It hasn’t been a good week to be a social justice warrior. And I don’t use that term in its pejorative sense.
To me, a social justice warrior is what the term suggests at face value, a person committed to fighting for justice.
I know Twitter has turned “SJW” into an insult to describe young progressives, offended by everything, incapable of reasoned debate, blah, blah. But for me, fighting the good fight for justice and peace in this world is exactly what Jesus calls us to, and what his followers have been doing for centuries.
Being a social justice warrior shouldn’t put you on the left or the right. It shouldn’t deem you a liberal or a conservative. Rather, it should put you firmly in the will of God.
The kind of religion the Bible advocates is rooted in justice that flows from the heart of God. It seeks to bring all things into the wholeness of God. As one justified by faith in the God of all justice, I believe we are to experience the wholeness God brings and extend it to others.
This week, those of us committed to that task were dealt a crushing blow when the richest nation in the world, and the one most likely to refer to itself as Christian, enacted a policies that required immigration officials to separate children from their parents. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there are now 11,200 children incarcerated in 100 centers across 17 states.
You remember the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail? Charged with guarding a bridge over a small stream, the Black Knight is nothing if not supremely confident. When Arthur tries to pass, the Black Knight refuses him access and Arthur is forced to engage him in a sword fight that results in both the Black Knight’s arms and legs being cut off. As each limb goes flying, the Black Knight exclaims, “Tis but a scratch” and “I’ve had worse” and “It’s just a flesh wound!”
As Arthur leaves the limbless torso of the Black Knight in his wake, we hear the indefatigable knight calling after him, “Come back here and take what’s coming to ya! I’ll bite your legs off!”
I know the Black Knight is a buffoon, more confident than his skill level justifies. And social justice warriors can feel the same way at times. No matter how many battles we lose and how many people are laughing at us, we refuse to give in.
Because it does appear laughable to keep fighting when forces like our governments, businesses and the military are involved.
While the American situation has exploded recently, in Australia we have been faced with a similar immigration policy for many years. In fact, we’re old hands at locking up immigrant children. And fighters for justice have been protesting that policy from day one.
I’ve lost count of the number of marches I’ve attended or petitions I’ve signed. I’ve visited my local member of parliament multiple times. I joined a group of fellow ministers praying for a more just policy, on our knees in our Prime Minister’s office until we were arrested. I’ve chained myself to the gates of the Prime Minister’s official Sydney residence to highlight the issue (yep, arrested again).
I’ve watched my fellow Christians be similarly arrested praying in parliament house or their local politicians’ offices. I’ve followed as Jewish Australians left hundreds of children’s shoes outside the parliament, symbolising the number of children trapped in detention.
My friend Pastor Jarrod McKenna suspended himself in a tent above the foreign minister’s office. Rev Rod Bower has appeared on national television programs to highlight the issue. Church leaders across the country have spoken out.
And the government seems to have begrudgingly listened. The numbers of children in immigration detention in Australia have been reducing. There have been some small victories along the way.
Then I saw this photo this week:
The current situation in the USA makes a social justice warrior feel like the Black Knight, limbless and hopeless.
Thousands of children have been separated from parents within hours of arrival in detention, including breastfeeding children. Large centers have been set up to house them, including facilities like the one in the photograph above. One center is a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Tex., in which 1000 children are incarcerated with no windows and only one hour of play permitted per day.
The new US measures mean that these centers are not considered a child protective program but a criminal operation, effectively turning the children of asylum seekers into criminals. Even more draconian is the decision to no longer adjudicate the cases of whole families together. Now the child’s case will be dealt with separately from their parent’s case. This means that many parents, whether deported or not, often do not know where their child is.
What’s worse is the fact that there are no established processes for communication between parents and their children. Many children can expect to experience 2-3 months of separation without communication.
It’s simply unthinkable.
It really takes an enormous amount of faith to keep believing in the way of Christ. I want to cry out, “Tis only a flesh wound”, and keep fighting the good fight, but it’s hard.
I want to say, “Call Congress, organize protests, donate to legal and humanitarian efforts,” but it’s tough.
Where do we find the hope required to keep fighting when it feels like our arms and legs have been cut off? Especially when our adversary is the government of the United States of America?
I have to keep telling myself that Jesus experienced injustice, so we would not experience judgment, and therefore it is God’s will that we bring justice to others. It’s in God’s strength we should keep fighting.
As Theologian Paul Louis Metzger wrote,
“Both individual transformation and community transformation are part of restoring wholeness. While morality and immorality are birthed in the human heart (James 3:10-18), justice is centered in God’s heart. We are to purify our hearts (James 4:8) whose desires lead us to sin. With transformed hearts, we are to extend God’s justice to the poor, orphans, and widows, and to show no partiality.”
I’m praying for your transformed heart this week, and mine. I’m praying that in the face of the immoral policy of seizing children at the border, we will be filled with the Spirit of love and truth, and find the strength to keep fighting. In Christ’s name, and for his sake.