Church & Social Conflict

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore”
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Harlem: A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

social conflict
The message of the Occupy Wall Street event is clear

How long will the poor remain docile? How long will they patiently endure as more and more wealth becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands? The poor are powerless as long as they are few, but when they are many that balance can change quickly. Social conflict can escalate. Historically, underprivileged classes have shifted the balance of power, overthrown governments and formed nations when the rich failed to recognize a moral imperative toward the poor. Those with the most to gain and the least to lose have been the spark that has ignited many a revolution.

Here’s an excerpt from :

Not since 1929 have so few people controlled so much of the wealth in our country. In his new book, Perfectly Legal, New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston reports that between 1970 and 2000 average income for the top 13,400 households in America increased from $3.6 million to nearly $24 million. That’s a staggering 538% increase. At the same time, the average income for 90% of US households actually fell from $27,060 to $27,035. These 13,400 households account for just .01% of the population, according to Johnston.

The Gulf Widens

A widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots is a dangerous condition. Left without remedy it is inevitable that those without resources will feel justified in taking what they need from those have more. Even now, a kind of class conflict is beginning to emerge. At its baser level, it is substance abuse that drives some of the poor, either toward an escape from hopelessness or toward the promise of wealth from drug trafficking. Of course all those who live in poverty are not substance abusers. This is no organized warfare of the weak and poor against the rich and powerful, but it is a redistribution of wealth from one class to another, fueled by the drug trade and a rising indignation over persistent inequality. Either way, those who have a surplus or at least enough, become the target for those who feel deprived of what they need.

In fact, there is a growing crowd of clear-thinking poor, victimized by an unsympathetic economy, who may well be growing impatient for opportunity. This was the message of the Occupy Wallstreet Movement. “We are the 99 percent!” became the slogan of an economic class increasingly dissatisfied with income inequality.  What will be the outcome of their dream deferred; of the wasted potential of their children, and their shame? Will there be a tipping point when the “99%” explode with contempt toward the rich and aggressively intolerant of the powerful?

Can it happen in America? History argues that it can. All the more likely because nothing inflames and aggravates social conflict like frustrated goals and un-kept promises — “a dream deferred.”

Social Conflict and the Church

And where will the church be when the impatience of the poor becomes rage? I suppose it depends on whose side the church appears to be on. Will Christ-followers be found in the camp of the Republican economic agenda or among the power brokers of the Democrats? Will the church be perceived to be among the “Republicrats?”

Will the church be found washing feet or toasting the elite? Will they be found in the home of the beggar or in the back pocket of the wealthy? At the moment when social conflict becomes revolution, will churches be burning along with courthouses and corporate offices?

Or will the followers of Christ be found among the poor? Will it be understood that followers of Jesus are advocates of those who have the least? It is an important question that will need to be answered if the poor are to be ignored much longer. Perhaps it is time for churches to consider the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16:

The manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes” And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors…

When the manager recognized that he could no longer hold on to his status among the powerful, he became a friend to the poor. The motive of the church ought to be more noble than that considering that Jesus came to the poor first.


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