Lately I’ve been meditating on the relationship between personal convictions and social action. Between Believe Out Loud mobilizing Christians and others to express their values during the electoral cycle and my other work with faith-based organizations, I’m not seeing any way to dodge the real-world impacts of our most closely-held values.
What we believe matters.
What we do because we believe, and how we allow what we do to reflect what we believe also matters. How we spend our voluntary time demonstrates our priorities. And who we choose to devote our working time to does as well.
It wouldn’t make much sense if our values, intentions, speech, and action are framed with clarity and awareness and our livelihood is out of sync… To be truly responsible, we must express our value of life with what we contribute to as much as with what we personally do and say.” —Angel Kyodo Williams
Building an ethically coherent life means each one of us paying attention to the people, groups, and causes that we support with our time, funds, or network connections. Wittingly or unwittingly, we’re fueling a world of some sort with all of these forms of energy, and it’s a world that we and those who follow us will have to live in.
When I evaluate my contributions to, say, my denomination, I simply want to know that what I bring to the table goes to good ends. I don’t want to participate in my own or others’ oppression. I don’t want to fund lobbying for the right to discriminate. I’m happy to give time to serve people in my community. I enjoy supporting my local church’s budget: a congregation that can afford to fix plumbing or paint multi-purpose rooms is going to be in a decent position to do what other good work it’s called to do.
And so these considerations affect the way I give, what I donate, and how I serve. That’s as it should be: there should be a connection between my motives and my actions, between my core values and my contributions.
It’s not about purity, though: as I’ve said before, there are no clean hands in this world where we’re all one or two or three degrees removed from each other. But it’s precisely because of our connectedness that we need to practice awareness of our relationships and entanglements.
A few weeks ago, Native people critiquing the Dakota Access Pipeline circulated articles about the banks funding the companies behind the project. “Send them a message,” the activists told us. “Put your money somewhere else.”
These banks are investing $3.8 billion in a vision of the world where continued oil dependence is not only necessary but something to be sought out.
Williams puts that dynamic in stark terms:
There are companies that dump toxic waste and sludge into our oceans or hide it beneath the ground in inner cities. That same ground may eventually be the site of buildings that some of our children will live in. How can we support and participate in the choking of our resources and a disregard for the health and well-being of poorer people?
… You have to think of what it means to work for [a company] that molests whole communities and the world by tearing down rain forests that provide balance for our ecosystems and nourish life.” —Angel Kyodo Williams
We may not work directly for companies like these, but we’re not otherwise that distant from them. We can’t escape our fundamental connectedness, even when we want to!