This fall EPC’s “Love Your Neighbor” small group has met regularly to reflect on how we can more faithfully fulfill Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. Since this command is for all Christians, we’d like to share a bit of what we’ve learned and challenge EPC in the ways that we’ve been challenged. Our approach is split into two basic areas: first, our daily decisions, and second, hands-on acts of service. We’ll begin with daily decisions.
Our everyday choices matter. Using the book Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson as a guide, we have considered ways that our choices effect others and how we can shape them to show love to our neighbor, even neighbors that live on the other side of the globe. Too often we compartmentalize our lives—are not church, bible study, shopping, and Starbucks unrelated things (except that Starbucks keeps us awake for church!)? Yet following Jesus is more than having certain beliefs; it is also about living an entirely new way in the world. In a world where we’re all interconnected, living every day with a view towards justice is an important part of loving our neighbors.
Consider coffee. Today some 25 million people make their living growing it, but many growers sweat and toil in their labor, only to remain in poverty. Christian Scriptures repeatedly call God’s people to care for economic justice (see Deut. 24:14-15; Mal. 3:5; James 5:4-5; Isa. 58:3-7). So how can Christians help bring safe working conditions, living wages, and fair practices to our neighbors who grow our coffee? While it’s not a perfect system, Fair Trade is a good start. Seek out coffee that is Fair Trade (there’s often a Fair Trade logo on the packaging), even if it costs a bit more. We’re doing this as a church: for EPC’s refreshment time after Sunday service, we’re transitioning to all Fair Trade coffee!
Similarly with chocolate: Americans eat more than 3.3 billion pounds of chocolate annually. Yet the majority of cocoa beans are grown in West Africa in places of poverty and instability. Hundreds of thousands of children are forced into harvesting cocoa beans, and slave labor is very common. There are many things you can do to combat this, including purchasing chocolate that is slave-free or Fair Trade— these options do exist in many grocery stores!
There are many other areas where our choices can make a difference. Driving less and using less energy can show love to our neighbors who live in areas most effected by climate change. Buying food that was grown sustainably, without harsh chemicals, and that was produced by workers who were treated fairly shows vulnerable food industry workers that we think they matter. We can show love for our neighbors by taking responsibility for the working conditions of those who make the clothing we buy (sweatshops are commonly used to produce many of the clothes we purchase, but alternative options exist that help ensure safe working conditions and fair pay). This list is just a start—there’s so much more we can do!
The values of the kingdom of God—Love your neighbor!—mean that we must strive to avoid being complicit in injustice. Christian discipleship means we must not only look at the sticker price when shopping, but also consider if every person involved in making that item was treated fairly, with dignity. Following Jesus means that we must ask if our food came from places of suffering and brokenness or from places of justice and wholeness. God’s people cannot tolerate economics without ethics. As Dr. Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Don’t panic! It may seem overwhelming, and many of these problems are immense, but we take one step at a time!
I’ll conclude with another avenue of loving our neighbors we’ve pursued: hands-on acts of service. This fall EPC canvassed local neighborhoods to gather food for the Paradise Valley Food Bank. We’ve also volunteered with an organization that helps refugee families, called the Welcome to America Project, distributing clothes to people in need. There will be more opportunities to come for all of us at EPC to serve and love our neighbors: be on the lookout for announcements and join us!