No Such Thing as Neutrality
Taking a stand for Justice.
One of the oldest lessons of morality recorded in scripture is that of Cain and Abel. After Cain offs his brother, Abel, out of crazy jealousy, God asks Cain about Abel’s location.
In the first known instance of back-talking God, Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
God’s answer is, essentially, “Yes, as a matter of fact you are.”
As the record of humanity’s understanding of consciousness unfolds, our understanding of what it means to be our brother’s keeper has expanded. The prophet Micah says, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus goes even further, saying, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Your Brother's Keeper
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Earlier this week, Swedish student Elin Ersson discovered that an Afghan man was scheduled to be deported from Sweden, and she decided he was her brother; she decided to do something, anything, to prevent him from being sent back to Afghanistan, where she was certain “he would be murdered”. So she bought a ticket on the flight he was being forced to take out of the country, and as the crew prepared for departure, she refused to take her seat. As you can see in this 14 minute Facebook live video, she doggedly refuses to give up her phone, sit down, or give up her quest to save the man’s life until he is ultimately escorted from the plane (she left under her own power). And while many of the passengers criticized her for delaying them, some, including one Turkish man and a soccer team, stand with her. Many applaud. And those people give me some hope today.
I know there are many folks for whom “civil disobedience” seems too much like “breaking the law”; in fact, Ms. Ersson may yet face penalties from the Swedish government for failing to comply with the instructions of a flight crew. And of course, there are those who felt their inconvenience outweighed her attempt to save a man’s life. And the many who will wonder, “What difference did she make?” Although the Afghan man was not deported on that flight, at last check, the Swedish government still plans to deport him.
Here’s the view from my foxhole: there are times when the best and perhaps only answer to injustice, violence, and oppression is civil disobedience in the form of non-violent resistance. The Civil Rights Movement in America is a testimonial to this, as is the statehood of India, and the end of apartheid in South Africa. How fortunate for the course of human justice that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi did not abandon their resistance against oppression because they were breaking the law, or because injustice in some form would persist even after their incremental victories!
The idea that unjust laws which target a minority must be followed is the simplest example of majority privilege. If you don’t have to worry about these laws harming you or a family member or friend, you are a fortunate recipient of majority privilege. At its worst, it looks like slavery in America and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. But even the “pretty privileges” of wealth, power, and citizenship do not release us from our moral obligation to be our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper. Even if it makes us late for our connecting flight.
You see, friends, Elin Ersson made a difference. Even if the Afghan man whose deportation she stopped on Monday is sent back to Afghanistan to face his possible death, what she was done is to awaken our consciousness about this injustice, and to perhaps fuel the fire of righteousness that will change at least her own country’s laws. Even more, her actions may help inspire citizens of many nations to change their country’s policies on asylum, so that many more of our brothers’ and sisters’ lives may be saved.
At a minimum, she was saying to that Afghan man, “I am your sister, and you are my brother, and I am your keeper.” Recognizing that essential connectedness always, ALWAYS enhances our divinity and the beauty of the universe.
So, today, friends, I want to ask you to search your own consciousness and see what way you would be willing to make a difference. What way are you willing to “stand up” and refuse to sit idly by while the rights of a minority are trampled? It may be difficult; it may be costly. The cost may be inconvenience – a late flight, an arrest for a misdemeanor as you protest, a missed meal. The cost may be far greater – your job, your friends, even your life.
But the truth is, sitting idly by while harm comes to others doesn’t just harm them, it harms us.
It may cost you nothing. It may cost you a great deal.
But it is worth everything.