Hope for Oppressors

Last summer, Fortress Academic published my book called Hope for the Oppressors.

It’s an evocative even provocative title.  Oppressors, after all, already are in positions of power, it is thought, and privilege, it is assumed. Why do they of all people need to hear a message of hope?

It’s a good question. I spent 300+ pages answering that question using sociology, psychology, philosophy, Scripture, history, contemporary theology and ministry resources.

Not just answering that question, indeed pointing to not only why oppressors need to hear a message of hope, but what this message is, and how we can be people who live it out.

I need hope, after all.  I am in positions of privilege, to be sure, but also experiencing how the privileges of others can cause my life to seem dimmer, and push me into more and more frenzy.

There has to be a better way than the idea that some are oppressed and some are oppressors and we have to fight about who gets put in each category.

The hope is that there is real and genuine liberation. Not for some, in contrast to others, but offered to everyone, with and for others.

That leads back to the question. Why do oppressors need to hear a message of hope? It seems obvious that the message to oppressors should just be “stop oppressing.”  If they don’t listen, they then need to be helped to hear.

This reminds me of a conversation Amy and I overheard on the day I proposed to her.

We went to the Huntington Library for the day. They have a very nice tea room there, all proper and elegant in a Southern Californian way.  We were seated at a table near the back. This wasn’t where I was going to propose, but it was certainly setting the mood.  And we started in a great mood.  I was about to begin my PhD studies in the Fall, and while the day out like this certainly wasn’t in my very meager budget, there are times to stretch and enjoy.

The place was filling up.  A small group came in, clearly of a higher social class, used to having their way. They were seated at a table in the corner, which was not too far from the bathrooms.  That would not do. They complained. Not quietly.  Made a little scene about service and expectations and all the rest.  The staff, clearly frustrated, quickly shuffled around some tables, and set this group up nearby our table.

As they settled in, one of them said, “First you let them do it right. If that doesn’t work, then, you help them do it right.”  Helping in this case was raising a stink so that their privilege upset the atmosphere for everyone in the room. But for this group their privilege and experience was paramount.

Amy and I laughed. It was a good day and we were in a good mood. We still say this line occasionally.  Not as a model for us but as a way of mocking those who don’t realize how their pursuit of privilege is making them look like boors to everyone else.  I was poor, but I felt sad that this is their experience of life.  Always on the lookout for validation and always ready to put others in this place if it didn’t happen.

That’s privilege. But that’s not freedom.  Well, it’s a kind of freedom, but not a life-giving freedom. Liberation, ultimately, is about freedom lived in life-giving ways.  Which brings us back to why we can’t just say stop to people and if they don’t stop, to help them (by which I mean make them).  In forcing people to do things against their will, we are becoming potential oppressors.

Of course there are times we have to force people to stop doing evil, but that stopping them isn’t itself yet liberation. The challenge for a liberative freedom is for people to come to terms with how they use their choices and to choose to live in a liberated way.

Martin Luther King jr. defined freedom as composed of three elements. First, freedom is “the capacity to deliberate or weigh alternatives.” Second, freedom “expresses itself in decision.” A decision makes a choice, cutting off an alternative for the preference of the chosen path. Third, freedom involves responsibility, the ability to respond to why a choice was made, and the responsibility to respond as no one else can speak for that free person.

Everyone wants this freedom for themselves, but oftentimes has trouble with this freedom being available for all. Why? Because what if I use my freedom in a way that interferes in your freedom? We tend to collide into each other when there’s unrestrained freedom. Literally so if this was applied to driving and intersections.

Liberation is having the ability to experience freedom, and freedom is the capacity to make choices in a responsible way. Oppressors have this kind of experience more than others.  Everyone wants this more than others. So, again, why the need for a message of hope?

Because it’s not real and thorough freedom, it’s something more temporary and artificial.

Because if we use our choices to oppress others we are actually undermining not only our experience of freedom but indeed our very humanity. That degradation of our humanity is called sin.

In his book on John Brown, W. E. B Du Bois highlights the issue: “The price of repression is greater than the cost of liberty. The degradation of men costs something both to the degraded and those who degrade.” Repressing others may provide privilege in societal sense, but not necessarily real freedom, and in indulging oppression, they are cut off from the possibilities of fullness and life that is promised in Christ, both now and in eternity.

This isn’t how it is supposed to be.  Is there a better way? Is this way actually possible?

That’s what I wrote about in my book and what I’m going to spend the next while talking about here on my blog. I feel passionate about what I wrote about, but frustrated by the $130 selling price the publisher attached to the book (which is not what I expected by any means).  Oddly enough, that very pricing exemplifies the very problem I’m trying to address in the book.

I indeed have hope there’s a better way and rather than feel stifled, I am choosing to explore this better way in this setting too, where costs are minimal and the invitation to chatting about this is open to everyone.

Stay tuned as I talk more about liberation and freedom in the next post. I’ll then follow up with what I think is a better model for describing what we’re dealing with in society.

This entry was posted in Hope for Oppressors and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hope for Oppressors

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *