By Katherine Pullen, Staff Writer
If you rip a sheet of lined paper out of a spiral-bound notebook, you will notice a broad middle section of the paper separated by two vertical red lines from the margins on either side. If you were to take all the people in the world and put them onto this sheet of paper, some would fall into this middle section but many more would be squeezed into the margins, tightly packed and clinging precariously to the jagged edges of the page.
The people in the middle have power to decide how society’s story is written. Those in the margins are pushed there because the mainstream refuses to acknowledge their needs, their beliefs, their concerns and sometimes even their very existence.
This is marginalization, a term that is used to describe widespread and often unconscious discrimination against entire groups of people.
At Union, few of us have experienced marginalization. We have access to a valuable higher education that allows us entry into the mainstream of society.
Even in our interactions outside campus, if we are not intentional, we will seldom come in contact with people who are marginalized because they only exist on the outskirts of our world.
Yet, the marginalized of society were the people to whom Jesus ministered — the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the Gentiles.
As young Christians and students learning about the world, we frequently discuss the plight of those socially discriminated against.
We think that by raising awareness, giving to charity and signing petitions we can make the world a better place, yet all of that is worthless fluff if it is not supported by real action and a desire for greater understanding.
What right do we have to talk about immigration when we have never talked to an immigrant? How can we discuss homosexuality in our churches if we have never allowed ourselves to keep company with a gay man or woman?
Why do we call homeless people “bums” if we are not willing to seek first to understand the situations that left them homeless?
Since beginning a volunteer internship at The Dream Center of Jackson last year, I have met people from a variety of backgrounds. I have friends who are homeless, who are drug addicts, who smoked while they were pregnant, who prostituted themselves, who are running from abusive homes, who are just trying to keep their families together and who have children from more than one father.
None of their stories are simple and straightforward, and none of these people fit into any previous stereotypes I may have had. As I get to know them better, my eyes are opened to the invisible generational and situational marginalization that afflicts them.
I am increasingly aware of the imaginary red line that separates my life from theirs and the seemingly impossible distance they must traverse in order to cross that boundary.
When Christians talk about diversity, we seldom think beyond the idea of race, even though diversity exists in many different forms. When was the last time you had a conversation and built a friendship with someone of a different socioeconomic class, someone with a different background, or someone with a different culture, language or sexuality?
These encounters with people who are different than you do not have to change your beliefs about right and wrong, but they are guaranteed to give you a fuller perspective on the world.
Walking a mile in another person’s shoes can only serve to increase your love for people and your awareness of the need for God in this broken world.
This week, seek out a friendship with someone outside your social circle. Do not be afraid to push the boundaries of what makes you comfortable. For Christ, the Gospel was not a book of words but of action.