persons who will lead us in the years to come. We must look to those individuals who best can be convinced to act for the benefit of us all and not the well positioned and powerful.
On the local level where we live we must consider people we may know personally or know of in that same fashion of all political persuasions whose common human decency shine out to us. They are there. Even at the local level some of those who are connected to a political party that most guards the rich, well positioned, and powerful, can be influenced to make common cause with us when we confront injustice directly.
But on the State and National levels, where our power to influence is less, and today often much less, it is our vote in general elections that provide at least some check on the wickedness of wealth, power; influence misapplied for the benefit of just the few.
Our thoughtful political participation is demanded of us. We have to enliven our democratic experiment via our vote and active political participation in the civic life of our nation.
Bluntly, unlike so many other times when both of our major political parties, however configured, could reliably be depended upon to act with basic human justice, now only one is paying attention, however imperfectly, to fighting social injustice in America.
The political party that is most in the hands of the wealthy and self- interested few is the Republican Party. They have completely turned away from the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and despised. Their focus is to extremist appeals to fear, hate, ignorance, and racial and religious, and ethnic bigotry. This was largely if not completely untrue just ten short years ago.
This is objectively fact, and the reality of the situation as we presently find it. None of their candidates have any real desire to help those who are “the least of these” spoken of by Jesus of Nazareth thousands of years ago, and ever recurring to challenge the faithful to act with compassion and humanity toward people who are often blamed for their victimhood.
Our news media, from which we get most of our information, has completely failed to tell us about these sharp contrasts between our two political parties, since these media outlets are themselves great corporations making billions of dollars, and controlled by the most wealthy, powerful, and socially disinterested people.
And newspapers, blogs, websites, and television networks all wish to appear fully fair and well balanced even to the point of ridiculous false equivalencies between our two major conceptions of how the government that ought to serve us responds or fails to respond to our needs, and especially to those who are like Lazarus, ignored and left to eat the crumbs offered to the dogs of a wealthy man.
It was Abraham Lincoln who, in 1858, observed the cupidity of his political opponents who feigned ignorance of the evil effects of human slavery, and their assertion via Stephen A. Douglas that it did not matter what white citizens did about the matter in the Federal territories so long as it conformed to the Constitution. Douglas largely won on the strictly legal argument, but it was Lincoln whom we remember most for he raised the moral implications of slavery and its warping effect on our supposed democracy, and that though most people were un-churched, a nation influenced by faith beliefs demanded better of us.
Lincoln in his ninety-minute reply at the Galesburg debate called his opponents out on their lack of vison, hearing, and feeling on the moral question presented by human slavery and, the unassailable at that time, white supremacy that went with it:
“With reference to those new countries, those maxims as to the right of a people to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” were the just rules to be constantly referred to. There is no misunderstanding this, except by men interested to misunderstand it.” [Applause]
Now, we are faced with a host of people in the Republican Party who appeal to our lower human instincts, rather than to use Lincoln’s term, “the better Angels of our nature.” Those who are not ignorant of these things feign indifference every bit as immoral and wrong as did Lincoln’s opponents more than a century and a half ago.
We face a political landscape where one party is so dominated by injustice that it has become too heavy for them to respond with justice.
The Democrats too, are heavily influenced by wealthy lobbyists who help finance their campaigns. Only one candidate, Bernie Sanders, with his Democratic Socialist or really populist leanings seeks donation of around thirty bucks apiece with no Super-PACS or billionaire sponsors to direct him.
Where Democrats so sharply contrast with Republicans is in their support for reforms that not only will significantly lessen the neighborhood to prison path so many black young people are on—not because it saves tax money only, but it is the right thing to do. They support LGBTQ rights. They do support a market-based largely capitalist economy, incidentally one that Pope Francis himself, has called out for its wickedness and greed. But they are intentionally challenging that market entity that does so much to enrich just the few at the expense of the rest of us. Racial brotherhood and sisterhood is central to their very appeal. They do not attack racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, or those without a faith belief. They are the peace party instead of the party of war for the sake of war.
I once went to a concert of the late Wobbly Union member and progressive folk singer Utah Phillips. He explained that the media direct what he called “the blame pattern” down to the middle class and the working poor, when the blame pattern must be reversed to what he called “the real chislers,” who occupy corporate America and all those who manipulate the rest of us. Wiser words were never spoken.
Those of us who want and thirst for social justice must ourselves be the arm of social justice in our world. But we also must make political decisions as to who leads us or administers the government that rules us to be as responsive to the poor and oppressed as can be got. Democrats, though not without their sins in this area, have really pivoted to confront so many things that we of the progressive left and social justice Christians are fighting so hard to confront ourselves.
With everything we do for justice and righteousness provided by our moral conscience whether from God or something good within each of us, we must take up the burden of the oppressed and act with the love and humility that Howard Thurman during America’s civil rights years called for to effect the just change we seek so much.