Quest for justice, mercy: One Size Fits All?

By Bishop Peggy Johnson
My son Gabriel appeared in a recent Facebook post donning a Halloween costume in which he is dressed as a cactus.  It is quite clever, and perhaps he chose this outfit because he works as a botanist at the Smithsonian Science Lab and loves plants.

When I asked him about it, he said he purchased it at Walmart, and it is labeled “One Size Fits Most.” He said I could borrow it anytime I wanted to dress up like a cactus.  This is likely not going to happen.

First, I don’t like plants all that much and secondly, “One Size Fits Most” never works for me. They are always too big. I can just imagine falling down steps in this unfitting cactus costume that my six-foot tall son fits into quite well.

Does one size fit most?  It is an important question to ponder as we consider our social issues in the world today. Is there a place for uniformity, or is it important to recognize our differences with respect and grace?  Yes and no.

When should ‘One Size Fit Most’?

The General Board of Church and Society is working on a revision of our United Methodist Social Principles. These can be found in our Book of Discipline in Paragraph 160-164.They include many important statements that we as United Methodists believe about social justice. However, one size does not always fit all in the global context.

Recently, the topic of plastic water bottles came up. We know that the use of these bottles creates a huge recycling issue for our planet. Because it does not break down, plastic causes pollution, increasingly littering our landfills and oceans with these empty bottles.

When discussing the need for United Methodists to take a stand against these disposable bottles our sisters and brothers in Africa raised their own concern. Much of their drinking water is unsafe for human consumption. The plastic water bottles are a lifeline for health for many of our friends across the globe. To make a statement against all plastic bottles is to cause harm to part of our connection. One size does not fit all in this case.

In our conversations about human sexuality and ministry the Commission on a Way Forward’s One Church Plan acknowledges that “we are not of one mind regarding human sexuality. As we continue to faithfully explore issues of sexuality, we will honor the theological guidelines of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience.”

“We acknowledge that God’s revelation of truth and God’s extension of grace as expressed in Jesus Christ may cause persons of good conscience to interpret and decide issues of sexuality differently,” according to our United Methodist Judicial Council’s recent ruling.  I believe this is another case where one size does not fit all during this time in the life of the church.

When should ‘One Size Fit All’?

But what about non-negotiables?  Where do we take hard stands and agree to be in solidarity?  Where does one size fit all? I think that would be in the area of basic human rights, mercy and justice for humanity.

At the most recent meeting of the General Board of Church and Society (on which I serve as a board member) we visited Karnes City, Texas.There is a connection there of community partners helping immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have moved into that area in the state.  The health, housing, legal, education and employment services of this city are all working together in a coordinated effort to assist this population.

For some in our country the latest wave of asylum-seekers from Central America are a problem, a threat that needs to be kept out, even with military troops, walls and mass shootings. But the people in Karnes see their immigrant population as an asset to their community.

Local agencies base their service model on the principle of Asset Based Community Development, and they identify their new community members as an important part of the mix. These welcome residents are hard-working and give many volunteer hours in the schools and support service venues.

They are tenacious, family-orientated and grateful. These immigrant families attend agriculture classes and ESL (English-as-a-Second Language) classes. They are fellow human beings working in the community for good, and they are treated with respect. Partly because of them the entire area is thriving.

We need to respect the humanity of immigrants, as many in this country have done in the past. But our federal government is now considering an administrative decision that would change the Flores Settlement Act and Public Charge policies. It is proposing that people who are not U.S. citizens should lose their chance to have permanent residency if they receive any form of public assistance, such as health, nutrition and housing aid.

According to our friends in Karnes City this would be a devastating thing, endangering the lives of many people there. We can all offer public advocacy comments about this dangerous new measure using  Surely, people should not have to choose between receiving food and health care assistance and pursuing legal residency or citizenship. One size needs to fit all here. Would any of us want to be put in that drastic, inhumane position?

Gun violence and acts of racial hatred

Another place where we should be in solidarity is around stemming the tide of gun violence, particularly as it relates to racial hate crimes. The recent fatal shootings of worshiping Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and elderly black shoppers at a Kroger grocery store in Louisville, Ky., are yet more examples of racism in its most heinous form.

The Pittsburgh shooter absurdly posted on social media “HIAS (The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”  As he was shooting innocent people, he shouted “All Jews must die.”

At the Shabbat service that morning a family was bringing their baby for a Jewish naming ceremony known as a “bris.” A person’s name or identity as a part of the Jewish family should not be the reason for them to singled out as a people that “must die.”

We must have a zero-tolerance policy against intolerance and our insatiable need for automatic firearms. Common sense legislation needs to be “one size fits all,” applying to all firearm sales and restrictions in all places.

The list could go on because there are many complicated issues.  We are not of one mind or heart on many concerns. But officially, as United Methodists, as children of John Wesley, we are advocates for social justice and human mercy.

And as Christians, we believe that for everyone in the family of God there needs to be “one size that fits all” when it comes to our humanitarian concerns.