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Friends, Racial Justice, and Policing

Cherice Bock
On Debt (July 2021)
Healing the World

A Biblical Economy of Care

The following text is a compilation of excerpts from the Worship Leader presentation that Cherice Bock made to the General Committee of the Friends Committee on National Legislation at their annual meeting in Novmeber 2020.

The full text is published on the FCNL website and can be found via:  https://tinyurl.com/Cherice-Bock-FCNL-2020

When we say, “There is that of God in every one,” when we say, “Black lives matter,” when we say we stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized – these are intensely relational and profoundly economic and ecological claims that place on us a responsibility of shared use, rights, justice, and care. And when I say “care,” I don’t just mean a warm feeling in our hearts, but a responsibility of shared use, rights, and justice – actively showing our care in how we structure our society and lives.

Police forces emerged in this country as a way to return escaped slaves to their masters – property to its rightful place, under the protection of the “civilized” white man. Laws were created to control access to human and other property, and to ensure that people with property could keep it. Militias formed to take and defend property from Native people; but think about it – when did that land become property? Before Europeans arrived, the people belonged to the land. There was not a concept of ownership of the land.

People and land became property here, on this land of Turtle Island, only when it became colonized. People’s labor went into making commodities, and laws were created to keep this system in place. To enforce these laws, one had to buy into the idea that people and land could be property, and that individuals had a right to own them and profit from them. Suffice it to say that justice is not served by enforcing current laws, for the issues of race, economy, and environment are intertwined with the laws that uphold certain individuals’ rights to property, while others have fewer or suppressed rights.

I think it is easy for most of us who are white to say with our mouths that Black lives matter, and to believe it, and to care about racial justice; but when it comes to actually changing the economic, social, political, and ecological systems that prop up white supremacy in this country, and imperialist ideologies of wealth and status upon which white supremacy is based, we have a hard time actually doing the transformative work, since we benefit from the system as it is.

It’s hard work to change the system, and I don’t actually have to think about it all the time as a white person, because it doesn’t seem to be visible; it’s hidden from me unless I’m paying attention. No white person I know is likely to be driving and get stopped by law enforcement and shot nine times, or have their house broken into by police and be killed in bed, or be out for a jog and be murdered in the street.

Some of whites’ failure to take action is really a failure of imagination, vision, and awareness. Some of it also comes from fear of what could happen to us, and greed: we must hold on tightly to what we have, because there is the very real concern that if you and I no longer fit our lives into the economic model as it is. If we do not fortify ourselves with acceptable earnings, a 401k, IRA, savings, investments in the stock market, quality education for our children, health insurance, safe housing, and a retirement plan, you and I will be destitute.

We understand that there is no reliable comprehensive social safety net as a culture. We have no assurance that we won’t simply fall down enough rungs on the hierarchical income ladder that we will no longer be able to afford food and shelter. In this way, each of us is constantly struggling to be worthy of being treated as a human being.

Every once in a while, something breaks through this façade for white folks, like the combination of the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder. We recognize injustice, and that this is no way to live, and that if we were not afraid, we would realize that we’re all in this together. We yearn for a society in which no one has to fear the lack of access to education, equal employment opportunity, fair wages, enough healthy food, safe housing, healthcare and medicine, legal justice, fair taxes, senior care, and responsible environmental practices.

This vision brings us to the biblical economy of care, because it is the same vision that I believe the Bible points us toward, both in Jesus’ vision of a “kin-dom of God” (Ada María Isasi-Díaz) and in the “shalom community” (Randy Woodley) to which the Israelites were invited in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus says his message is primarily good news to the poor, to prisoners, to the blind, and the oppressed. Think about your meeting’s or church’s main message. Do the poorest and most marginalized in your neighborhood consider it good news? Jesus sets this up as his mission statement, the message around which he shapes his ministry. His message is one of meeting the needs of real people, feeding them and healing them, inviting them into community when they had been cast aside. This is a message that threatened the religious and political leaders of his day, the message for which he was killed, because it unmasked and refused to follow the systems of power that legitimated their roles in society.

Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor, by which the text means the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites were to practice the Sabbath on the seventh day of each week, which was set aside for resting and focusing on God; this is one of the ten commandments. The law also calls for a Sabbath year every seventh year, in which their land was to rest.

The seven-times-seventh Sabbath year was extra important, the year of Jubilee: the people were to not only let their land rest, but they were to return all land to its ancestral owners, and forgive all debts. People who had been indentured servants would have their debts forgiven and they would be free.

In this vision of the community that God intends for the Israelites to live in, each person has what they need: they have shelter and food; they do not need weapons. No one needs to be afraid. No group can overpower the others to take their land and resources forever. This is the vision of community shalom, or holistic peace, to which God invites the Israelites in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it is a community in which the social, the economic, and the ecological are in healthy balance, interconnected and integrally reliant on one another.

Although these examples from the Bible seem somewhat idealistic, they tell us the kind of economy and society, the approach to land and resource distribution, that Christianity and Judaism point to, and that early Friends patterned their communities after. You may be tempted to dismiss it as communism or socialism, but this is straight out of the Bible.

So, in whatever political and economic and social and ecological system we find ourselves, we can practice an economy of care for one another; and in whatever system we’re in, if it’s one that tends toward empire, it will try to separate us, make us afraid, and keep us from trying to care for one another. So that is our work wherever and whenever we are – to build an economy of care.  ~~~

Cherice Bock works as a Creation Justice Advocate with Oregon Interfaith Power & Light. She is a recorded minister with Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Racial Justice Economic justice jubilee

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