"Originally, in the time of the judges before the people of Israel had a king, each Israelite family had its own land in an agricultural society where wealth was decentralized. But during the period of the monarchy, a small group of powerful people around the kings use legal and illegal methods to seize the land of many people. Those who lose their land fall into poverty, and the powerful become very wealthy" (Sider and Davis, 1263).So, Amos--a shepherd turned prophet (i.e. a regular guy who smells like animal dung), is called by God to speak about Israel's future destruction due to the systems of injustice they created. Amos is speaking this message to the fat-cats in Israel who have gained their wealth by oppressing others (Amos 2: 6-8; Amos 5:10-13). Sider and Davis mention that Amos's message is particularly unpopular given that he is speaking about the future during a prosperous time for Israel. Nobody takes him seriously, and in the end, it costs Israel when they are defeated and taken over by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
You see: God hates injustice and oppression. He doesn't take either lightly. In fact, Amos 4:12 is ominous and terrifying: "'Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God." Isn't this chilling?! I mean, seriously.
What strikes me so much about Amos, though, comes later in chapter 5:21-6:7. In this section God calls out complacency, security, and status.
Hold up: did you you read those last three words? Complacency, security, and status. He is LIVID with folks who were not grieving over the ruin of Joseph (6:6) and instead carried on worshiping in church like nothing happened. He is livid that, instead of grieving, these folks are lounging on fancy couches (none of those Craigslist couches that I got in my living room), dining on fancy (non-frozen) food, playing on instruments like they're in some sort of jam band, drinking literal bowls of wine, and rubbing themselves up with swanky lotions. Amos tells these people: You will be the first to go into exile.
I don't know where you're brain is at right now, but when I read this, I thought of America. I thought of me and all the times I scrolled past pictures of kids sold into the sex trade and didn't even shed a tear. I thought of the times I kept walking past people in need on street corners in my own town. I thought of the time I stayed silent when a shop owner I know made a racist remark. I thought of all the times I spent my extra dollars on something frivolous like a stupid shirt or a stupid $4 cup of coffee instead of padding my monthly tithe or giving it out to someone in need.
What do complacency, security, and status have to do with the recent displays of hatred, racism, and bigotry in Charlottesville, Virginia? EVERYTHING.
Complacency leaves many of us* white folks turning our backs because we can afford to. It won't cost us anything to look away from white nationalists, to plug our ears and ignore the old Nazi chants, "Blood and soil!" that could be heard on the streets near the University of Virginia.
Security causes us to cling to that which is familiar--it causes us to insulate ourselves in our white circles, hole up in our less than diverse neighborhoods, and fear those who look different than us. Irrational fear, implicit bias, and the desire for "security" cause us to lock our doors when a black man walks in front of our car at a stoplight. Security causes us to opt our kids out of the large, diverse school system and into the smaller, more homogenous smaller school district--all of these behaviors perpetuate racism, and we all know racism fuels the white supremacy movement.
And status? Man. Status causes us to refrain from sharing that article because our boss might see it, or our in-laws might think less of us, and we can't rock that boat. We can't have people thinking lesser thoughts about us (even if our convictions are Biblical). That would be a travesty. Or worse: status sometimes drives us to say all the right things about Charlottesville and to create all the right hashtags because it elevates our status. It brings in the "likes" and makes us feel good.
Complacency, security, and status. These were all things the Israelites struggled with way back in Amos's day, and they're things we struggle with today in America. God hates these things; his rage is clear. Yet, many of us cling to complacency, security, and status because they're easier, they're tidier, and honestly, they earn us more approval. But you guys: there has to be more to this life than protecting our own interests. Afterall, God created us to be in companionship with one another (see the creation story), and we just can't be good companions if complacency, security, and status dominate our choices. My prayer for us is that we'd replace complacency with activism, security with calculated risk, and status with the desire to be last. Let's be good companions. Let's move outside of the familiar to engage with people who are different from us (we can start by diversifying our social media feeds and our reading lists). Let's shut our mouths so we can only hear. Let's allow ourselves to grieve with those who are grieving instead of telling them to grieve a different way. May we seek to undo systems of oppression so "justice [can] roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-falling stream!" (Amos 5:24).
*As much as it pains me, I deliberately use the word 'us' here because complacency, security, and status have driven me to make some decisions I now regret and am working to undo.