The Common Good

When a System Demands Our Allegiance Away from Christ

When I am faced with dishonesty and fraud on a systemic scale, I ask my questions of God. But I am continually directed back to humanity itself to find the origins of injustice.

So what can we do to end injustice?

The Washington Post reported on the massive falsification of documents by banks:

“Employees at major banks who churned out fraudulent foreclosure documents, forged signatures, made up fake job titles and falsely notarized paperwork often did so at the behest of their superiors, according to a federal investigation released Tuesday....

"‘I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question: How could so many people have participated in this misconduct?’ David Montoya, HUD inspector general, said in a statement. ‘The answer: simple greed.’”

Simple greed. Hmm. Who was greedy? The employees who objected were ordered to continue falsifying documents. The supervisors were merely carrying out the pace that was set for them. And the CEOs and higher ups just set quotas that were unreachable… unless some laws were broken. They in turn did that because they are bound by their shareholders to maximize profit — or face a lawsuit.

In liberal circles, we always put the guilt on systems, providing all of those involved with a convenient out. Yes, the systems are powerful, but the only way we will be able to end this powerful injustice is if we have courage to take responsibility before God for our actions within unjust institutions. If we refuse to carry out injustice, and willingly accept the punishment for our actions of noncompliance, we begin the long hard work of reshaping the system from the ground up.

A Warning to Those Who Do Not Cease Evil

In Scripture, our actions are analyzed as a whole: a person’s entire self stands before God. At first, we modern people, whose lives are intensely divided between work and leisure, family and friends, church and daily life, are disoriented by this whole-person analysis.

What about the things I do at my job, in my official capacity?

Kierkegaard expressed it this way,

“Nothing, nothing, no error, no crime is so absolutely repugnant to God as everything which is official; and why? Because the official is impersonal and therefore the deepest insult which can be offered to a personality.”

That is to say, we are persons before the God of Abraham, without office, title, or rank: naked. There is no private or public. No work nor family, stranger nor friend, slave nor free, man nor woman. We are all equally distinct. God knows who the intellectual authors of economic violence are and the exact amount each of us compromised our values, and we will answer to a God that is partisan for the oppressed.

A System Demands our Allegiance Away from Christ

But it is also true that we pulled by a powerful official system that urges us to forget our neighbors’ welfare and ground our economic decision-making in a totalizing framework of profit. The world asks us, when we are in our official capacities, to serve profit instead of God. But our challenge, our struggle, is to make any decision that is within our power by another standard of value, the Gospel, which Jesus proclaims,

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee year that signals the forgiveness of debts. These are economic and sociopolitical values. Let us ground all of our decisions in this Gospel.

Let us remember that when we do not act to end a system that results in injustice, we are culpable ourselves.

Amen.

Jeremy John is an organizer for Occupy DC and OccupyDC's lay chaplaincy. He contributes to the Good Men Project, Geez, Sojourners, the Huffington Post and Red Letter Christians, blogging here. This post appeared via The Quixote Center. Jeremy builds websites for progressive social change at EchoDitto and in 2003, spent six months in prison for civil disobedience while working to close the School of the Americas, converting to Christianity while imprisoned.

(Image by antoniomas/Shutterstock.com)

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