Thinking about how a lot of the social justice work so many of my friends do isn’t so far from the moral work that church leaders do. I’m particularly thinking of the ministers who came to the Village meeting on Tuesday to speak out in support of refusing collaboration with ICE officials and protecting our immigrant neighbors from the fear of registries and deportation. You could tell from the rhetoric they fell into during their three-minute speech that they were faith leaders; they spoke differently than the rest of the speakers — I wish I’d taken notes, but there was a repetition of “we believe this, we ask this, we support this…”
All of which makes me wonder a little whether the social justice movement couldn’t take some cues from the faith leaders. Because even if you don’t believe in an actual God, as many of us don’t, churches have, for a long time, been making the moral arguments of the community, asking people to live their lives by a higher standard. Invoking their better selves.
In my Women and Lit. class yesterday, we spent most of the time talking about how to frame conversations around tricky topic like race and gender, and how to handle it when someone calls you out for mis-stepping. Those call-outs are necessary, I think, but as someone who’s been called out in public, they’re also incredibly difficult to experience, to work through. I think many of us could use more support, and even more gentleness, as we reach for the greater good.
Sometimes, I feel that social justice conversations, however much I agree with their goals and even their fine details of nuance, can start sounding really…scolding, is the best word I can come up with. I suppose that’s part of the church tradition too, but the part that I’m less interested in preserving. A denunciation of wrongdoing, rather than an invocation of moral goodness that we should all aspire to.
Words that instead of shutting you down, lift you up.

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