A Chorus of Freedom

At our college and young adult gathering last week, we watched the session on evil and
suffering from our “DreamThinkBeDo” DVD series. At one point in the video, the great
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann spoke about the suffering of the Hebrew
slaves in Egypt, and how their cries reached the ears of Yahweh. When Yahweh heard
their cries, he took action to deliver them from their bondage. From this incident
Brueggemann drew the principle that “voiced pain becomes a public fact that requires
the rearrangement of social power.”
Think about that for a moment. Voiced pain becomes a public fact that requires the
rearrangement of social power. We are hearing a lot of voiced pain in our country and
around the world these days. We hear about the pain of law-abiding citizens who fear
for their lives in every encounter with law enforcement (and with good reason, as
multiple cell-phone videos continue to demonstrate) simply because of the color of their
skin. We hear about the pain of responsible police officers who feel unfairly demonized
and targeted because of the decisions of juries or the actions of an irresponsible few of
their number. We hear about the pain of women who face the danger of sexual assault
without the assurance that they will be believed when they tell their stories, or that those
convicted will receive punishments commensurate with their crimes. We hear about the
pain of the people of Paris, Nice, Baghdad, Istanbul, Medina, and Orlando, as they deal
with the after-effects of terrorist attacks in their cities. We hear about the pain of
refugees from Syria, economic migrants from the developing world, and those living in
fear for their lives on a daily basis in Rio de Janeiro, Guatemala City, Chicago, and even
Columbus. We hear about the pain of working class people in the US who are dealing
with a transformed economy and social landscape where they feel they have lost their
bearings and their place.
With all these voices making their pain audible to the world, surely we will begin to see a
rearrangement of social power. That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is looking
for. That’s what the people who flocked to Bernie Sanders’s campaign events this spring
were looking for. That’s even what Donald Trump’s backers are looking for, with their
plea to “make America great again.”
So where is this rearrangement happening? Where do we see social power changing
hands? Where do we see liberation taking place? More to the point, where do we see
the church becoming involved in these matters and seeking answers to these
Well, in some cases we see the church, or at least some who claim to speak for the
church, on the wrong side. We see them siding with Pharaoh instead of the Hebrew
slaves. In a recent New York Times op-ed, the writer quoted a prominent evangelical
leader who explained his support of Donald Trump by saying that, when considering
perceived threats against evangelical Christians, “I want the meanest, toughest, son-ofa-
you-know-what I can find in that role [the presidency], and I think that’s where many
evangelicals are.” Trump panders to this persecution complex and the sense of
resentment many Christians feel at their loss of influence in the culture. In a January
speech at a Christian college in Iowa, he said, “I’ll tell you one thing: [if] I get elected
president, we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” He promised beleaguered
evangelicals, “If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power—you don’t need
anybody else.”
Leaving aside the breathtaking claim that Christians “don’t need anybody else” besides
Donald Trump, what these quotes demonstrate is an utter reversal of Jesus’s attitude
toward power. Like Yahweh as depicted in the Exodus story, Jesus came alongside the
powerless and strengthened them in their struggle for liberation. Unlike Yahweh, he
effected that liberation through nonviolent means. Instead of striking down the firstborn
of the Egyptians and drowning Pharaoh’s army in the sea, Jesus gave up his own life in
order to free his people from their bondage. His power, as Paul would later declare, was
made perfect in weakness. Christians who are looking for the meanest, toughest son-ofa-
you-know-what have abandoned the way of Jesus.
But that’s not the whole story. Many Christians seek to remain faithful to Jesus’s vision
of the nonviolent reign of God, and through their efforts we see a rearrangement of
social power. Maybe not on a large, dramatic scale, but in small ways all over the world.
Over the years, citizens of goodwill, including many Christians, have banded together to
secure LGBTQ rights, ban landmines, increase federal funding for poverty-focused
development assistance and domestic child nutrition programs, topple Communist
regimes throughout eastern Europe, prevent genocidal bloodletting in South Africa, and
win important civil rights protections for African Americans. Today, the struggle continues
in different areas, such as ending human trafficking, abolishing nuclear weapons,
reforming the criminal justice system in the US, and more.
The hoped-for rearrangement of social power comes when we join together to raise our
voices and take concrete actions to bring liberation to the Hebrew slaves of our time.
Guided by the Holy Spirit and fortified by prayer, our voices not only declare the pain but
also proclaim the truth that God is unequivocally on the side of justice. One day these
same voices will rise to celebrate the establishment of the reign of God in its fullness.
As we go forward, let us look for ways to add our voices to this chorus of freedom.