The Solidarity Gospel

By Jason Scott Jones Published on May 9, 2024

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13)

 

I recently sent a letter to supporters of my organization, the Vulnerable People Project (VPP), about our plans to take action ahead of a predicted famine that could claim half a million lives in Sudan. “That is so awful that it’s hard to believe,” a donor wrote back. She continued:

As a fellow Catholic, I have a tough time reconciling that with the many promises in the Bible that God will meet all of our needs. What do you say to people who ask you to explain why God tells us not to worry [because] He will provide, but then millions of people die of poverty?

It’s such an important question and one I hear so often that it deserves a public reply.

The Prosperity Gospel?

It’s easy for Catholics to dismiss and ridicule the so-called “prosperity gospel” typically preached in certain Protestant communities. It’s especially easy for Catholics who’ve yet to wrestle with the faith and who remain perhaps more aloof from their neighbors in need than the Gospel would really allow.

We at VPP have the sorrowful privilege of being in contact with human suffering every day. Like all of us, I have been wrestling with the problem of suffering since childhood. A child doesn’t have the kind of sophistication that helps us grown-ups deny the realities our faith insists on, and I’m blessed with a lucid memory of my first childhood prayer.

I was sitting on the avocado-green (don’t judge – it was the 1970s) carpeted floor of my grandmother’s little apartment, pitting gray and green plastic army men against each other and eating over-easy eggs and scraps of toast from a sundae bowl. Sesame Street was playing on the black-and-white TV.

But when a PBS documentary on heroin addiction came on, I was stunned into rapt attention. My grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table doing crossword puzzles; I was surrounded by Axis and Allied soldiers, and the sun flooded into the room, making it the closest place to Heaven on Earth. But there, in that little box, I saw emaciated men and women crawling across the bare floors of burned-out houses in Chicago, feebly handling syringes, lighters, and spoons.

Pain Is Our Baseline

My little heart broke. I was terrified, sorrowful, and overwhelmed with guilt. How could I live this wonderful and pleasant life while others lived in such tragic conditions? “God has only so many good lives to give out and so many bad lives to give out,” I thought. Never having been taken to church or taught to pray, I said my first prayer on that apartment floor. “God, give me one of those lives,” I said, pointing to the TV, “so no one else has to have it.”

That straightforward prayer, innocent and unassuming, acknowledged suffering as a fact rather than treating it as an academic question. So the prevalence of human pain – even frightening agonies and abject abuses – was for me a given. As it is for all of us before we are taught to forget.

The Tears of the Oppressed

It would be decades before I accepted the Catholic faith. But when I began to explore Christianity as a young atheist, I discovered one Scripture passage that was at once comforting and confusing.

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun,” said King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:1). “And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power…”

It is uncanny that the mighty King Solomon, this central figure in Jewish scripture, saw power in this fallen world as being on the side of the oppressor. And Solomon’s insight lays the groundwork for Jesus better than any joyful trumpet-blare verses that false teachers might twist into a promise that the Gospel means an end to our heartaches.

The Gospel doesn’t promise that Christ will relieve man’s suffering on Earth. Instead, it promises that the Mystical Body of Christ will do what no earthly power ever would: unite itself with those who suffer.

Power of the Powerless

Only one thing is as clear to me as the suffering of my neighbors: That the body of Christ knelt by the side of a woman caught in the act of adultery; that Our Lord made a point of identifying Himself most intimately with the powerless, then commanded that they be treated as if they were Himself; that the King of Kings has chosen the side of the oppressed.

And His choice colors all of human history. From the first years of the Gospel’s spread, the Body of Christ stood with the slave, with the abandoned infant, with the widow and the orphan.

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Centuries later, the Body of Christ instituted its solidarity with the vulnerable in laws and governments. We see it in the Magna Carta’s guarantees against arrests and convictions without trial. In the U.S. Constitution’s protections for religious freedom and private property. In the abolition of slavery throughout the Western world.

