“When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor had no food, they called me a Communist.”
-Archbishop Dom Helder Camara
I had been in the ministry for almost ten years before I realized I was playing a pathetic game. I thought of myself as an ally for the oppressed, but I only did so within the official rules of that oppression. I never crossed the line because I was not willing to have anyone get mad at me.
One day I realized that the church would let me verbally oppose any injustice so long as they knew I wasn’t ever really going to do anything about it. I had laminated my words from the real world by treating injustice as an abstract intellectual topic in which good minds may differ. In so doing, I had dehumanized and made invisible the very real people being oppressed while I played footsies with the twin devils of sexism and homophobia. As soon as I had lifted an incarnate finger to actually help, the inquisitions began. But so did my real ministry, and my real humanity. I finally realized what it means to say the gospel of love can only fully be preached from a gallows. Every religion and humanist ethic has some version of this insight.
Not that I have suffered much. Besides personal threats and worrying caused by my own cowardice, my actual sufferings have been minimal. Mine has been a small and pale version of a life lived by much braver and nobler souls. Still, I have realized we are not fully alive until we know there that are things worth dying for.
The happiest day of my life was when I crossed the line.