Listen To Article
by Kate Kooyman
I remember coming home from a youth group mission trip to urban Chicago when I was in high school and agonizing over what was next for me. The trip had done its job: it had forced me to ask really hard questions about poverty and race and class and faith. At fourteen, I just didn’t know what to do with it.
I remember a conversation with an older, wiser high schooler a few days after we returned to our cozy suburban lives. I explained that I was sure God was expecting me to never again interact with money, to commit to live a life of intentional poverty. I was sure that washing my hands of all-things-financial was the only way to stay pure from the sinful mess that I’d be unknowingly participating in. I was sure there was no way to remain committed to my growing faith in Jesus if I didn’t live a life that was utterly opposed to the gap between the rich and the poor. And that meant becoming poor.
My wiser friend (she was a senior…) told me to think harder. She pushed me to consider not abdication, but stewardship.
Stewardship is, I think, a really important concept for Christians. The way I understand it, it’s basically being honest about what you have that is an asset — money, time, talents — and considering how those things can be used for the building of the reign of God. It’s de-centering oneself and one’s own interests in order to re-center God’s big plan for the common good. During a church service last week, I heard it described this way, “I show up with something in my hand, and then I watch it leave. And that changes me.”
It has been a heart-breaking week in the U.S. We watched two black men die before our eyes in viral videos that documented a story black folks have been telling for far too long. We sat stunned at the reports from Dallas of police officers gunned down while doing the crucial work of protecting and serving. And that’s not even mentioning other horrific news that didn’t get the world’s attention: pushing past 2,000 victims gun violence in Chicago in 2016, hundreds of deaths in South Sudan, two bailiffs murdered in a courtroom in Michigan.
A proper Christian response is lament. A proper Christian response is prayer. But another proper Christian response is stewardship. Alongside money and talent and time, I believe we are called to steward our power.
We have exactly the criminal justice system that we have asked for in this country — and it appears to me to be systematically targeting and eliminating people of color. We have exactly the gun control that we have asked for — and it appears to me to be making it really hard and scary to do the job of policing. We have exactly the political system that we have asked for — many of our leaders believing the most important national priority during this historic and devastating week is to focus harder on the Clinton emails. We have exactly the country we have asked for. Please, let’s ask for something better.
The truth is, if you’re a white person, you’re going to get listened to in lots of circles where people of color are blown off, brushed aside, or simply not believed. You have power you didn’t earn. But you still have it.
Once we white folks face the truth of our white privilege, it seems we have two choices: we can feel bad about it, or we can work to change it. Perhaps, like money and talents and time, God expects us to use that power to build something better in this world. Perhaps God is calling those who have it to steward their power for the sake of the common good.
I hope that alongside all the praying and lamenting that we’re doing in our churches this week, we’re also making phone calls to Congress, raising our hand at town halls, showing up at local demonstrations, and sitting in on city commission meetings. We have exactly the country that we have asked for, and it’s a country in which people beloved by God are dying every day.
I believe it’s the call of every Christian to steward her power to build something that looks more like the kingdom of God.
Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Witness in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
(image by NeetiR (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Thank you, Kate. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your challenge to all of us.
Right on, Kate. Stewardship, from my perspective, means understanding and calling out injustices when one is outside a system. But it also means getting involved in a system to change a system from within. For some that means working within comfortable suburban churches to reform and challenge the status quo with kingdom values. For others, it will mean getting involved as police or correctional chaplains to influence policing and criminal justice worldviews from up close.
The right message about white privilege is stewardship. No question it exists, but what to do with it is the hard part.
Great and reflective respinse to the horror in the news. The one thing I would question is OUR BUILDING God’s kingdom. It is nit our task to build the kingdom, but instead our respinsibility to reveal the kingdom that God has already established.
Keep writing and challenging us Kate!
Well said, Jill. Agreed.
Very powerful Kate!
Thank you, Kate! We need to not only ask for something better, we need to demand it. We need to refuse to accept the it-isn’t-the-church’s-place argument. John Calvin got involved with every aspect of Geneva, right down to the sewer system; now we are knee-deep in political sewage because we sit back and tut-tut and think we can do nothing. It is time for that to stop.
Anna Sharma, Trinidad.
Well said, Kate. Now those thoughts have to be implemented by us all, no matter what color, creed or
race. We have to support human beings and God’s creation. We have to rally with them with all our gifts
that were given to us by the Holy Spirit. Thanks Kate.