What Can I Do?
The words to the iconic children’s song “This Little Light of Mine” have been playing through my head these past few days. “All around the neighborhood, I’m going to let it shine.” Those cheerful words seem an overly optimistic counterpoint to the “other” news now filling the airwaves and social media.
The same sentiments are etched on the glass outside my office — the mission statement of the North Pacific Union Conference. The simple words cast a wide net of powerful import, to share with our world “the distinctive, Christ-centered, Seventh-day Adventist message of Hope and Wholeness.”
But what do those words mean in the midst of the roiling dysfunction of immigration enforcement, which has galvanized our bitterly divided nation? How do our words of mission spring to life in ways that make a positive difference to our world, in our communities? How does our Adventist mission become the light of the world Jesus intended — not someday, but right here, right now?
The path of least resistance may be to jump into the public fray, to join the rising volume of political opinion on one side or the other, to become just another partisan pundit on social media. Or, we may be tempted to avoid the verbal scrum altogether, to turn away in despair and disgust, to dump our moral imperatives by the shredder.
But there is a better path. The words of Micah 6:8 ring clearly in a Scripture song through my mind: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
When strident voices urge me to unthinkingly react, these simple instructions give me a blueprint for thoughtful action. This moral stance pulls my head from the proverbial sand, opens my eyes, helps me understand a way forward in the midst of today’s cacophony. The way forward is not a pastoral walk in the wilderness, but a nitty-gritty application of Christ's values in a counter-Christian culture. It's not America first or religion first, but Jesus first.
Our careful, forthright stance on religious liberty has at times been misinterpreted by some conscientious members to invoke silence in matters of government. Indeed, the vertical relationship between human and divine in the first four commandments of God’s law discourages us from legislating religious or spiritual compliance. By contrast, however, the last six commandments compel us toward advocacy of horizontal human interactions of integrity, with justice and mercy combined.
Our corporate church may put out official "position" statements, but what really matters is what you and I say and do to let the light and values of Jesus shine all around our proverbial neighborhoods.
What I could've said, what I should've done in the past is beyond me to redeem. So what can I do from this point on to make a difference? My following suggestions are offered only as an opinion, as part of the conversation we must have within the body of Christ — especially when our world has drifted far from the essentials of His teachings. Resist the urge to parse these to oblivion. They are a work in progress, a mere slice of the pie in how I can interact as a temporary citizen of this world, until beckoned to an eternal home.
- I can in my words and actions support the rule and consequences of just laws when they are applied with humane care and respect.
- I can speak in opposition when civic or governmental decisions, dishonest words or punitive actions put the well-being of law-abiding citizens or visitors in jeopardy.
- I can clearly show that attitudes of ethnic supremacy or nationalistic exclusionism do not represent the values of those who follow the teachings of Jesus.
- I can demonstrate my opposition to unethical or unjust actions, even if they seem to accomplish a desired result. The end does not justify the means.
- I can value all adults and children the way Jesus does — as children of the King, no matter how damaged they (and I) may be.
- I can model God-honoring attitudes, even on social media, resisting the urge to join denigration and disrespect.
- I can join with other community partners to make a positive difference in the health and well-being of people close to home.
- I can put action behind the iconic words of Ellen White, who encouraged God’s people to be true to duty as the needle to the pole, to stand for the right, though the heavens fall.
There is a time to be quietly in prayer and a time to follow God’s promptings to action. Silence must never give consent to evil. God’s people are called to reflect Jesus’ light in this world. His exhortation to us was simple: “Let your light so shine, that all may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Does this mean waving a flag? Picketing a detention center? The emotions of the day can sweep us unthinkingly along, but we should resist becoming part of anyone’s mob. These are issues for each person and God to decide, together, the answers to the question: What can I do?
The crux of the matter for me is, what glorifies God in this, our broken world? I think Jesus said it best: If His light is in you, let it shine — to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God … all around the neighborhood and beyond.