Systemic change

Daily Reading for November 9

Our work for justice must flow naturally out of our being in love with those for whom there is no justice. Otherwise our activism is nothing more than a “sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

When we are truly “with” those on the margins, or not even on the system’s map at all, those real relationships will lead to the confrontation of unjust systems. When we join our hearts with the excluded we may not always witness a change in systems, but we will certainly discover that we, ourselves, are being transformed.

Sharing resources and engaging in compassionate works, on their own, may in fact have the unintended effect of postponing the dismantling of unjust systems. We must not let our call and focus on compassionate works result in our allowing city, state and federal governments to shirk the responsibilities of providing affordable housing, healthcare, adequate education, decent wages, unemployment benefits and so on.

In her book, Sweet Charity, sociologist Janet Poppendieck writes that charity can act as “a sort of moral safety valve; it can reduce the discomfort evoked by visible destitution in our midst by creating the illusion of effective action and offering us myriad ways of participating in it. It can create a culture of charity that normalizes destitution and legitimates personal generosity as a response” to injustice, rather than encouraging the work of systemic change.

We must maintain a sense of outrage over systems that leave out huge segments of our human family. Compassionate works are not enough. Compassionate works and confronting unjust systems must go together as two sides of the same coin.

From “The Ultimate Question: Where Is My Security?” by K. Killian Noe, quoted in Money and Faith: The Search for Enough, edited and compiled by Michael Schut. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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