Doing the gospel

Justice begins with the plight of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcast and the disenfranchised.

By Miguel De La Torre

To engage in justice is to do it with, and from, the perspective of those whom society considers nobodies. While many within the Eurocentric context question the existence of God, those on the margins are more likely to wrestle with the character of this God who is supposed to exist.

Whoever God is, God imparts and sustains life while opposing death. Wherever lives are threatened with poverty and oppression, God is present, offended by the dehumanizing conditions in which the marginalized are relegated to exist.

This is a God who acts in history -- a God who hears the cries of the enslaved Hebrews, physically enters history and leads God’s people toward a Promised Land. It is in the everyday -- during trials and tribulations as well as joys and celebrations -- where one encounters the Divine.

While God is present in history, constructing a new society remains a human project. God may lead God’s people to a Promised Land, but the people must commit to walking there.

God takes sides over and against the rich and powerful, not because the marginalized are better Christians or somewhat holier, but because they are the oppressed in need of justice. God makes a preferential option for the poor and oppressed, over and against the pharaohs of this world.

This is the God whom the Hebrews called Go’el, the One who provides justice for the weak, makes a home for the alien, becomes a parent to the orphans and comforts the widows. The type of worship that best honors this God, where God finds pleasure, is in the doing of justice (Isaiah 1:10-17).

Jesus, as God made flesh, chose poverty -- denying some heavenly abode to dwell among the least of these. The miracle of the Incarnation is not that God became human, but rather that God became poor.

Through Jesus, God learns what it means to suffer under unjust religious and political structures. The cross is meaningless except for fidelity to Christ’s mission. For many liberationists, the crucifixion has less to do with an act of atonement than an act of solidarity.

Jesus’ condemnation to death is the ultimate consequence faced by many who struggle against unjust oppressive structures. He takes up his cross as the definitive act of solidarity with all who are called the crucified people, those who continue to be crucified today.

All too often, Christ’s crucifixion is spiritualized; ignoring that this moment in history was both a political and religious act. Crucifixion recognizes that death-dealing actions are the usual response from the authorities who protect the power and privilege of the few.

Jesus -- in the ultimate act of solidarity with all who continue to be crucified today on the crosses of sexism, racism, ethnic discrimination, classism and heterosexism -- carries the wounds upon his feet, hands and side. Thus God knows dispossession, discrimination, destitution, disinheritance and disenfranchisement. 

Those who suffer under oppression have a God who personally understands their suffering due to the Incarnation. Because Jesus suffered oppression on the cross, a divine commitment to stand against injustices exists, a stance believers are called to emulate.

In short, to know God is to do justice. To stand by while oppression occurs is to profess non-belief, regardless of any confession given privately or publicly or any aisle walked to give one’s heart to Jesus.

To be a Christian is to become a new creature in Christ. This transformation includes liberation for both those exploited and their exploiters.

To seek liberation is the hopeless strive toward a new society, the establishment of God’s reign on earth.

If a tree is known by its fruit, then social justice becomes the fruit by which Christianity is recognized. If there is no justice-based praxis, there is no fruit; thus the fruitless tree needs to be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Faith becomes the manifestation of what is done to “the least of these” -- the hungry, the thirsty and the naked. As the Book of James reminds us, “Faith without works is dead.”

Only through praxis do we get to see the face of God. This is a religious perspective that does the gospel rather than simply meditating upon it.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.