Recovery from “Salvation”?

Wire, Barbed Wire, Freedom, Unfreedom, Oppression

“We are still recovering from being ‘saved.’”

Last week, this phrase was said repeatedly to me and to others by the instructor of a class called Gospel of the Masses. She was speaking on behalf of the people of color who have been the targets, perhaps the victims, of various evangelical initiatives. 

Our class spent a week meeting in a community center in East Oakland, a place that serves to gather, connect, and educate amongst the many communities that coexist in that neighborhood. We heard from a Native American healer, undocumented migrant workers trying to solve their status problems, an organizer helping develop and pass legislation to resist the racialized justice system, and more. Over and over—and over—again, we heard the ways in which the Christian church had been complicit in, and often even led, systems that contributed to oppression and genocide. 

The California missions enslaved and eradicated native peoples. The Boarding School system took Native American children from their families to “reeducate” them. The “law and order” movement unfairly targets African Americans. Anti-immigrant movements have always targeted people of color. 

Our current humanitarian crisis where we have stripped children from their families and put them in cages at the border? I want to see this as an aberration in basic American goodness, something we will get over when the world feels safer. But in actuality, this country has always put one group or another in cages. Our current crisis is just the latest in a long line of ways in which the nation has captured and enslaved  (Africans) or attracted and then rejected (Chinese and Hispanic) workers, and has locked up and abused many other people groups (Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans . . . ). 

And while some in the church have protested and resisted and fought for the freedoms of all, far too many denominations and church movements have perpetuated, and often even led, movements which were genocidal in their effect. 

When our instructor repeated, “We are still recovering from being ‘saved,’” she was reflecting on this. In the guise of bringing “salvation” to various people groups, the church was instead bringing cultural destruction and human devastation. 

I realize that writing about this makes me seem like a radical of some sort. And maybe that’s so. But from my point of view it doesn’t feel like anti-American sentiment. I am grateful for the ways in which I have benefitted from my heritage. However, I realize that the heritage this country has left to others is not so benign. This feels like one of those times when, once you have seen something, you can’t un-see it, even if you might want to.  It makes me understand that I need to repent not just of the sins that I am conscious of, but also to repent of the ways I benefit from unjust systems. I have clean water, good schools, and a police force committed to protecting people who look like me. Far too many others lack even these basic necessities, and I am the beneficiary of the systems that oppress them.

When I was an Evangelical, part of the message I took in was that it was all-important to “save the soul” of the other, even if their life might be made worse as a result. It is this thinking that contributes to programs and plans that insist on “salvation” that results in the destruction of families, cultures, and even the lives of numerous people groups. 

“We are still recovering from being ‘saved.’”

God, grant that I might never help perpetuate a “salvation” that damns the lives of others.

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1 Comment

  1. Portia, thank you for reminding those in the majority like me, white, male, heterosexual, that we are the beneficiaries of SO much that we take for granted. In the same way, whether we realize it or pay attention to it or not, we have the privilege of basic necessities that people of color do not. It’s clear to me now that systems, “the system” is set up to care for the majority and to unfairly oppress others. As people of privilege, as Christians, we can no longer ignore this injustice. We MUST raise awareness and use our privilege for good, to work for justice for our oppressed sisters and brothers, to stand up, to speak out, to be in solidarity so that God’s love might overcome and might work to heal those suffering from being “saved.”

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