There has been a great movement in recent years to unmarginalize the marginalized—to unmarginalize people of different races, the handicapped, the impoverished, immigrants, people of different sexual or gender orientations, etc.
But where did this idea come from?
And why should we do this? Why should we unmarginalize the marginalized?
Every culture marginalizes people. In fact, it seems a primary way cultures preserve themselves; to preserve its standards, a culture marginalizes—discriminate against, and minimize the influence of—those who do not conform.
But it is even more obvious where, primarily, the idea that we should unmarginalize the marginalized came from:
Of course similar ideas have been espoused by others—including Jesus’ prophetic forebears. But given the enormous impact of Jesus on western culture, there’s little doubt he was the primary influencing source of this idea.
It was a major theme of his teaching and life.
He “ate with tax collectors and sinners”—at a time when tax collectors were national traitors who collected taxes for a foreign occupying power and often cheated people to line their own pockets.
Jesus touched “unclean” lepers.
He urged the visiting of the imprisoned.
He refused to condemn “the woman caught in adultery.” (Where was the guy?!) He urged “those who are without sin to cast the first stone.”
And notice that Jesus did not reserve unmarginalization for only those who deserve it. The imprisoned are typically there by their own fault. And he told the adulteress to “go and sin no more.”
Unfortunately, those of us who claim or attempt to follow Jesus often do a very poor job of actually following his example or teachings. People without any thought of following Jesus often do a better job of unmarginalizing the marginalized. They see that it is right.
But how, and why?
Why should the marginalized be unmarginalized?
Jesus had a view of reality where this makes sense: Every human being is an intentional creation of God, made in God’s image, loved by God. Hence every person is of inestimable value regardless of anything else. The ultimate reality—God—is love. So God wants the best for everyone, more than we can know and no matter what. God freely forgives and accept us, and is utterly for us, regardless of our desert. In light of this, how could we justly do otherwise? And because God promises to care for us utterly in the end, it even makes sense sacrifice for others.
But if there is no such ultimate reality, why care about others? Why sacrifice? Why not marginalize others to get more for oneself?
We all know deep down what is right here. We know it is right to be gracious and to unmarginalize the marginalized. So something must make this true.
May those of us who believe in the foundation Jesus articulated, live accordingly.
And let none of us unmarginalize some, just to marginalize others in their place.