taking the words of Jesus seriously

I once worked for an organization whose executive roundtable was comprised of all older, white men. At some point in time, these people had to be hired. A position would have come open or been created, and then a system would have been designed to fill it. Maybe there was discussion about how to add diversity to the makeup of the leadership. Maybe this need wasn’t identified as a need at the time. Regardless, a homogeneous group was put in a place of power.

Someone in this governance, at the moment of its inception, might have said, “Maybe we should further interview to ensure that we have better representation?” Plausibly, someone else could have responded, “Does it really matter? It’s not like it affects anyone’s day to day one way or the other,” suggesting that representation pertains solely to appearance and not the well-being of actual lives.

I built a program within this system. A vibrant and complex one — founded, grown, and directed in large part by my management and that of another woman’s. Then one day, a man was hired to assist our efforts in an important (though subordinate) role. He was given a paycheck that superseded both of us women on account of him “having a wife and children.” It was devastating. I couldn’t help but wonder if a woman’s voice (or that of some other marginalization) at the executive roundtable would have made a difference, would have more quickly identified the injustice in the decisions that had seemed rational to those in charge.

Who we put into power matters.

And if it doesn’t, then you are probably a person of extreme privilege.

In 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president of the free world, I woke up with a pounding headache having cried myself to sleep the night before. “You’re feeling emotional,” it was suggested to me by a person quite pleased with the results of the vote, “This was probably the first election that you had invested in, and it just didn’t go as you wanted. The pendulum will swing again, and nothing ever really changes no matter who sits in that chair.”

But something had already changed.

America had chosen a man to lead it with evidence stacked against him regarding his racist, misogynist, and xenophobic stances. And I was a woman walking to my car with keys between my knuckles and an overwhelming anxiety about being harassed or abused and not believed because the ballots had communicated to me that I mattered less in the bigger scheme of things, reminded me that I am not safe in this world.

It was complex and predictable — the religion and history and atmosphere and options that led to putting Trump in office. Many would argue over the next year that their vote for him was not a vote against women, against me. And I would concede that there was more going on. But what I couldn’t grant was the insistence that it mattered not either way, that no one’s real life would be affected by things as inconsequential as elections.

Yesterday, I learned of multiple families in a ministry in which I’m involved who have either moved back to Central America or who are carrying around their citizenship papers at all times, because they are terrified that their brown skin and accents will end them up in a cage somewhere. In other parts of the world, I receive news from friends whose beaches line with trash from our country — our country whose policies about environmental justice continue to be stripped or mocked by the current administration. Police chiefs are elected who set the tone for their officers about who is a threat and who is not. And my vote may not matter one way or another to my peach-skinned child, but it could mean life or death for the Black skin of my coworker’s children.

Political rallies generating energy toward the ridicule of people of color, women, and hijab-wearing Americans and refugees are viewed by some as child’s play, locker room talk, or harmless words. But it becomes the fuel for some of our greatest acts of terror — the kind that is provoked by leaders who stir the pot and sit back, unable to fully be held accountable for the damage that has been induced. And we who are tempted to think that the fear of violence in these realms is overdramatized and needless would be served by considering that this is not a symptom of the “other side’s” theatrics but rather a clear indicator of our privilege.

Just because it is a matter that doesn’t matter to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. God put on skin to remind us of how crucial is the contrary.

Jesus’ ministry was entirely focused on the common good, as he in no uncertain terms conveyed to us that our well-being, our holiness, our salvation is wrapped up and dependent on that of our neighbor’s. No vote is cast in a vacuum; no person is raised to power in such a powerful country without a ripple felt the world over.

We are a web; the poor and the sick know this. We are a web of need and mercy — of intrinsic connectivity and dependence. Which means to whom we give the keys matters, because we were made to be interconnected for the sake of the gospel.

If it seems it does not matter to our lives when someone who does not look like love steps into power, then we likely have much repentance and responsibility to consider. For if it matters to the sick (dealing with unaffordable health care), the stranger (at the border), the orphan and widow (left after police brutality), then it should matter to us, says the son of God. Our votes and voices mean something to the beaches of Southeast Asia, to the Hispanic families in our neighborhoods, to our Black friends and our young daughters.

If it seems we are untouched by who or who is not in power, we should take a moment to consider our privilege and how it may be keeping us from having the eyes to see and the ears to hear our neighbor’s cry for the common good. A moment to ask the Holy Spirit to tear the veils of defensiveness that evoke a victim’s narrative, keeping us from witnessing the violence that is caused when the common good is not prioritized. A moment to meditate on the ways that we have possibly not loved our neighbor as Christ has called us — all because we assumed that our neighbors were only affected in as much as we have been affected, instead of the other way around.

About The Author


Britney Winn Lee is an author, liturgist, and United Methodist pastor living in Shreveport, Louisiana, with her creative husband and big-hearted son. Her books include The Boy with Big, Big Feelings (Beaming Books), The Girl with Big, Big Questions (Beaming Books), Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice (Upper Room), Deconstructed Do-Gooder: A Memoir about Learning Mercy the Hard Way (Cascade Books), the recently released Good Night, Body: Finding Calm from Head to Toe (Tommy Nelson), and the forthcoming The Kid With Big, Big Ideas (Beaming Books). With a masters degree in nonprofit administration and her local pastor licensure, Lee has worked for over a decade in faith- and justice-based, creative community-building. She writes to make room. See what she’s creating at patreon.com/theseparticularwords and on socials @britneywinnlee .

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