Archives For Social Justice

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries

Abercrombie & Fitch refuses to make women’s clothes in XL and XXL sizes. Why? In the words of Abercrombie CEO Michael Jeffries:

“Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends…A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.” (Read a recent article about this here.)

Whoops. Of course, the company can target any demographic it wants to. No big deal. But that’s a pretty sleazy thing to say (Abercrombie’s overall image does nothing to soften the sleaze), and it’s caused a bit of an uproar. Jeffries actually made this statement in 2006, but his words have been passed around with greater intensity recently, and a backlash is forming.

A video recently came out in which USC graduate Greg Karper calls the world to rebrand Abercrombie’s clothes. In the video, he explains that many companies will donate their defective or unsold clothes to the poor, but Abercrombie burns them so as to preserve its cool-kid-only image.

Karper’s proposed rebrand involves gathering up Abercrombie clothes and giving them to the homeless. “Together,” he says, “we can make Abercrombie & Fitch the world’s number one brand of homeless apparel.”

I’ll be honest, I find the video hilarious and clever. And there’s a sense of poetic justice to the whole thing. But in reality, Karper’s idea is a pretty awful. On the one hand, he wants to give clothes to the homeless. So it sticks it to Abercrombie, and it also helps the poor. Okay.

Don't Fitch the HomelessBut on the other hand, he’s advocating giving the clothes to the homeless because he wants to embarrass Abercrombie. In essence, Karper’s strategy validates Abercrombie’s assessment of the homeless: they’re gross. Abercrombie doesn’t want ugly people in its clothes? We’ll show them! We’ll clothe these nasty homeless people with their cool-kid-clothes.

Plus it’s one more way to further alienate the homeless. Let’s stand against this brand by getting homeless people to wear it! Rather than standing together with them, coming alongside them in their pain and alienation, this strategy uses them to poke fun at Abercrombie. And anytime you find yourself using people, you know you’ve taken a misstep somewhere.

It’s one thing to point out the sleazy nature of Jeffries’ statement. Or to choose to buy a different brand of clothes. But to manipulate a marginalized group of people in order to make your point is itself a bit, well, sleazy.

Asleep on a BenchYesterday, I wrote about what it means to love our neighbors and help those in need. Today I will continue with some additional thoughts.

Another factor pulling on us in this discussion is how much more connected our world is than it was during Lewis’s time. Many people, especially in our American nation made up of immigrants, see the rest of the world as “our people.” We are all part of the human race, right? So, why shouldn’t we want to help when disasters strike elsewhere or when we become aware of a famine in a distant land? I’m not saying that we should care about Americans more than we care about Mexicans or Canadians. It is not really about whom you love more. You should love everyone. It’s more about who is closest to us. My neighbor is closest to me and Jesus told me to love my neighbor. The child in the village in India is not really my neighbor until I come into contact with him. He is someone else’s neighbor. And that Christian neighbor, if he has one, is the one with the responsibility and the call to love him. You may actually make it more difficult for Christians in other places to love their neighbors by competing with them and their limited resources.

Do you know that you do not need to have an abundance of physical resources to love someone? You may actually be challenged to get creative or to really sacrifice something of your own to love someone. That’s what Christians are doing in India and China and Uganda. That’s when love really shines in contrast with the darkness of self-preservation.

You may be overwhelmed by all the troubles of the world today. You may feel overwhelmed because of the way people are suffering on an island 3,000 miles away from you. Do you trust that God is sending people and already has people in a lot of the places about which you are worrying? Today, there may even be someone 300 miles from you who is worrying about her sister, who is also your next door neighbor, and you are the one God has placed in your neighborhood to serve her. Don’t allow the problems of the whole world to blind you and make you feel like you have to pass by the man in the road who was beaten and lost everything to thieves. Don’t allow your politics to get in the way of loving the alien who lives in your neighborhood and works the fields everyday to care for his family, and provide fruit and vegetables to your table. When you get very good at loving your neighbor who you can see, then maybe you will be ready to understand how to love your global neighbor who you can’t see.

The second part of Lewis’s quote is also a good reminder that worrying about the rest of the world will do very little to actually confront or solve the problems. If you are so consumed with the problems of the world that you have no joy, or are unable to enjoy the good things God has given you, you won’t be much help to people who are suffering. They need hope and they need a picture of what it looks like to live the abundant life with God. Don’t lose sight of the hope of the kingdom to come; and keep praying for that kingdom and God’s will to be done in both your neighborhood and the slum across the ocean, as it is in heaven.

