Small Choices to Empower the Oppressed and Vulnerable
In Galatians 4, Paul writes to the Galatians, urging them to resist teachings that would have them strive for salvation through following the law, and declares that before Christ came, we were “enslaved by the elemental spiritual forces of this world”. He goes on to say that in Christ we are made free, and (in chapter 5) instructs the community to “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Often, pastors and teachers use this passage to highlight to us the typical notions of sin that we are familiar with such as slavery, lust, anger, or greed. That Christ can set us free from this sin. However, a deeper study reveals that not only is Paul talking about the obvious sins of commission, but he is speaking of something much more sinister and complex here. He is speaking of the ways sin has infected the very landscape of the world, and that simply by waking up and engaging in society we are embattled in all kinds of evil.
- We wake up and by no intention of our own, put sugar on our oatmeal that was harvested by forced labor.
- We put on clothes that were sewn by people who have been trafficked.
- We drive a car that damages the environment around us in ways that not only harm the plants and animals, but the most vulnerable people.
- We put our money in a bank that invests in arms manufacturing, eventually putting guns in the hands of violent militias.
This is a harsh reality of our world. These are the “elemental spiritual forces” impacting our world today. In his famous Christmas Sermon from 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King noted that “before you’ve finished your breakfast you have depended on half the world”. We are interconnected in our world and because of this, every consumption decision we make is a chance to either support the liberation and empowerment of another or ultimately facilitate the oppression of another.
If we wake up and simply do what we are told and pursue the “American dream”, we can often in fact be perpetuating a global nightmare. Overconsumption, materialism, demand for cheap goods, and disregard for the environment has led to a world where unethical and unsustainable goods are the norm.
Let me stress, these revelations are not intended to burden you with guilt, but rather to encourage that you have influence. All of us as consumers can make a choice with every dollar we spend - will we promote the flourishing of others and the protection of our planet?