Most of us have heard the saying: “Never talk about Religion or Politics…” However, I am learning that if we never talk about religion or politics then we will never get to the root causes of our deepest suffering, and we will fail to be the people we were created by God to be. Now, I don’t mean to imply that religion or politics are the root issues that cause us pain, rather it is the idea that there are “some things” that we should not discuss.
In avoiding discussion of these two issues in particular, we end up suppressing the voices of those who want and need the status quo to change. Think about it; politics and religion play a huge part in how we live our lives – even if we are not interested in politics or religion – many decisions are made for us based on our history and the way that laws have been interpreted in light of religion. The act of choosing not to discuss a topic is an act to keep the status quo – to leave the current policies and beliefs in place, that harm others.
As I have worked with many non-profits over the years – I find that the more I listen to the stories of others, the more I hear the entire story. Hearing the entire story is difficult because it causes me to dismantle my experiences and preconceived notions about how things work in the world. When I hear the entire story, it causes me to reflect on how I might be contributing to the suffering of others. For example, when working and serving with folks who are experiencing homelessness – I have discovered that many of these folks are working, that is, they have jobs. However, they make minimum wage – which, in Raleigh, is not enough to secure adequate housing. In fact, one would need to work 125 hours a week at minimum wage in order to afford rent, utilities, transportation; the basics. In assuming that people experiencing homeless simply need to work, we contribute to the problem of not understanding the real issue. This issue is not about failure to hold a job – the issue is not receiving enough pay that provides a place to live.
I think this is why these discussions are difficult – because we set ourselves on a course; believing that we are headed in the right direction, that we are doing the right thing…at least, the right thing for us. But when faced with an opposing view that challenges us – we have to take a second look, we might even have to admit, maybe we were wrong, which in turn, causes us to go a different direction. And life is already hard – why make it harder?
But in changing my path – I can change paths for others. I can make a conscious decision to act in ways that lessen the suffering of others in the world. As followers of Christ, we are challenged to do just this – to alleviate the suffering of others, to walk in compassion, side by side, with those who are disadvantaged by the way things work currently.. And the best way to do that is to listen to the issues they face and to discuss with them a way to move forward. Many times we will discover that there is an unjust law that gives one group an upper hand or a religious interpretation that causes us to exclude another. Now you may say; “but we can never make everyone happy” and that is true. But our goal is not to make everyone happy – our goal is to bring redemption, to recognize everyone’s dignity, to include the voices of all people, to reveal the love and light of God to all people.
Here at Raleigh Youth Mission, our goal is to expose the stories of those who are living on the margins that we need to hear, so that we can examine the ways in which we need to change personally and corporately in order that others may be free of their suffering. At Raleigh Youth Mission we talk about politics in a general way and how we can begin to ask deeper questions, that get the the root of the issue. So rather than asking what is the right thing to do, we ask what is the redemptive thing to do? We answer that question through our religion, by looking to Christ, to see what he did and how he did it and how we can do the same.
Let’s face it, Politics and Religion are two uncomfortable topics to discuss, but there are folks in all our communities who are living very uncomfortable lives. For their sakes, perhaps we need to work through our discomfort and grow in ways that help them and us.
Rev. Linda Harding is the Mission Immersion Director for Raleigh Youth Mission