He told us that during a trip to visit protestant churches in India, he had the opportunity to meet with a community of dalit (untouchables). Afterwards, when he returned to the church that was hosting him, he asked the pastor what the churches in India were doing to help the dalit communities. The pastor said not much. It benefited the churches to keep the caste system in place because it meant they could use the dalit as slaves. Rev. Pilay’s point of course, was that churches are upholding injustice when it works for their benefit, rather than working to end injustice as we should be.
Hearing that story, my immediate response was shock and disgust. How could a church support a system of injustice? How could a church ignore the suffering of human beings simply for a few material benefits?
But just a moment later I felt an immense shame at my quickness to judge. Not only did my ancestors use religion to justify horrors such as the Crusades, colonization and genocide, slavery, and segregation to name just a few, I belong to a faith tradition in which the majority continue to uphold injustice because, as the Indian pastor said, it benefits us. How many Christians continue to buy clothes, food, jewelry, and electronics from companies that use slave labor and exploit their employees, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and human rights abuses? How many Christians live lifestyles that show no concern for the effect global warming has not only on the environment but on vulnerable communities that are harmed by the fossil fuel industry? How many white Christians stay silent in the face of racial injustice, or actively participate in and defend racism? How many Christians have used their religion to defend hate speech and discrimination that leave women and the LGBTQ community in fear of their lives?
These examples probably sound wildly different to most people. You might be prickling at the idea of putting people who stock their wardrobe with fast fashion and drive gas guzzling cars in the same category as white supremacists and those who run reparative therapy camps for gay teens, but these very different groups all have one thing in common: they are participating in systems of injustice because it benefits them in some way. Whether we promote white supremacy or just buy clothes from companies that use slave/underpaid labor, we are complicit in systems that harm significant portions of the world’s population. As a church we need to examine every system of injustice that we are supporting, whether deliberately or through inaction/ignorance, and make an effort to fight against it. There are many churches that are making excellent strides to fight injustice, but there are even more that continue to choose to benefit from it instead.
Our faith is based on the teachings of someone who spoke out against oppression and injustice and advocated for the least of these. If we’re not fighting injustice, how can we call ourselves followers of Christ?