Leonardo Boff on Solidarity with the Poor

Boff

To adopt the place of the poor is our first deed of solidarity with them.  This act is accomplished by making an effort to view reality from their perspective.  And when we view reality from their perspective, that reality simply must be transformed.  Reality is exceedingly unjust for the majority of men and women in Latin America.  It impoverishes them and pushes them out on the margins of society.  To adopt the place of the poor means to assign priority to the questions the poor raise, and then honestly to face up to these problems.

Leonardo Boff – “When Theology Listens to the Poor” page ix

Solidarity.

Our world needs people who will stand in solidarity with the poor.  We need this because we need the poor in our world to have a voice.  The sad reality seems to be that without people standing in solidarity with the poor, they will not have a voice in the greater Christian community.

When was the last time you saw a homeless person make a presentation at your last church council meeting, or massive nation wide conference?  The poor do not have a voice.

Further proof of this is found in the common stereotypes thrust upon the poor in our society.  You know, things like “they need to get off their butts and get a job” or “They are lazy and a financial burden on our society.”    

Yet, my instinct is to push Boff a bit further on what it means to stand in solidarity.

Solidarity is more than making an effort.

I recently had a conversation with a wonderful person who is part of the LGBT (Lesbien, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community.  I asked her what her community needed.  She said people who will stand in solidarity with them.  Meaning, they long for people who will stand shoulder to shoulder with them, encountering all the same things that they encounter.

Solidarity means risk.  To stand in solidarity is to face the same risk, whatever that may be, with the people with whom you stand.  Solidarity is forged shoulder to shoulder, in the context of community giving those without a voice a place of belonging.

Giving the voiceless a place of belonging is dangerous because it empowers them with a voice.

Our churches need people willing to step into solidarity and community with those who we fear.  It saddens me when institutional structures take a posture of “service provider” for the poor and ostracized which seemingly forgets the importance of relationality at it’s most basic level.  Solidarity and relationship gives voice, service providers do not.  Being a service provider insulates a community from the risk of relationship.

We need people who will stand in the solidarity of relationship and risk with the poor.  And we need to empower those who dare face that risk!

Imagine if someone who is poor would ask a question of your community… what would it be?  What would it take to give them a voice?

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14 comments

  1. Jamie Arpin-Ricci · September 6, 2012

    Well said. Sadly, those who choose to stand in solidarity with the poor often end up being pushed to the margins by the church and forgotten as well. This needs to change.

    • Chris Lenshyn · September 6, 2012

      It is interesting/frustrating how this happens on a consistent basis. So much so that I’m flabbergasted as to how to enable churches to change this mentality.

      It is frightening because the church needs the poor. Often church mentality views the poor needing the church…

      • Jordan · September 6, 2012

        It’s easy – the North American poor simply feel less important than the poor of the 2/3rds world. It somehow seems easier to stand in solidarity here, because no other language is needed. I think it runs deeper than this though – we care about the poor in the 2/3rds world because we believe that they can still be saved. I think we view the poor within our own country as having had their chance. Our church structures are set up for crisis-point spiritual salvation, not long-term relational transformation.

      • Chris Lenshyn · September 6, 2012

        What does a structure look like that would enable this?

      • Jamie Arpin-Ricci · September 6, 2012

        I read an article a few years ago that was written by an anonymous professional fundraiser who worked with major players like World Vision, etc. and admitted that they intentionally presented the poor of the global south as more deserving. It was a telling piece that still haunts me.

      • Chris Lenshyn · September 6, 2012

        Hey Jamie. Any chance you have that link or article handy? Horrifying!

  2. suzannah | the smitten word · September 6, 2012

    this is fantastic. we definitely need to continue/start this conversation as a church about solidarity, community, and what it looks like to be allies.

    the only thing i would add is, are people really voiceless, or are we not listening? sometimes i think it’s better to speak of listening to and amplifying marginalized voices rather than giving people voices. the latter can emphasize (and prop up) power disparities.

    • Chris Lenshyn · September 6, 2012

      Yes Suzannah.

      I appreciate your distinction between giving voice and amplifying. Though, many poor people in the context of church communities/denominations do not have a voice. My hope was to emphasize the voice not heard from those who do not feel they have a voice or are not listened to and the need for the communities that create a sense of belonging in which to empower this. Thanks for your distinction, it is very helpful!!

      • Jordan · September 6, 2012

        I would agree with Suzannah – we have to be careful with the assumption that the poor do not have a voice. Too often it creates the desire within us to save the poor through means of advocacy, a stance which can bring us dangerously close to the colonial styles of mission from the past. I think the nuance between ‘the poor’ have no voice’ and ‘we refuse to listen to the poor’ is small, but vitally important.

      • Chris Lenshyn · September 6, 2012

        Yes! I would agree with Suzannah’s distinction. My thinking in using the words ‘giving voice to the poor’ was intended to be empowering so I’m thankful for the comment.

        Certainly makes me wonder what it would look like for a institutional church or denomination to fully give a listening ear… is it even possible?

  3. Jordan · September 7, 2012

    I think it is possible for the church to listen, but it is very hard. The church is made up of people, and people do not like to be uncomfortable… and if being poor (or even standing next to the poor) is anything, it’s uncomfortable. Too often we’ve thought that the answer was to just make it more comfortable, to package up short-term trips with comfy hotels and wildlife safaris bookending some slight discomfort in the middle. But this misses the point – the point is to actually feel the discomfort, the some discomfort that the poor and the marginalized feel every day of their lives. In order to do this, I think we need to stop sugarcoating reality, stop making it easy. Not all will follow, but isn’t this always the case?

  4. len1919 · September 10, 2012

    I don’t think its so hard. It takes a different imagination about what the church really is – a new community “one new man” made up of all colors and textures, and yes voices. It does take sacrifice but we have also found the rewards are great. ANd it requires letting go of the “us” and “them” we tend to work with – that is probably the hardest transition. Is the church a “community of saints” or a “hospital for sinners?” How you answer that question will mostly determine the shape of your community.

  5. Hipolito Lagares · October 18, 2012

    Thank you Father Leonardo. It is a fact that the church is mainly concern with saving souls especially Rome and they forget as you have said many times that Christ came to preach the kingdom of God which includes justice for the poors of the world.

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