Finding Shalom in modern America

Multiple speakers examine America christianity from the lense of social justice and COVID-19

Mary Bruggeman, Staff Writer

Panelists Sandy Mayo, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Randy Woodley, and Mae Elise Cannon discuss their expertise and connection to the topics of justice and Shalom.
(Gabrialla Cockerell)

“The kingdom of God cannot be fully manifested until we have both justice and peace,” declared Rev. Dr. May Elise Cannon, Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace, at the Second Annual Office of Inclusive Excellence Diversity Lecture.   

“One of the biggest secrets on campuses is that students actually are the most powerful people in the institution,” Dr. Randy Woodley, Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture and Director of Intercultural and Indigenous studies explained. 

On Feb. 2, three authors and educators discussed the racial, political, and cultural conflicts that have been affecting the nation especially strongly the past year at the Second Annual OIEX Diversity Lecture. The topic of Justice and Shalom was debated as the speakers shared ideas of how Christians may seek to resolve the current injustices in the Church and in the Nation. 

“It is really important that the people who believe in shalom…that we are the people who really hold it together,” Dr. Woodley stated. 

In the midst of conflict, Professor of Theology at the Earlham school of Religion, Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, claimed there are three areas we need to find shalom: with God, with others, and with ourselves. Kim helped write a book with the World Council of Churches titled, “Making Peace with the Earth.” The title is another version of the phrase “peace on Earth.”

Leviticus 25 describes Dr. Cannon’s view of Shalom: a time when “the poor will be poor no longer; the prisoners will be set free; injustices will be made right; creation will be fully redeemed.” Dr. Cannon shared that there are two different words used among the Israelites and Palestinians to describe the end of conflict. Israelites will often say they wish for peace and the word justice is viewed as a threat, but the Palestinians view the word justice as the goal for the future. According to Cannon, the history of conflict shapes the people’s view of shalom. 

American’s views of shalom and Christianity have also been shaped by American culture. The panelists all agreed that the invasion of the capitol on Jan. 6 this year goes against the concept of shalom the Gospel describes. Dr. Ji-Sun Kim believes that our version of Christianity is often merely “White Americanity.” She emphasized that the nationalistic white Christianity is not the faith Jesus taught. She points out that Jesus was a poor refugee. Jesus was a member of the marginalized group nationalistic Christianity often rejects or ignores. 

Senior Kiernan Foley, a social justice and cultural studies major, says she agrees with Kim’s assertion about American christianity. 

“As someone who is a part of the white Christian Church in America, and is on staff at the church, I struggle daily with the flaws and issues I see endemic to the institution of the church in America,” said Foley in response to the panelists. “I struggle with not seeing the gospel lived out in White Americanity. When we think of the Gospel as a story used to convert others to our religion, it elevates ‘White Americanity’ and perpetuates white supremacy’s connection with Christian Nationalism.” 

Kim notes that Jesus protested in a very political way when justice was denied. She mentioned Jesus flipping the merchants’ tables in the temple and him healing on the Sabbath. Jesus was not afraid to be involved in politics. Having lived in three different countries throughout her life, Dr. Ji-Sun Kim briefly described the racism she and her family faced. She decided not only does justice allow for hope, but “hope will change us to seek justice.”  

Intersectionality, Dr. Cannon added, is a term describing the connection between all issues of social justice. Studies are separated between different fields of study when, in reality, all topics are related. These barriers prevent people from seeing the tragic intersectionality of the world. According to Cannon, myths around COVID-19 are partially a result of this separation. Despite opposing claims made throughout the Pandemic, Dr. Cannon stated that COVID does in fact discriminate; certain populations are much more affected than others. She believes this is a fact Christians need to accept. 

“There’s no such thing as history. There’s only histories,” Woodly explained. “Decolonizing ourselves is getting rid of the lies.”

As a Cherokee Indian, Dr. Woodly sees that the American system continues to have almost exclusively white leaders. He thinks justice will occur when people begin to recognize that American people do not all have one history. Woodley continued, saying that situations will not change until Christians are willing to be political. People with any strong view will always be disliked, but even college students have a lot of influence on their college campuses. 

Changes will only be made when a strong stance is taken, Kim explained. Dr. Kim believes the easiest way to live is through surrender. 

“When we pray ’let thy kingdom come’ it means let my kingdom go,” Kim said, quoting her former PHD professor. “We love to build little kingdoms (family) everywhere we go…but we have to let it go and let God reign. And when God reigns, well, we recognize that we need to work for justice and shalom. It becomes easier.”