For the past 15 years, I have directed a faith-based non-profit called Friends of Justice. It all started in Tulia, Texas when a massive drug bust in the summer of 1999 inspired an article in the local paper about human trash and “scumbag” drug kingpins.
By visiting with the families directly impacted by the drug bust, we discovered that 46 men and women, most of them African American, had been arrested on the uncorroborated word of a shady undercover agent with a reputation for racism and dishonesty. My wife and I learned that 50 children had been orphaned by Tulia’s drug sweep and ended up taking three of these young ones into our home.
Eventually, the undercover officer was discredited, all charges were dropped, parents and children were reunited, and dozens of people were pardoned by the Texas governor. But from beginning to end, the religious community stood foursquare behind a deeply flawed narcotics operation. Those who stood with the defendants and their families were ostracized. One church refused to accept my wife and I as members because we were “too controversial”.
I have often wondered how God figured into all of this. Did people think the unprincipled undercover agent was doing God’s work? Or was it simply assumed that drug busts, as strictly secular affairs, are none of God’s concern?
What occupies the mind of God? Does the Almighty care about the undocumented man mowing your neighbor’s lawn? If this man was suddenly separated from his family through deportation, would there be tears in heaven? Or does the Almighty leave these matters to the appropriate authorities?
Is God bothered by the fact that African-American males have a one-on-three chance of doing prison time, or that our prison population is six times as big in 2013 as it was in 1980?
These questions make us uncomfortable. Most of our congregations are an unwieldy mix of liberals, conservatives and political agnostics. Church life centers in the things that unite us. We learn to leave volatile issues like public safety and immigration policy to the politicians.
We can be socially concerned without being religious, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Israel’s God is a Mother Hen protecting helpless chicks under her wings, a Shepherd surrounded by timorous sheep.
In the Gospels, those hoping to get close to Jesus had to wade through a crowd of prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors and rub shoulders with the poor, the lame and the deranged.
Solitude holds an important place in the Christian life. Like Jesus, we must sometimes find God alone in the stillness. But it’s never long before God’s children disrupt our religious reverie with their painful predicaments.
Reckon with the heart of God and the public policy issues that buffet God’s children will begin to matter. If there is no room in our lives for the issues that perplex suffering people, we will never dance with God.