As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Riding the bus home from the swimming pool several years ago, I found myself in a communication conundrum.
Because it can’t get wet, I hadn’t brought my AAC device (a machine that gives me an electronic voice because I have communication disabilities). I had toted along an erasable writing board—which I’d promptly dropped in the pool, causing it to stop working.
Those boards are easy to replace and fairly inexpensive, and I had more at home—but it did mean that on the bus ride I was without an effective method of communication. This was when disaster struck.
A fellow passenger pushed next to my wheelchair and then kept bumping my foot. When I tried to politely motion/ nonverbally ask her to please stop, she grew furious.
Even though all buses in my city are equipped with ramps and designated seating areas so as to be fully accessible for riders using wheelchairs, she began to shout that I did not belong on the regular city bus and that I really belonged on a bus for people with disabilities.
The couple of minutes until the bus reached my stop seemed interminable as, angrily, she shouted my lack of belonging at me over and over.
What I remember all these years later is not only the force of her rage but the silence of everyone else on that bus. Even the driver said nothing, though he gave me a kindly look as I disembarked.
I rolled off that bus and burst into tears.
That experience crystalizes for me why it’s critical to stand with people experiencing injustice. Discrimination hurts—and the pain is the same whether the injustice is based on disability or another vulnerability—age, poverty, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or something else.
It challenges me to identify areas in my life where I’m unjust. I’m not usually an aggressor—but far too often I’m silent in a world where some are privileged and others aren’t, some have power and others are disempowered, some seemingly check the right boxes while others cannot, some are welcome while others are rejected. I’m guessing that if you look inside your heart, you might realize this silence might sometimes be true about yourself too.
Sadly, injustice and silence have ugly roots in all aspects of society, even down to our churches and families. Because these are the places where love and acceptance should most occur, when love doesn’t happen here, the pain of that rejection can cause the deepest wounds. This is not the way of Jesus.
We are called as Christians to love our neighbors as ourselves, following the example of Jesus. I often have fallen into the trap of believing that means solely being nice to the exclusion of definitive action. But the bus driver’s kind glance was not the effective action I critically needed on the bus. If we are friendly but fail to stand up when wrong is occurring, we are not living as Christ lived.
We see this example in Matthew 21:12-13, which shares the story of Jesus at the temple. The temple, like the church, should have been a holy place where God’s love relationship with humanity was embodied. But Jesus discovered the temple had become a place that took advantage of the poor and others who had come to worship God: Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Our God, the perfect example of love in this hurting world, is also a God of justice. When he sees someone treated unjustly, while others stand silently by, how his heart must doubly break.
While it’s not always easy to stand up for or walk alongside people who are vulnerable or facing injustice, we can and must do just that, remembering the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 25:34-40. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
If we open our eyes and hearts, we don’t have to look far to see injustice occurring in this world; the directive in these verses is to not be passive but to be Christians of action.
When someone is hungry or struggling, may we offer them food or a hand or whatever it is they need. When they are alone, let us welcome them—not just with words but with our hearts and actions. If we witness injustice, don’t stand silently, even when it is not easy.
Let us remember that our voices and actions matter. We are to speak the truth in love, even if—or perhaps especially if—that injustice is in those places love should most flourish, in our families, churches, and even in denominational decisions.
Above all, may we love like Jesus.