Cutting Classes for Christ

Ariel, the son-in-law of the Guatemalan couple that hosted me when I traveled to Central America in 1997, spoke nostalgically of his days in the student movement—even though it had gotten him roughed up and shot at by security forces. He left such dangers behind when commitments to wife, children, and church became his highest priorities.

Though most U.S. activists risk far less than Ariel, often the same kinds of commitments push justice work to the back burner—or off the stove entirely. These commitments don't excuse "grown-ups" from doing activism, but awareness of them points out the importance of encouraging the radical impulses of those who often are without such pressing responsibilities—such as, for example, students.

Compared to Ariel's risks, getting arrested for protesting the U.S. Army's School of the Americas (SOA) in Georgia—the school that trains the soldiers who've caused so much suffering in Latin America—was the very least I could do. Last November, students from more than 232 colleges and universities made the same choice and did civil disobedience to protest the School of the Americas. Interrupting my "busy" academic schedule for such events was not only possible but, in the big picture, an even higher priority than classes.

SOA Watch and other emerging student movements are impressive for their "love thy neighbor" attitude. Many of the most popular causes—sweatshop labor, a living wage, and freeing Tibet—defend the rights of others. And though passions may wane after graduation, youthful idealism can grow into life-long commitment to justice.

Students, however, need more than a call to action. We need encouragement to integrate faith and politics without feeling that one must be sacrificed for the other.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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