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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Change the Narrative - How to Change the World, pt. 2

Bryan Stevenson
I was so fortunate to get to hear Bryan Stevenson speak at Davidson College on January 28. Just the previous week Heather and I went to see Just Mercy (imdb), the movie based on Stevenson's life work through the Equal Justice Initiative to pursue social justice for falsely imprisoned and unfairly sentenced juveniles and people of color.

The event at Davidson filled up the original venue and then sold-out the basketball arena. He spoke to the gathered crowd on the topic: "How to Change the World." From what I've come to learn about his life, if anyone has the clout and experience to speak to such a lofty topic, Stevenson does. He shared four points, all after framing his work in his own faith and desire to "get to higher ground" with the people he works with. I'd like to look at each of his points in a series of posts and draw a connection with the work of the church, which is also in the business (under God's leadership) of changing the world. Here's a short (3 1/2 min.) video summary of his presentation (VIDEO).

How to Change the World, pt. 2: CHANGE THE NARRATIVE

Mr. Stevenson did not accept that the stories told about his clients were the complete or final word about them. He challenged and then is working to change the narrative: people of color are not inherently criminal or untrustworthy or violent; children are children, not adults. He says that a narrative of fear and anger (around race) allow us to justify indecent responses to crimes... there is a demonstrable difference in sentencing and outcomes based on skin color.

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash
What would it mean for the church to challenge and change the narrative around race - to see the world and our stories through a different lens? The narrative that people of color are inherently criminal, untrustworthy, violent, or "less than" permeates our society. There is demonstrable data of such throughout spheres of criminal justice, education, health care, housing, and politics. While at first blush one might think the church would be an exception to such realities, it is still one of "the most segregated hours in our country."

The church needs to rediscover and proclaim biblical themes (narratives!) such as the following:
  • imago Dei -- all humanity (male and female) is created in the image of God, with all the dignity inherent in that truth
  • unity and equality in Christ -- the Apostle Paul wrote that in Christ there is (no longer) distinction to be made spiritually or inherently between male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile. 
  • God as qualifier of the called -- neither God nor Jesus sought out the elite or the educated or the prosperous, though they did not avoid them either; rather, God and Jesus often called someone from the edge of society (or beyond the borders!)
  • Pentecost and Revelation -- both the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the scenes of heavenly worship in Revelation depict people from many/all tribes, tongues, and nations gathered. This is the biblical and holy picture of God's design for humanity and the narrative that the church needs to be proclaiming and working toward.
Stevenson noted that to get from here to there we need an era of truth and justice - and I thought: repentance.

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