PovertyC.S. Lewis is easy to quote because he almost always gets it right, and he has a way of saying things that forces us to think more deeply about everyday issues. Many of us are involved in donating, volunteering or working for organizations with stated missions of “caring for the poor” or “serving people in need” in other countries. The news we see everyday and the clamoring by thousands of nonprofit organization for our attention communicate to us that there are never-ending global problems which can only be solved if we would simply get involved by giving our time, effort and money.

On the issue of local versus global charity Lewis said,

“It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know).

A great many people (not you) do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don’t think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we’re doing it, I think we’re meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise.” -from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis (Volume 2, Letter of Dec. 20, 1946)

This whole movement to feed people or build infrastructure for people in other nations besides our own, with or without their help, is actually a very modern development of the past 60-75 years of world history. The idea that we need to help all people everywhere is often driven by a wartime mentality. It is also often influenced by an arrogant assumption that the world’s problems will not be solved unless we are involved. The modern movement to do international charity work is largely a result of the aftermath of our wars. Older organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army have been around for over 100 years, and they were also started in the midst of war and conflict, or with a wartime mentality. Even the name “Salvation Army” makes us think of fighting a battle.

The creation and proliferation of nonprofits in America didn’t really start to take off until after WWII and then again after the Korean War. Lewis wrote this statement in a letter in 1946, after the end of WWII, when news of all the world’s problems was streaming in like never before. The British were also hit like never before on their own island and saw the devastation and suffering all around them, in addition to news about the rest of their country and the world at large. People who felt compassion (or maybe guilt) felt the need to help the suffering children and families of Europe.

We often want to help in areas where we believe someone or something else was the cause of people’s suffering; but how often do we look to make the personal or communal changes necessary to promote justice and mercy in our own communities where we and our neighbors are the causes of, or contributors to suffering? You may have noticed that Lewis is not saying we should not be involved in helping with problems far away, or supporting those who do. He, and I in agreement with him, are only saying that with all the information we are gathering to ourselves about all the evils going on in the world, we should be careful that we don’t deceive ourselves into believing that we need to be involved in helping in all of those situations, or that it is better than doing something for someone in our own community. He also warns us against the danger of imagining that our great knowledge or anxiety over all the problems is equal to being involved in providing solutions. Worrying about all the problems doesn’t do anything to fix them. It actually becomes more difficult to help people in your own neighborhood or right in front of you because you will become so overwhelmed with all of the other problems of the whole world.

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Think about the men who passed by before the Samaritan stopped. They had too many excuses or other things to do that they used as reasons for not helping the one in need right in front of them. You may be so heavily invested in devoting your thoughts, time and money to a charity or towards the thought of helping someone far away, that you miss a real opportunity you have to personally help someone living in your neighborhood. If you really want to help and give your life to someone far away, the best thing for you to do is probably to move there or partner with someone who lives and works there among the poor.

We’ll conclude these thoughts with another post tomorrow. Stay tuned…

Dzhokhar TsarnaevLast week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.

Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.

So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.

 

#2 – God Loves Wicked People

The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)

 

#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19–21)

Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15

This entry is part 10 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

Everyday JusticeFrom time to time, we recommend a Book of the Month for those readers looking for a solid book suggestion. This “month,” I’m recommending Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices by Julie Clawson.

Whether you are concerned about social justice and global crises or not, this is an important book. It covers a variety of issues, from sweatshops to fair trade coffee to national debt to our disposable lifestyles. Many Christians are already up in arms about issues like these; others are skeptical of some alarmist voices that seem to be skewing the reality of these things.

What Everyday Justice does so well is present each issue with informed research and a fair tone. Clawson is not alarmist, and goes out of her way to explain that no one can take meaningful action on every issue instantly. Her emphasis is on understanding the crises, and then taking small, attainable steps in the right direction.

For example, Clawson explains that the majority of the world’s chocolate is produced by child slaves in West Africa. She explains how this works, and argues that while none of us is pro-slavery, our chocolate consumption habits support this horrifying reality. Just about every major chocolate seller uses cocoa obtained by child slaves, so unless we are actively patronizing only those venders that use ethically produced chocolate, we are perpetuating the enslavement of children.

Clawson explains that this will take sacrificial action on our part. Ethical chocolate cannot be produced or sold at the low price that slavery makes possible, so we will have to pay more for our chocolate. Or we will have to sacrifice by staying away from chocolate. Everyday Justice explains this complex situation and gives simple action points that we can follow to do something about it. We can’t change everything at once, but if we’re not doing something, we remain complicit in these unjust world systems.

Few readers will find every issue as significant as Clawson does, nor will everyone want to follow all of her action points. But Everyday Justice offers an excellent overview of some very important issues that face us today, and gives us simple and practical steps for doing our part.

It’s not a comfortable read by any means, but it will leave you better informed to take meaningful action.

If you’d like to buy the book, here’s a quick link:

 

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