FCQ 2016: Lisa Sharon Harper

I was afraid. 

Last year Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer, and I was afraid. I was afraid to speak out about systematic oppression towards the Black community. I was afraid that the primarily Anglo-Saxon movement that my church came from might not agree with our stance. I was afraid that those in my church, unable to see our white privilege, would turn on us. I was afraid that I might be called liberal. I was afraid I might get in the way of the message of Jesus. 

With each tragic death of another Black life, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, our silence spoke volumes. I didn’t want our church to be considered liberal. I wanted to preach Jesus. 

But here is the truth.

Speaking out for the marginalized is not a liberal issue. It’s the core of the ministry of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus clearly shows us in the Gospels that women’s lives matter.
Jesus told us that Samaritan lives matter. 
Jesus shows us that the lives of Gentiles, those unlike us, the sick, and the poor matter. 

In the cultural context of Jesus, each of these proclamations was scandalous, controversial, and dangerous. Each proclamation was met with outrage from the religious communities of his time. Each affirmation of a marginalized people group moved Jesus one step closer to death.

And yet these proclamations were at the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus’ core message was not only salvation, it was creating hope for those often persecuted.

Lisa Sharon Harper is a woman who constantly and continually brings this truth to light. Through her work at Sojourners, Lisa Sharon Harper shows us over and over again the issues of justice are Gospel issues. Through her book, The Very Good Gospel, I’m learning that the life of a Christ follower means that we partner with God to do the difficult but profound work of bringing shalom to one another. I’m learning that it means we recognize all of humanity as children of God. 

The homeless man on a street corner today is made in the image of God. The Colombian worker making two cents per day on a multinational company’s cocoa farm is made in the image of God. Farm workers and domestic workers, who are exempt from basic workers’ rights in the United States, are made in the image of God. Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Yvette Smith, Freddie Gray, the Mother Emanuel Nine, Sandra Bland, India Kager, Jamar Clark, Laquan McDonald, and other unarmed victims of police and vigilante killings are made in the image of God. Women and men who are systematically pushed to the margins of society possess as much dignity and worth as Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, and any other people who are esteemed like royalty in our culture. We are not God. But because we bear God’s image, we are worthy of human dignity, love, respect, honor, and protection.
— Lisa Sharon Harper, The Very Good Gospel

Lisa Sharon Harper has impacted my life by teaching me that avoiding justice, inequality, or social and racial issues is to reject the core teaching and character of Jesus Christ. 

To work for the oppressed, to affirm a fellow human being instead of standing behind doctrine, and to seek social and racial justice is not the work of liberals. It is the unwavering and indisputable work of those who preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I’m no longer afraid. 

I am not afraid of speaking up against racism even though it may offend some who aren’t aware of their own privilege. I am not afraid to speak up about gun violence, education, mass incarceration, or wage inequality. Even though there are influential voices who believe that these issues are myths; we choose to stand. I am not afraid of losing people, funds, or livelihood. I am not afraid. In fact, I would dare to say that our church is more alive than ever before. We are truly living out the radical and controversial teachings of Jesus. 

I’m glad that Lisa Sharon Harper is coming to speak to our church in 2016’s Faith, Culture, and Questions series. My guess is that there are some of us who are still working out our own fears. I think for some of us the work of Lisa Sharon Harper still feels “liberal.” I think some of us are afraid of what our friends and families will think when we start to take a stand for humanity. 

Here’s my prayer. My prayer is that we hear from Lisa Sharon Harper about shalom. We hear the Very Good News of the Gospel. My prayer is that our lives continue to be impacted by Lisa Sharon Harper’s voice. My prayer is that we recognize that the perfect love of Christ drives out fear. My prayer is that we put aside our fear for the incredible good news of Jesus Christ. 

Lisa Sharon Harper will be speaking at Calvary Episcopal Church on Park Avenue in Manhattan on Thursday, October 13 at 7pm. Tickets can be purchased via Eventbrite. Lisa's new book out this fall is The Very Good Gospel.