Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
June 27th, 2012

Liberty to Captives: Proclaiming a “Fortnight” Acceptable to the Lord


The etching "Christ Preaching" by Rembrant (The Hundred Guilder Print). (CNS photo/Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” — Luke 4:16-21 (NAB)

I must confess that I have no stomach for the flaxen-haired, doe-eyed Jesus portrayed in most cinematic adaptations of the Gospels who seems to pout and sulk his way across ancient Israel stopping sporadically to look longingly off into the heavens. I am a fan of confrontational Jesus. I am a fan of the Jesus who raises his voice, who draws lines in the sand, who touches people who are supposed to be untouchable, who keeps the wrong sort of company, who breaks with traditions that seek to circumscribe God’s love, who gets himself chased out of town and nearly thrown off a cliff for the brazen suggestion that God might not favor one nation over any other (the summation of the above passage from Luke’s Gospel), who gave his life for the liberation of all. I like that Jesus. In fact, I love that Jesus. A lot.

Liberty is at the heart of the Christian message and those of us who claim this Jesus as our beloved must participate in his proclamation of comfort, emancipation, healing, and freedom for all those in bondage. Liberty is also at the heart of what it means to be an American. It should come as no surprise to us that there have been countless Americans of faith who have worked tirelessly on her soil for liberation. Women and men of Christian faith (and, it should be noted, a myriad of their sisters and brothers of other faiths) have battled against the abject evil of the Atlantic slave trade, the horrors of child labor practices during the Industrial Revolution, the denial of voting rights to women and people of color, the racism that undergirded Jim Crow laws and segregation, the crippling affect of poverty and homelessness on both urban and rural America, the systematic dehumanization of immigrants, and the epidemic of human trafficking that now plagues our nation.

Christians such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have inspired generations of Americans by their dedication to proclaiming liberty to the captives and freedom to the oppressed. There are many more who have lived Jesus’ proclamation. They are lay people and religious sisters and brothers and clergy — perfectly ordinary folks you will never read about in any history book — who have dedicated their lives to making our nation a beacon of justice and liberty for all. We are called to be such people. We are called to echo Jesus’ proclamation in our families, our places of work, our communities, our places of worship, and in our world.

This summer our bishops have called us to participate in a “Fortnight for Freedom.” Many fear that our liberty to express our religious beliefs has been threatened by the HHS mandate and we have been called to pray and talk and work and demonstrate to show our resistance to said measures. But, with all due respect and reverence, what if in addition to this call to action we also focus our concern on those who are at this very moment living in bondage and crying out for justice and deliverance — the poor, the homeless, the trafficked children. What would happen if we humbled ourselves to be bearers of Jesus’ proclamation of liberty to them? What would happen if we dedicated the same amount of money it took to make bulletin inserts and stickers and signs and television ads and billboards to those whose liberty is truly in jeopardy? How many people could we feed? How many safe houses could we build? What sort of glad tidings could we bring to the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed?

As we celebrate our liberty as American citizens this Fourth of July and as we discern our bishops’ call to action during the Fortnight for Freedom, let us be sure to also remember those living in our midst — in our country, in our communities, in our neighborhoods — who are in bondage. If we do not, then, in the words of Frederick Douglass, our “shouts of liberty” will be but “hollow mockery,” and our “prayers, sermons, and thanksgivings mere religious parade.”

The Author : Caitlin Kennell Kim
Caitlin Kennell Kim is a full-time baby wrangler, writer, and ponderer of all things theological. She earned her Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry and Theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She currently lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband and their four small children.
See more articles by (80).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Caitlin Kennell Kim

    Thank you all for your thoughts! Jane and Amira, I am well aware of the Church’s deep and abiding commitment to and care for the poor and oppressed. In fact, they were integral to my decision to become Catholic. What I am suggesting is that we exhibit an equal degree of unified, institutional outrage toward the very grave social injustices now plaguing our nation. Furthermore, I don’t remember Christ’s command to care for the poor being conditional (i.e. care for the poor… unless, of course, the governenment does something that offends you. In that case, stop providing services to the poor until the offensive measure is rescinded.) If we truly respect their inherent dignity as human beings made in the divine image, then we cannot use them as leverage for any end, no matter how good or holy we believe it to be.

