Three weeks ago, I attended Justice Weekend at Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis with Lisa Sharon Harper. I’ve attended numerous conferences and sessions on similar topics before, but Harper presented these topics in a new way that was challenging, thought-provoking, convicting and inspiring. The audio recording is going to be published on Sanctuary Covenant’s website, and I honestly want to listen to it with everyone I know.
Harper spoke about all of humanity being created in the image of God. We are all image-bearers of God on earth, created to have dominion, but dominion like God – which provides for all and is concerned for all well-being. However, since race is from human beings and not God, humans formed our social and political structures in a way that in order to exercise dominion, you had to be a white male. In this way, humans tried to be God – and obviously failed.
This is like looking at the image of God and denying it. Ignoring those who are oppressed is ignoring God. According to Harper, justice is the work of making things as they should be … but few Christians actually repent from oppressive systems and oppressive ways of thinking.
Harper talked about Nehemiah 1:1-11 and how his repentance led to action. His first response, however, was to weep and grieve for days the cost of the lies to our communities, nation and faith.
4 When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. 7 We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses.
Confession clarifies how our view is different from God’s view, but Harper talked about how our Western view of sin is very individualized. We cannot have shalom in one place, however, and not in another. We are all connected, but Western churches don’t often repent for communal sin – sins that our society and ancestors have committed. We have structured our society according to lies, and we need to ask for God’s forgiveness.
Harper gave the following steps for confession:
- Confess the lies we have believed.
- Agree with God about what is true.
- Ask for God’s forgiveness and the strength to turn and walk in the direction of truth.
She said we need to identify the clearest manifestations of the lies, then counter those lies with spiritual truths. An example Harper gave was Gandhi telling Native American peoples to break the unjust law that forbid them to practice their cultural traditions. The way he identified this as a lie rooted in the law is because it goes against God’s love. Once they started breaking the law, they become more connected to the image of God and that they were image-bearers, and recognized that they too should be able to exercise dominion.
I have experienced this freedom from lies in my own life, specifically regarding body image. Growing up, my mom and dad never really talked about weight or used degrading body image toward themselves. My mom never kept fashion magazines around the house because she didn’t want me or my siblings comparing ourselves to what society defines as beautiful or attractive. Regarding food, we were told to eat until we were full.
Of course, this does not mean that I do not struggle every now and then with negative thoughts about my body or about my appearance. But because I now recognize those thoughts as lies, I can agree with God about what is true and speak truth to the lies, knowing that my identity is in the person God has created me to be and my relationship with Christ.
Harper described a core spiritual lie is identified when it is not only believed by the oppressors but also by the oppressed. The image of God rising in the spirits and hearts of the oppressed is a threat to colonization, though. Injustice is only able to stand in a society in as much as people say “yes” to allow it. Rosa Parks didn’t just say “No, I’m tired” – she said no to the lie.
How to do justice: live according to the truth. Protest in a way that makes the lie obvious, even if that means breaking an unjust law rooted in that lie. When the Bible talks about the just, that refers to those who are seeking equity. We do justice by doing justice – taking the risk to speak the truth to the lie – truly taking every thought captive.
Though the lies may not be manifested explicitly in our laws, they still manifest themselves systemically as well as implicitly. Harper concludes being that to be a true peacemaker means taking an aggressive stance against the lies in order to make peace in the future for all. Therefore, we should follow Black Lives Matter because they understand the problem and the consequences of the lies the most because they experience it and live it the most. We need to show up, but discipline ourselves to follow, allowing the image of God to be flamed in those for whom it has been put out. We are to fan the flame and follow the lead of those who have experienced it the most, and offer our resources.
Harper also talked about all the ways to do good, such as an act of compassion, getting a group together to do compassionate ministries, community development like creating structures to give the ability for some to be saved, and then there’s the fourth and most important – going up stream to see the systems and policies that shape how we live together and disrupting and dismantling those.
We are not free until the least of us are – and as Harper put it, that means black transgender women, because they experience multiple intersections of injustice. Harper also talked about how rest, play, and vacation are acts of resistance to the dehumanizing lies – she emphasized how self-care is crucial to engage in the activism that Christ calls us all to.
Though a lot of these points have been made by people before, Harper shed new light on all of these issues and possible solutions. When we took a break to eat lunch, the courtyard was filled with people attempting to digest both our food as well as the message she was preaching. We engaged in dialogue and active conversation, sorting through why there seems to be a disconnect between millennials and our parents on these issues, and how we can better talk to them about these things.
We talked about what this means for Bethel University, especially at this time. Getsch Resident Director Gustavo Tiffer asked Harper for practical things he could tell his students who want to support this movement, leading Harper to talk about how white folks need to fan the flame that is already there, not try to start our own thing. Overall, it was truly an amazing time of reconciliation, conversation, and shalom.