By chance, I ran into my friend and mentor Dr. Jacqueline Bussie (I was on my way home with Chipotle, thanks to my girlfriend’s excellent suggestion). Back at Capital University in 2008, she taught a Liberation Theology class that ended up being one of my favorite classes. As we talked about her work out of Minnesota, she reminded me of something I said about that class: that it was the most dangerous class on campus.
What made the class so dangerous? We didn’t just sit in a circle talking about theology. A significant portion of the class involved service-learning, getting down into some trenches and learning from the experiences as well as the class discussions. We worked with Lutheran Social Services, with Community Refugee Immigration Services, with food banks, and more. We learned by doing. And it changed our lives.
How our lives changed depended on the person. Some of us became radicals. We’ve traveled the world advocating for peace, becoming teachers, researching climate change and socioeconomic injustice.
Some of us didn’t become quite so radical. We stayed home, joined up with organizations like Lutheran Social Services, entered and graduated seminary, and set out to change the way the church thinks about people.
As different as we ended up reacting, we all had something in common. We had stepped outside of our comfort zone. White middle-class Americans are really, really bad at stepping outside of our comfort zones. It’s much easier to talk about the world than it is to live in it. Dr. Bussie did not settle for talk. If we wanted to learn Liberation Theology, then we had to walk with those who lived it.
It is easy to pass judgement on people we do not know. It is much more difficult when we get to know them. What made our liberation theology class dangerous was not what we were taught, but from whom we learned. Working alongside the marginalized broke down the lie that the world was created with two realms, one for “us” and one for “them.” We learned that our similarities as human beings and as children of God far outweigh our differences. The idea that we all stand or fall on our own merits alone was revealed to be utterly false.
We believed that our experiences as well-to-do whites were universal and that everybody could be like us if they only tried hard enough. We learned that we were wrong–not because a professor told us so, but because we witnessed it.
That class wasn’t dangerous because it showed us how unfair, unbalanced and un-Christian our systems are; it did all that, of course. It was dangerous, ultimately, because it taught us how to love without expectation, to walk alongside without prejudice, and to see the image of God in all equally.
More Christians need to learn by doing. Instead of collecting food for the hungry, go out and feed them. Don’t just raise money for homes, go out and build a few. Stop talking about social justice issues and engage them. We’ll be amazed by what we learn as we start to discover what God is already doing in the world in spite of us.