“He who oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to want.” Proverbs 22:16 (RSV)
As delegates to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference 2012 debate whether it is good and proper for their tithes and offering to sustain military contractors directly responsible for the subjugation, displacement, and killing of their fellow human beings in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and elsewhere, perhaps some will benefit from Wesley’s thoughts on the divestment struggle of his day:
Where is the justice of inflicting the severest evils on those that have done us no wrong? of depriving those that never injured us in word or deed, of every comfort of life? of tearing them from their native country, and depriving them of liberty itself … ?
You stumble at the threshold; I deny that villany is ever necessary. It is impossible that it should ever be necessary for any reasonable creature to violate all the laws of justice, mercy, and truth …
“Why, it is necessary to my gaining an hundred thousand pounds.” Perhaps so: But how is this necessary? It is very possible you might be both a better and a happier man, if you had not a quarter of it. I deny that your gaining one thousand is necessary either to your present or eternal happiness …
Better no trade, than trade procured by villany. It is far better to have no wealth, than to gain wealth at the expense of virtue. Better is honest poverty, than all the riches bought by the tears, and sweat, and blood, of our fellow-creatures.
Having spent most of my life in Hopewell, Virginia’s Wesley United Methodist Church before joining an Episcopal church in New York (and attending Gaza’s Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius today), I struggle to explain to my Palestinian friends of multiple faiths why American Christians traffic so cheaply in their tears, and sweat, and blood. Make me proud, UMC. Wesley’s vision was broad, comprehensive, and demanding:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
By comparison, this one’s practically a freebie. You face a simple question: Should a Christian denomination fund the infliction of misery and death on other people? Please don’t get the answer wrong.
Desmond Tutu knows it from experience. The Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and veteran leader of his own country’s anti-apartheid movement has entered the debate with an impassioned appeal calling church divestment from occupation profiteers “a moral position that I have no choice but to support, especially since I know of the effect that Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions had on the apartheid regime in South Africa.”
An earlier, oft-quoted statement by His Grace might also shed some light:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Another saint of the modern church, Martin Luther King Jr., similarly said:
I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.