    • Hermione7

      Caitlin, I agree with Maureen, Amira and Jane. The issues are independent. Tthe Church has always been an agent of Christ’s mission to right social injustice and spread the Gospel of love. At the same time, I think you are trivializing the Church’s (and many constitutional lawyers’) opposition to the HHS Mandate and the call to stand up for religious freedom. These are extremely important issues for Catholics and nonCatholics alike. They are fundamental to the reasons this country was founded and to our Constitution. Catholic Charities, Catholic Hospitals and Catholic Universities, as well as other religious organizations that are not Catholic ( including those that are not Christian), faith-based businesses, and all US individual citizens had the right to freely practice their beliefs under the first amendment of our Constitution and under the many legal protections that have affirmed it throughout history before the HHS mandate and the health care legislation were passed. Other countries were free to govern in accordance with their beliefs re life issues such as abortion, contraception and even the institution of marriage and still receive US foreign aid before the current administration mischaracterized their cultural and religious beliefs as human rights violations and made foreign aid dependent on spreading the particular moral beliefs held by members of the administration. These need to be corrected. It is not a small issue and should not be confounded with the issue of social injustice. As If we stand by and say nothing, we do not deserve the freedoms which many have given their lives to establish and defend.

  • Roaming Catholic

    While I have some misgivings about how the “Fortnight for Freedom” is being framed, it’s important to note that the bishops’ religious liberty concerns are not only about the HHS mandate but also unjust immigration laws such as SB 1070. That said, I do agree that it’s better to focus on the needs of the poor and vulnerable themselves rather than how “our” freedom may be threatened, always keeping in mind that the freedom we seek to maintain is for their sake, not ours.

  • Barbara Beimesch

    I totally agree with your points. This is the Scripture message and the Christ that I follow….care for the disadvantaged, the marginalized, the homeless, the “other” when it is difficult. Thanks for this article.

  • Maureen

    Good point, Cait. However, if we lose our freedom of religion (as this manadate chips away at) then we will also lose the ability to help the poor, those living in bondage, the homeless, the needy.

  • Melinda Burgess

    A much needed article for this holiday time. Reminds me that there is more to it than hot dogs and fireworks. Great job!

  • Doug Kennell

    Great work,Cait! I like your style.

  • Susan

    Beautiful, insightful and courageous! I think Jesus must smile when he reads your articles! Keep up the good work and stimulating the dialogue on important issues. Hats off to you.

  • Amira

    I agree with Jane. The current struggle against the mandate, and the ever-lasting struggle to aid the poor are separate, independent issues. They are, however, inextricably related, which is the point of informing the public and laity about the threat the mandate poses. If the mandate stands, the Catholic Church may be forced out of the social services that lie at the heart of the gospel. Just take Catholic Charities’ closing in Massachusetts and elsewhere as an example. It’s not just the poor whose liberty is “truly” in jeopardy. The Church’s ability to serve these poor is truly in jeopardy as well, and people need to know that.

  • Jane K

    Caitlyn, your article is well written but it suggests that the Catholic Church has been less than supportive of the rights and concerns of the poor and oppressed. You need not look too far to see countless examples of faith based outreach programs- of which the Catholic Church- in addition to the other churches have been rigorously supportive of. Simply because there has been a proportionally small amount of money spent on promoting an awareness of the assault on Religious liberty of Catholics- does not detract from millions of dollars that the Catholic Church pours into serving the poor and the oppressed. Look at the Communities of Sisters, Brothers, Friars and Priests living amongst the poorest of the poor in communities throughout the country and outside of our borders…that work tirelessly to help those that have nothing. Yet those serving the poor- feel their Religious Liberty is being insulted by an administration that demands they ignore their conscience and turn away from their stance on Life. The two goals you speak of are independent and equally worth fighting for. Peace- Jane

  • Adam

    A brilliant article Caitlin. I agree with you 100%. It is a powerful thought you’ve expressed here, I hope people take the time to think on it.

powered by the Paulists