This week I found myself fascinated by the reviews written by Tom De Bruin and Clifford Goldstein on Reinder Bruinsma’s Facing Doubt: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘On the Margins.’ The content of the reviews themselves is not what ultimately drew me to extended thought on these pieces. Instead, I marveled at the ability of two people to see one thing in such drastically different ways. My enthrallment was dulled somewhat when I thought about the current state of our society on so many subjects, particularly with regards to racism and sexism. Two people can look at the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and see very different things. People examining Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, NBC’s Olympic coverage, or the trial of Brock Turner can come away with very different conclusions. But this leaves us with a very important question – How exactly should we address these differences of view in our society (and maybe even our church)?
When considering this question, I think there is one thing that we all should remember. While every person is equal, we are not the same. So when we begin to discuss and address issues of inequality in our society, when we try to bring to the middle those who for one reason or another have found themselves on the margins of our society, those people (and to be clear by "those people" I mean the groups on the margins) have to become central to the conversation. In short, the voices, opinions, and experiences of the oppressed must be given weight over any other voice at the table. Now I will admit, following this principle can put any particular person in some interesting positions, depending on the particular conversation. I am a heterosexual Black man living in this society. In a discussion of race, I would think that my voice as a Black person should hold more weight and should be lent more credence than the voice of White person. However, that same voice has to give way when the conversation is about sexism or homophobia. The principle is very simple – when I am in a position of the historically oppressed, my voice needs to be heard, respected, and valued because of that history of oppression. When I find myself in the positon of the historical oppressor, I should help to create space for the oppressed to share their voice so that it can be heard, respected, and valued.
While I think that is just common sense (that is, if we’re interested in creating a society where equality and human dignity are valued), I also think there are biblical principles that undergird this idea. God says to Israel in Isaiah 1:16-17: “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. The Lord also said to Micah: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Finally, Jesus said: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." 
Each of these verses highlight an element of the care for the downtrodden that should exemplify our interactions-- a willingness to critically examine ourselves before we seek to correct the flaws of others, a desire to demonstrate fairness, mercy, and humility in how we relate to those who have faced difficulties that we cannot ever fully understand, a predisposition to fight for those who have found themselves outside of the mainstream of the group. I can only imagine what our most contentious conversations could accomplish if we came with this spirit.
Incidentally, this leads me back to the two reviews posted on Spectrum this week. It seems to me that Bruinsma sought to reach out to the people who feel that they are (or actually find themselves) at the margins of our church. The people he is attempting to speak to are the people who often feel oppressed by us. I would hope that we would respond to their doubts with love and care and not with reflective self-defense. What a shame it would be to further marginalize them out of our community instead of seeking to critically examine ourselves as we attempt to defend them and show them mercy.
Someone will (or at least some should) argue the possibility that the oppressed people might actually be empirically or normatively incorrect (i.e., Black people see racism where none actually exists). This may be true. However, even if it is true, I would argue that we should still be interested in hearing and understanding why that “mistaken” impression exists because we cannot begin to change that perception if we do not at first understand it.
A few points here – First, forgive my reduction of race into the simple duality of Black and White. Second, the treatment of African-Americans in this society is a long and complex conversation. However, I think it is foolish to think that American society overcame almost 300 years of slavery, racism, and oppression against Black people in the last 50 years while I attend a church that is still segregated. Third, the statement to which this footnote is attached seems like a truism to me, except that I know how many White people have attempted to explain the Black experience in America to me.
Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
If you respond to this article, please:
Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.