Those of you who follow Jarrod McKenna probably know about his recent encounter with law enforcement in Australia as he protested for the rights of refugees mistreated by the Australian government. During one of their many protests, Jarrod and other church leaders were arrested and strip searched. While the officials claimed to strip search Jarrod and the others because they suspected the clearly nonviolent protestors of carrying drugs or weapons, it’s pretty obvious that their real intent was to humiliate and discourage them.
In Jarrod’s Facebook status above, Jarrod relays the final words of his testimony in a hearing about the incident. You can read it for yourself, but essentially, Jarrod was asked why he felt it necessary to pursue the incident in court. Instead of speaking to how he had been the personal victim of police abuse, Jarrod instead affirmed this as another step in his ministry to stand up for the voiceless and oppressed. If Jarrod and other church leaders, who are middle class and carry some degree of voice and influence, can be treated in this way, imagine the harms suffered by those in police custody who have no voice to speak out against it.
Jarrod references Matthew 25:40 – “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” These words from Jesus are just one of many instances throughout the Bible in which God aligns and identifies with the poor and oppressed. As we strive to follow Jesus, we cannot do so without also aligning ourselves with the poor and oppressed, speaking out for “the least of these” as we work to bring about justice.
When Jesus spoke these words, he was telling his disciples about what God’s Kingdom would look like, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Just imagine, a kingdom in which its citizens didn’t tread upon each other to secure their own blessings and comfort, but a kingdom in which all people gave voice to one another, in which the suffering of any one person was felt by all people, even the King. Jesus gave us a blueprint for how to help build a world that looks more like God’s kingdom: by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, empowering the oppressed, and standing with, and standing up for, the humiliated.
This is what Jarrod is trying to do in Australia as he fights for the rights of the many voiceless refugees detained by the Australian government in off-shore detention facilities. I hope we find ways in America to do the same, to speak up for the poor, oppressed, and voiceless in our communities, in our nation, and also by understanding the way that the United States impacts the world’s poor and oppressed and seeking to create better systems that affirm and support all human dignity.
One last point. Recent surveys have indicated that white protestant Christians in the US believe that they are more persecuted than any other group of people. More than black victims of police brutality and countless other racist structures built into our criminal justice system. More than Muslim victims of hate crimes and discrimination. More than LGBTQ victims of bullying, harassment, and astronomical suicide rates. More than the poor and disabled, who are subjected to condescending laws meant to humiliate and punish them for daring to need government assistance. And more than immigrants and their children, who are denied basic government services, who are detained in brutal detention centers, who live as fugitives in their own homes, in constant fear of arrest, attack, or deportation, who work for poverty wages just for a chance to make a better life for themselves and for their children.
When Jesus spoke the words in Matthew 25, he was a poor Jewish Rabbi speaking to his poor Jewish disciples, in the midst of brutal and oppressive Roman occupation. Even then, when many could say that he and his followers were among “the least of these,” he said that following him meant speaking out for people with even less of a voice, and standing up for those in ever more dire straits.
How much more of a challenge are Jesus’ words, then, to us, the middle class, white protestant Christians of the United States, who carry far more than our fair share of power and influence, both in our country and across the world? Instead of searching out the ways in which we might be considered the victims, what if instead we sought to identify the true victims and fought for them the way Jesus has taught us to?
I hope we take a lesson from Jarrod, who experienced police abuse himself, but has the perspective to remember how much worse the police abuse suffered by “the least of these” must be, and refuses to stop speaking out until things are made right, not for him, but for all the voiceless victims of injustice in Australia.
Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter@DunkerPunks and on Facebook.
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