by Mark Van Steenwyk
My 1.5 year old son Jonas broke his first law last month. He and I were both guilty of trespassing, but a passerby would have seen a father and son playing in a backyard of a typical south Minneapolis home. As Jonas and I played in the yard with some friends from our faith community, a handful of activists and concerned neighbors were gathered inside lending their support to Rosemary Williams, a woman who had owned the property for over 20 years and lived on the block for 55 years. Like almost 2 million other Americans this year, Rosemary was facing foreclosure. After numerous failed attempts at renegotiating a mortgage with GMAC, Rosemary and friends decided to occupy her home until police decided to enforce the foreclosure.
On September 11, as Rosemary was preparing for her grandson’s birthday party, police came and forced everyone out of the home, arresting seven who refused to leave. To secure the home, GMAC placed 24-hour security at the home and secured doors and windows with steel plates.
To many, what happened on September 11 was justice. Rosemary was a woman who, lamentably, couldn’t pay her mortgage. And because of this, the bank had to take her home back.
But Jesus reveals a different vision of economic justice. We serve a Jesus who encouraged us to “forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” Debt was one of the core social evils of Jesus’ day, and it is no less an issue today. We serve a Jesus who came with a gospel inspired by Old Testament Jubilee — an economic system that condemned usury, struck the root of generational poverty, and condemned acts of exploitation.
But in our society, exploitation and usury are part of the system. So, then, do we find “justice” when that system is ultimately upheld (through the eviction of a woman like Rosemary Williams), or when it is challenged?
At current rates, 9 million homes will be foreclosed on by 2012. We the church have an opportunity to be like Christ — to proclaim the Jubilee, to call for debt forgiveness, to call the wealthy to repentance, and proclaim liberation to the poor.
We have the opportunity to get in the way of evictions, helping people to occupy their homes as they seek new terms with predatory lenders. We have an opportunity to expose the nature of our usurious society and call people to jubilee. We have an opportunity for us to practice hospitality to the growing number of recently-evicted. May we, the followers of Jesus, proclaim jubilee to those awaiting salvation.
Mark Van Steenwyk is the founder of Missio Dei, a Mennonite intentional community anchored on the West Bank of Minneapolis. He’s a writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He is the general editor of The Jesus Manifesto, a webzine that explores the way of Jesus in the shadow of the empire. Though anchored in Minneapolis, he also spends some time each month traveling to network with radical Christian communities.
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