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God in Christ: Peace and Justice Must Come From Within

No courtroom verdict can fully bring justice and no jury can mend a broken heart. Peace must come from within. This axiom is as true of the gospel itself, as it is for the streets on which the gospel is preached. Our salvation was not achieved from afar, God did not decry it from on high alone, it was bought and paid for on a rugged cross. On the outskirts of a town not that different from yours and mine. The great 4th century defender of the faith, Gregory the Theologian, put it this way, “that which is not assumed, is not healed,” and Eugene Peterson in his translation of John 1:1 says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” God himself took on our humanity and our burdens, and not just a part, but the whole weight of betrayal, suffering, and even death itself.

To translate this gospel message into political action, which is the responsibility of every believer, we could say that you will never fully solve an issue through legislation that commits money or resources to a problem, but goes no further. The rich and powerful have a sacred duty to personally, not just legislatively, take on the burdens of the poor. As the scriptures teach, and many have been fond of repeating as of late, God does appoint those who are in authority, but that appointment comes with a grave warning. If they do not stand on the side of the oppressed, they will be “thrown down … and sent away empty” (Luke 1: 52-53), and that pattern of appointment and impeachment can be seen throughout the bible and throughout history. Unfortunately, we can easily get confused and divided over the best ways to do this at the national level, so I want to look at a simple way this principle can be applied locally.

If you read a previous post of mine titled Redlining Up Close: A Local Case of Systemic Racism, you may have seen that the problem of defacto segregation has a long history of deeply dividing our communities. One result of that segregation was that many schools were built in the middle of low income neighborhoods, effectively continuing school segregation despite the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court case which outlawed racial segregation in public schools. Attempts were made by many cities to bus students to different schools in order to achieve diversity, but this idea did not last long in many communities. In fact, the last group of students who were bused from Indianapolis Public Schools, when the system began phasing out in 1998, recently graduated from high school in 2016.

Although busing was phased out another post segregation program designed to improve education for disadvantaged students continues. The Title 1 program is currently the largest federally funded educational program in the nation, but reports, like this one form the Brookings Institute, have consistently shown that the program is not working. The direct quote from the Universal Journal of Educational Research abstract cited in the report states,

There is no evidence that early Title I programs significantly reduced achievement gaps nationwide. Studies following NCLB implementation show modest closure of grade 4 gaps of about 0.2 of a standard deviation. Given the modest academic gains attributable to Title I, and considering that the program costs about $15 billion per year, the authors conclude that Title I programs have not been cost effective in closing the achievement gaps.

What message does it send to the poor and minority children in our communities when they grow old enough to realize the highest court in our nation declared that segregation in our schools should end, but then cities across that same nation quit the only program attempting to make that ideal a reality? And instead would rather spend $15 billion dollars a year on a program that does not work. Busing, however, was never really going to solve the problem of segregation in our society. Taking kids out of their own neighborhoods and sending them to wealthier schools across town is only a temporary solution at best. The real answer would be one that integrated communities so that disadvantaged students did not just go to school with wealthier classmates, but lived near them, so that they and their families could build relationships before and after school.

That type of visionary inclusion would require those with wealth and power in a community to make the intentional effort of instituting Inclusionary Zoning Ordinances in higher income neighborhoods that would reserve a certain portion of housing in those areas for low income families. This type of system is reflective of the true nature of Christian faith. Inviting men and women from different socioeconomic backgrounds into wealthier communities to share in the prosperity of our culture, rather than busing them into the school or sending them money through the Title 1 program. As the title of this post references, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5: 19), and this is the mindset that men and women of faith must strive for. We all must develop a habit of thinking in a way that challenges us to discover new methods for uniting ourselves to the most vulnerable members of our communities.

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