I really enjoyed Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical (Zondervan, 2006) – lots of fresh but very substantial perspectives on being Christian in America (and the world) in the early 21st Century.
Here’s an example:
Not too long ago I was speaking at Princeton and some of the students asked me how they were to choose which issue of social justice is the most important.
Not a bad question, eh? We could easily answer – Abortion. Internet access. Unjustified war that kills large numbers in order to make small numbers more wealthy. Torture. Inner cities. A persistently dishonest government. High rates of imprisonment. Irresponsible public debt management. We could have some interesting discussions here.
Claiborne goes on:
The question made me cringe.
Issues? These issues have faces.
Yes? They are still issues are they not?
We’re talking not only about ideas but also about human emergencies. My response to the well-intentioned Princeton students was, “Don’t choose issues; choose people.
I guess I’d like an example.
Come play in the fire hydrants of North Philly. Fall in love with a group of people who are marginalized and suffering, and then you won’t have to worry about which cause you need to protest. Then the issues will choose you.
Ahh. “Fall in love with a group of people who are marginalized and suffering.” You know, I think I agree. When we are reacting not only to ideas and general principles, worthy as those may be, but also on the basis of loving people we know (ourselves included) and people who are in basic ways a lot like people we know – that really does change the flavor of our caring.
That can be expected to make our policy or issues choices more realistic and our advocacy more nuanced and more likely to produce some real advances.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when injustice will take us to the streets and might land us in jail; but it is our love for God and our neighbor – not our rage or our arrogance – that counts.
Ooh. But that’s a valid distinction, and a big one.
One of my favorite old protest songs goes like this: “We are a gentle, angry people … and we are fighting for our lives.”
That reminds me of “Cold Anger” – the title of a book about community organizer Ernie Cortes. (Cold Anger: A Story of Faith and Politics by Mary Beth Rogers, U of No Texas Press, 1990). By “cold anger” Cortes meant something like what Claiborne is talking about – anger that is appropriate and that helps guide our activities, but that does not rage and drive us to violent or otherwise counterproductive behavior.
I think Claiborne is right. There is a difference between choosing issues and choosing people. When we choose people rather than, or as well as, just issues, we’re in position to find morally and emotionally healthier and strategically more effective patterns for being involved in the issues of our world.