Human beings tend to enjoy separating situations and lifestyles, cultures and levels of popularity to create an “us versus them” mentality to organize a mental hierarchy. This can be very socially beneficial for some individuals, as they use their placement in society or within a church community or ministry to benefit their reputation. A platform like this offers the valuable aspects of influence and respect, and many can be positively impacted in the process.
In the following appeal, do not think that I am downgrading the influence of renowned individuals who have fought odds and maintained a platform of influence and respect. I am however, asking us to ask ourselves what kind of social ladder of success we have created in our minds and how that might effect our interactions with vulnerable populations.
What we believe about the value and needs of every human being has a lot to do with how we will interact with every human being. If we believe, for example, that we are in the rank of “people helpers” and our target people are “broken people” or “hurting girls” or “refugees” we run the risk of developing a mindset that only ostracizes us further then the natural barriers of culture, language, and experience.
I don’t believe education or awareness about the brokenness in the world is sufficient to break this tide of isolation. We can be educated on facts about a broken world: abusers, women at risk, and refugees, but the answers do not only lie in knowing about these issues but in asking ourselves what we believe about every individual created human being. I say this because if you take the information you know and enter into some task to change the problems, (such as a youth ministry or a crisis response endeavor), believing that you are the answer and they are the problem, you will create two isolated groups. You will perpetuate already well developed ideas in the minds of minority groups or hurting individuals that they are the broken ones and you are their Savior.
Our mentality as “us” people helpers helping “them” needs to change to a mutual platform of dependence and redemption in Jesus where we turn to face each other eye to eye, understanding our mutual brokenness and quest for eternity. “Us and them” then becomes “you and I”. There is a whole world of lonely people searching for that “you and I” place of belonging. The labels we have created in ministry do not always help. At what point in the journey does a victim of abuse become more than another story of a broken individual to us? As Christina Pohl states, “When a person who is not valued by society is received by a socially respected individual or group as a human being with dignity and worth, small transformations occur.”
The problems in the world are not so much out there in a different camp of extremely evil men and women, but within all of us. We all hold the capacity to do extreme forms of evil but for the cross of Jesus. Our labels not only disregard that truth, but also sometimes hold deep discrepancies. Many victims of abuse have become perpetrators of abuse, for example. Many perpetrators of abuse have at one time been victims. It is often our inability to critically think through these deeply personal realities that cripple us from being able to engage well in the “thems” that we think are too evil or too broken to engage with.
The Times Magazine sent out this question prompt; “What is wrong with the world?”
G. K. Chesterton responded with two words.
His two words became famous, because there is something liberating about the truth and when we take responsibility for what we see instead of forming some separate camp to blame, we can really change the world with the power of the gospel. The real truth is that all of us were at one time being intricately formed in our Mother’s womb and were birthed fresh into a world like a blank page waiting to be filled. All of us have such similar desires, longings, quests for meaning, and needs for love, connection, and community. Some individuals make really bad decisions and years later are known as hardened men and women we walk past on the street corner and label “druggies.” Others are born into functional homes and have every opportunity to live respectable, functional lives.
The liberal agenda has also influenced many of us to think that most of us are oppressed by some sort of oppressor. It’s pretty common to involve yourself in some social justice issue where we focus on saving or rescuing the victims from oppressors. The bible teaches us that our values do effect our endeavors with the oppressed and abused among us. It also teaches us to believe in redemption for the oppressor. We cannot believe in their redemption if we do not believe in their inherent value and dignity as a human being.
It is as Christine Pohl says, “Bearing God’s image demands for every person a fundamental dignity which cannot be undermined by wrongdoing or neediness.”
What do you categorize as a broken person? Where do you put yourself in comparison? Of course we know that family placement, life experience, and our knowledge of the gospel has a lot to do with our health as a whole person. Some people are obviously in more healthy places than others. That naturally forms some sort of divide. We make those divides more pronounced when we make comments like, “I cannot imagine how anyone could be that evil,” or “That family is so incredible taking in all those broken girls.”
Too many times we have labels that do not only create divisions but deeply impact the lives of extremely vulnerable populations. You may find yourself in a position of power where you can indeed use your own labels of respect to deeply wound others. We can find it immensely gratifying personally to distribute basic needs to a crowd of needy people, but have no idea how to look one of them in the face and give them dignity and respect as an individual. We can open the doors of our homes because we feel drawn to a hurting individual, but wound our families and them in the process. We can go on short term trips to dissuade some restless desire to appear missional, update our status, and leave the place feeling really great while those you “ministered” to feel re-victimized and used. Just the same we can say we care a lot about the issues of sexual trauma, trafficking, and abuse but shrink back in horror and disdain when we are face to face with a perpetrator.
That is not the gospel Jesus came to portray.
My friend told me recently that she was pretty sure the rapture came when she saw the streets locked up and empty when lockdown occurred. She quickly texted me and another friend because she thought, “If the rapture came, Kate and Grace would be the first ones to go.”
“First the pastors would go,” she said decidedly, “Then their wives, then their children, and then however many others heaven has room for. As for me? I don’t know if I’ll make it in.” I told her that when Jesus comes her and I will be arm in arm as we sail up to meet Jesus because there is no spiritual hierarchy in heaven.
There should be none on earth.
Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears of grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.” Henry Nouen
At what point does a very hurting individual we are trying to “help” become our friend because we recognize we are all grasping for a redeemer and dependent on a Savior? At what point do we make a space at our table and deeply welcome the labeled individual to dine with us eye to eye, face to face, person to person? At what point do we leave victimizing comments behind and start believing that even the most abused individual can indeed find healing and life and be a integral part of a healthy community because part of their createdness is their resilience and ability to overcome the obstacles?
You and I can help the process by exercising these habits:
- Never submit to unhealthy labels that “empower” you at the expense of another
- Address every individual with personhood, created in the image of God
- Refrain from personally crediting comments that victimize those in your care
- Never use stories, photos, or names for your own advantage
The five years ago me would have been shocked at the words I write today. I was pretty convinced then that my life calling was to reveal how wicked some men are and how abused some women are and in some ways my life calling is just that. But my beliefs about what it means to be human and therefore what it means to appropriately guide someone towards redemption, have changed.
To be human is to have the capacity to be evil. To live in this world means we are always effected by that evil. In some way we have all perpetrated some hurt and been receptors of some pain. In every way we are all in need of a Deliverer.
None of us are the Saviors reaching down to the needy, all of us are the needy reaching up to our Savior. It is there, at the foot of the cross that we find the true community and belonging we’re searching for as our perceived social barriers melt on one platform of mutual dependence.
It’s not “Us vs. Them” there, only you and I grasping for a Redeemer.
“Compassion is not bending towards the under privileged from the privileged position; it isn’t reaching out from on high to those that are unfortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those places where suffering is most acute, and building a home there.” Henry Nouwen