Lines of Division

One of the fun things we do at DOOR is take board meetings on the road. The other week in Atlanta we met at Mercy Church. Before the meeting officially started Chad, the pastor, shared his vision for ministry. Near the end of his talk he pointed over to the lunch counter, a counter from which many DOOR participants have helped to serve meals. Chad made a statement that has stuck with me, “too often that counter has acted as a line of segregation.” He was right. Every week people with means and privilege come to serve a meal and everyone’s status is determined by which side of the counter they are standing on. Chad went on to say that his goal is to remove the counter.

Removing the counter may not be an easy thing to do.

Many of us who come from privilege live with interesting tensions. We want to serve and we want to maintain our status. We affirm statements which call us to deny ourselves and pick up our cross but we want to do it in a safe atmosphere. We want to follow Christ’s call to be servants but we don’t want to get too dirty in the process. We want our children to follow Christ and we want them to live safe secure lives. We want to take the gospel seriously and we want to maintain our privilege. In other words we want the counter.

Removing the counter, especially for Christians, has a terrifying quality to it. The counter and other lines of division create distance and distance allows us to do two things: serve and maintain our stereotypes. Removing the counter reduces distance and challenges stereotypes. When we find the courage to move past the counter all kinds of new possibilities emerge. Those who we hold at a distance become people, friends and co-workers.

Be warned, removing the counter changes everything.

Class

“As long as people think they have a chance of getting to the top, they just don’t care how rich the rich are.” I cannot help but wonder how true this statement is.  The fairytale we most want to believe is that it is possible to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  It is the universal myth we hold most dearly.  And there are just enough compelling stories to keep the myth alive.

I am a Canadian, so I got up at 4 AM to watch to royal wedding.  Kate Middleton, the great granddaughter of coal miners, grew up to become a princess.  If it could happen to her, then it must be possible.

The truth isn’t nearly as fun or compelling.  You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to move beyond the status you were born into.

The correspondents of the New York Times wrote a book, Class Matters, on this very topic.  Their conclusion: people who are born into poverty are destined to remain there.  When access to education, healthcare and healthy food is not equal then bettering your living conditions becomes almost impossible.

When people of faith start talking about these issues then something uncomfortable begins to happen - faith and politics start to intermingle.

It doesn’t take a New Testament scholar to figure out that Jesus was concerned about the poor, the widow and the orphan.  These were the people at the bottom.  When we ignore those whom society defines as the least, we choose to be less Christian.

Why do I say all this? Because things like taxation are Christian issues.  Giving tax breaks to the rich probably isn’t what Jesus would recommend.  Trickledown economics doesn’t work.  Cutting social welfare programs may save federal money, but it isn’t Christian.  Reducing spending on education will only ensure that those with wealth improve and the poor will stay poor.

What would it look like to apply the biblical idea of jubilee to our tax policy?  Do the rich really need to keep getting richer?  What is so wrong with the upper class becoming middle every once in a while?  Could the government play a missional role in helping everyone get through the “eye of the needle?”