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Faith, Work, and Ferguson: A Way Forward

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The events in Ferguson, MO and the tragic death of Eric Gardner have brought a variety of tensions to the forefront of our thinking and to the streets of many a city. But while the ensuing discussions have ranged from politics and policy to cultural attitudes about this or that, few have noted what the events might signify as it relates to the intersection of faith, work, and vocation.

Over at MISSION:WORK, Vincent Bacote fills this gap, noting how the current response against law enforcement and the criminal justice system is fundamentally a reaction against distortions of human dignity, and thus, “the relationship of human dignity to the opportunity to do work that contributes to one’s flourishing.”

Pointing to the stewardship mandate in Genesis, Bacote reminds us that, despite America’s largely positive legacy, our country has at many times resisted “opportunity for all persons to properly express themselves as image bearers in the world of work,” particularly when it comes to African Americans. “The problems magnified by Ferguson show we have not escaped the reverberations of a society where racial discrimination was part of the structure of society,” writes Bacote, “including ways that such discrimination impeded the path to full flourishing in the world of work for African-Americans.”

How, then, should Christians respond? Amid the brokenness of these situations and others like them, how might Christians be a witness in areas of faith, work, and stewardship, not only empathizing with those involved, but helping to empower and affirm the marginalized and disadvantaged?

Christians have the opportunity to think about how the relationship of faith and work catalyzes expressions of Christian commitment to human flourishing. First, it is important to begin asking how the problems we see in minority communities are at least in part linked to the dehumanization that people can feel when they find themselves marginalized because of either minimal opportunities for dignifying work (what constitutes such dignifying work is a conversation all its own) or because their circumstances, which include but are not limited to the reverberations of our history with race, leave them unprepared or unable to recognize and/or participate in dignifying work.

Second, we can begin asking how Christians can show a commitment to the common good expressed as a commitment to pursuing human dignity–explicitly connected to the flourishing that comes by participating in the world of work. This orients us to very difficult questions about how to help enable economic flourishing, which involves both an emphasis on personal responsibility as well as the structural aspects of society. A large challenge is to avoid making this a matter of simple slogans about larger or smaller government; our energy is better invested asking how Christians can have a greater realization that faithfulness to God includes giving attention to these concerns of “life beyond Sunday”…

… More than calling people to responsibility, we have to ask how to empower those who feel powerless and left out, putting the slogans of pundits aside and asking how to love our neighbors by helping them (to use language of Pope Paul VI) become artisans of their own destiny. If we lead the way, it will be a Christian witness that will be truly amazing.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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