No civilians, or reflections on Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero, on the night of his last homily, preached to his small Latin American congregation about the need for Christians to do more than just pray, but also to stand up and reach out to the world around them.  Now, we’ve heard this plenty of times in church (usually in reference to missions trips), but for Romero, the involvement he spoke of was enough for him to be murdered at the end of this homily. You see, Romero was known for speaking out against corrupt Latin American governments that exploited the poor through oppression, extortion and violence. On the night that he pushed his congregants to stand up for the poor and against oppression, he was assassinated by a soldier trained at the School of the Americas, a training program for Latin American soldiers operating out of Ft. Benning, Georgia (Now known as the Western Hemisphere Institution for Security Cooperation). Romero was witness to human rights violations throughout the country of El Salvador, and the country has recognized its responsibility for the murder.

As Christians, we often pray, vote, and pay taxes…and that’s about it.  Some of us go on missions trips, either to help build schools or orphanages, provide medical care, or just “spread the gospel.”  Our involvement in the actual problems of the world such as poverty, oppression, violence, and starvation is limited at best.  Our missions trips are short term partially because we have too much to do in our own lives (not a bad thing), but also because we can’t fully expose ourselves to the shock of what’s really going on.  We’re Americans.  We like our quiet lives of going to work every day, then home for dinner, and sleeping in on the weekends.  It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, it’s safe.

Of course, here’s another speech you’ve all heard, and I’m sure you all get it.  We need to break out of our comfortable little bubbles and go out and do something about the evils of the world. What I’m saying is that short term missions trips and prayer groups aren’t enough! So many people in my generation don’t want to be deeply involved in political and social issues because they think it’s stupid and pointless to quibble over such things as abortion and stuff, going in circles and toward no solutions. Naturally, they’re right, but it becomes an excuse to not be informed or active.  Romero did everything he could to alleviate the oppression of the poor in El Salvador, including writing to politicians to utilize their power to help end the violations of human rights that took place around them and so should we.

As Christians, we have such a greater job to do than what we are doing. Jim Wallis is always calling the church “the conscience of the government.”  He also tells us “Don’t go right or left, go deeper,” in how we understand politics, and I fully agree.  The life we are called to live out in the gospels, the community of believers begun in the early church, is radically different than the world around it, on a level where it looks strange, different, and threatening on social and political levels.  Because our faith directs (or should direct) our involvement in politics and social issues, we need to be stepping up a whole lot more, not just with small actions and quiet prayers, but with direct resistance  against oppression through civil disobedience and nonresistance, and loud voices for those who cannot speak, or whose voices are silenced.

I’m not here to tell to which way to vote, but I am telling you to cross party lines and consider the Sermon on the Mount as the source for your politics.   You cannot read the teachings of Christ earnestly and not have a heart for the lost, hopeless, and oppressed, and I don’t mean to just get them to heaven, but to bring the kingdom of God to them, in which everyone’s needs are met, and to push the government to do the same.  We as Christians will continue acting as Christ commanded us, and that means speaking up to those who are in authority about these issues.  Use your voice.

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