I don’t think listening to groups is much the key to human misery. Listening to individuals can do a lot. I wish I were better at that, as I think it is an important declaration that you value them. Christian groups are prime candidates for confusing the two. We correctly believe that listening is important, and leap to the conclusion that all types of listening are important. It gets even trickier when it is an individual who is purporting to speak for a group. Helper-types sometimes think of themselves in that way, that they are expressing the needs of many others, and that to reject listening to them is to reject listening to all the folks they claim to represent. We see it now with racial and ethnic groups, made especially poignant when it is Christians speaking to Christians on behalf of Christians. Everyone means well, but that doesn’t mean useful information is being exchanged or real comfort is being given.
Women’s opinions and experiences in the church are too diverse for anyone to pretend to be speaking for more than a minority of them on any issue. I am especially suspicious of this particular advocacy at present, not because people don’t mean well and don’t try hard, but because I don’t see useful information being exchanged or real comfort being given.
I have long seen this in mental health. Advocacy groups have done good things, and sometimes will be useful simply because they do not grow weary when other throw in the towel. But advocates for the mentally ill are very likely to assume that their stories or those of their friends are strongly representative of most other people with a mental health issue. It just isn’t so. There is too much diversity of experience and opinion, and too much of people wrapping their own issues – or their family member’s – into the general questions. Xavier Amador, researcher and speaker, does a very good job of using his brother’s illness as an example for families without bleeding over into a claim that this is universal.
What are we to do about injustice? First, second, and third, we do something, and the usual first something is prayer. I am all for book sales and conferences, but in justice issues there is a lot of focus on making sure people are “informed” about it. Just doing something might be the better spiritual response. A young woman on Facebook passed along a humorous description of what all of the characters of Anne of Green Gables might do in the CoVid crisis. One of the entries for Anne was “Writes a book about helping people rather than actually helping people.” The word people perpetuate their culture just fine, and their solution is always to read more of each other’s writing. This is not absent in the Christian world. They mean well. I think we provide more help if we do something, do any little thing. The hive is already well abuzz, we need more bees out looking for nectar.
An immediate worry shows up in Evangelical (and other) circles, pearl-clutching and saying “But we don’t want people to think that works is the way to salvation!” True, we don’t. I’m not seeing that as much of a danger these days, frankly. We all have that danger in us as a tendency to steer away from, but I’m not thinking of any people I’ve identified personally who are falling out that side of the boat. We could use more of people doing their bit, I’m thinking.
It will be worth more to their spiritual growth than to the cause itself, eventually. We start by praying. Actual praying with intent and clarity, not wishing. It is a weakness of mine that many of my prayers, when I look at them very hard, are just wishing in God’s presence. Then we do a little something. Then we see what comes next.