Friday, April 23, 2010

BOLD Justice--2010 Nehemiah Action Report

Last night was our BOLD Justice Nehemiah event, where religious folks gathered in the spirit of Old Testament prophets to remind elected leaders of their responsibilities to the poor and outcast. We were overwhelmingly Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic, with an Episcopalian group and a Jewish group here and there, along with a stray Evangelical group or two. We enjoyed music from a fabulous black Baptist group. We demanded that county officials do more to save people from foreclosure and to bring more moderately priced rental units to market. We demanded that the police do more to encourage citizens to report crime.

I came away with mixed feelings. Part of that response was due to my spouse, who has worked in local government with some of the officials present. Things I might have seen as an unqualified victory, had he not been along, he showed me as compromise.

I was also disappointed in the police. We wanted them to adopt a low-tech, anonymous post card method of reporting crime. There was strong resistance to this. They felt they already had enough ways for citizens to report crime: Crimestoppers (primarily a phone system), online, the police presence in the neighborhood. But a postcard system would cost very little, and I'm unsure why adding to the methods already in existence would be a problem.

Last year I was exhilarated to be with an ecumenical group working for justice. I'm fairly certain I hadn't experienced that since the 1980's, when I was part of groups gathering to protest nuclear weapons expansion, to protest apartheid, to demand that the U.S. change its behavior in Latin America, particularly Central America.

Last night, I didn't feel the same exhilaration. But it's not about what I feel. It's not about me. It's about doing what God commands, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, in the words of the Old Testament prophet, Micah, caring for the least of these, in the words of Jesus. Our presence and demands may not mean much to elected officials, who spend every night going to groups who make demands. They may not care as much about us as about those big donors. But our silence would send the kind of message we cannot afford to send.

And it's a witness. My atheist friend had planned to attend with me, before her horrible ear infection laid her low. She was impressed that elected officials would deign to meet with religious people. She was impressed with the fact that we'd all give up an evening to work for justice. She's realizing that she's not making much of an effort to change the world, and she might just put up with religious, non-scientific ideas, if it meant we could change our corner of the world.

Will we make a long-term difference? It's always hard to know. Back in 1986, when we gathered to pray for justice for South Africa, we had no way of knowing that Nelson Mandela would soon be free, and then be elected president. We had reason to be despairing and cynical. But we are people who listen to a different promise, who see a different possibility. We are resurrection people with a vision for a redeemed creation, a Kingdom that is already breaking through.

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