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One of the very first things to grab my attention upon arriving to Peru was the enormous divide between “the haves” and “have-nots.” While Latin America’s recent economic boom has caused the gap to narrow significantly, the region continues to be one of the most unequal in the world.
Social inequality “slaps you in the face” in Latin America where it’s not unusual to see a shantytown right next door to a ritzy social club. You can go from clean streets, new buildings, pretty green grass, and small dogs wearing sweatshirts to graffiti, piles of litter, run down buildings, and stray dogs fighting by simply crossing the street!
I recently stumbled upon one such street, only this time, in the United States.
Delmar Boulevard is recognized as a dividing line between two bordering St. Louis neighborhoods that have vastly different economic and racial makeups. To the south are million dollar homes, gated communities, high-end restaurants and shops. To the north, however, the situation is quite different – abandoned homes, struggling small businesses, and little opportunity.
I grew up in a mostly white, middle-class suburb, where serious poverty and social inequality were issues I only read about in the newspaper or saw on television. You can imagine the sort of shock I experienced after moving to one of the most “unequal regions” in the world. It didn’t take much time working and living in a context where I dealt regularly with social injustice before I began to idealize the life I had left behind. Discovering the “Delmar Divide” here in St. Louis was a necessary reminder that social injustice isn’t limited to the developing world. The situation might be a bit more dire in one place than another, but barriers related to race, ethnicity and social class divide communities all throughout the world.
Social injustice in all its various forms – racial discrimination, economic disparity, classism, etc. – is symptomatic of a much more serious problem, however – sin against God and one another. There is social injustice all over the world because there are sinners all over the world!
How, then, does the Church respond? The same way our Lord Jesus responded to the tremendous divide that existed between man and God due to our sin. Jesus “crossed the street.” He bridged the gap.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought new by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.
…God always manifests His love through His people, where His compassion and mercy take on flesh in the life of the believer. Therefore, the people of God have the privilege of sharing through our own pain and suffering the hope, that sustains us in the midst of dehumanizing realities. […] Proclaiming the Gospel, serving those in need, condemning injustice, we are acting within a liberating framework that permits all of creation, in the midst of her childbearing pains, to look to the future with the hope that redemption in Christ brings. (Magariño, Aurelio; Justicia Social en un mundo injusto: La Iglesia como agent de cambia, p. 6)