The Body of Christ could also be found sharing in the pain and affliction of Molokai’s 19th-century lepers, for whom St. Damian gave his life. And in the last century, among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, where St. Mother Teresa offered her whole strength for their comfort and consolation – allowing herself to be driven into a deep, long, dark night of the soul in the process.

“I’m Spartacus!”

Today, members of Christ’s Mystical Body are the loudest advocates for the child in the womb, for religious minorities oppressed by Islamist factions throughout Africa and the Middle East, and for the millions of Muslim Uyghur hunted and imprisoned by China’s atheist regime.

Two weeks ago, when the lives of three people whom VPP had promised to help were in danger, I spent a whole night on a lawn chair in my backyard, weeping.

Around 2 in the morning, as Texas-size drops of rain as warm as the air relentlessly splashed my already-drenched body, it dawned on me that the Yazidi we’ve rescued from persecution, the Afghan allies we’ve ushered into safehouses, and my heavily surveilled Chinese dissident friends in the West – they all still suffer.

In my tears, I began writing to many of the people VPP has served: “I understand that your suffering isn’t over. I’m sure that on many nights, you can’t sleep. I am grateful for your friendship and inspired by your courage. Please know I am here whenever you need me.”

My little struggle that night motivated me to stay up until morning sending messages like that.

The Mystery of Lawlessness

I’ll forever be grateful for the clarity that comes with the work of VPP – my team’s effort to be present to the vulnerable in the Body of Christ. For me, there is no abstractness about the problem of the power of evil over our lives. I have dark nights of the soul. I’ve been despondent and wrestled with acedia. But by the grace of God, I can feel great sorrow with my faith in God and, God willing, my soul intact.

If Catholics ask themselves the probing question my donor asked, it might reveal that the prosperity gospel isn’t just the silly idea of a few easily parodied megachurches. It’s a universal temptation that can subtly work its way into any Christian heart.

“God is infinitely good, and all his works are good. Yet no one can escape the experience of suffering or the evils in nature which seem to be linked to the limitations proper to creatures,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. It goes on to quote St. Augustine: “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution.”

“His own painful quest would only be resolved by his conversion to the living God,” the Catechism notes. “For ‘the mystery of lawlessness’ is clarified only in the light of the ‘mystery of our religion’.”

In other words, the Church in her wisdom humbly observes what all of us can see and no one can deny: the world is rife with suffering for which there can be no satisfactory human justification.

We fallen Catholics, on the other hand, tend to lack that wisdom and humility as much as any prosperity-gospel Protestant does. So we tiptoe around the problem of suffering, harboring a secret, nervous hope that we might simply get away with never facing it.

When we take that route, we only add to the problem of suffering the further problem of our own indifference to it (at least until it reaches our own doorsteps). And in so doing, we risk losing the heart of the Gospel – and our own souls.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript

Thank God for answered prayers, especially the rash and naive prayer I made as a preschool-aged little boy.

No, this is not a confession of heroin addiction. Assenting to a belief in God in my late twenties and eventually converting to Catholicism in my early thirties, I was startled by how my greatest prayers had all been answered.

I used to joke with my wife that God let me down by not answering my first and most sincere prayer. It was only after I read the works of the great Catholic philosopher Rene Girard that I realized He had answered that prayer. In a beautiful and strange way, God answered in a way only our good God could.

Through the work of this apostolate I founded before I was Catholic, God thrust me into the service of the most vulnerable people on Earth. And “to stand with the vulnerable,” writes Girard, “is to become indistinguishable from those you stand with.”

 

Jason Jones is a film producer, author, activist, popular podcast host, and human rights worker. He is president of the Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization (H.E.R.O.), known for its two main programs, the Vulnerable People Project and Movie to Movement. He was the first recipient of the East Turkistan Order of Friend- ship Medal for his advocacy of the Uyghur people. Jones was an executive producer of Bella and an associate producer of The Stoning of Soraya M. His humanitarian efforts have aided millions in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and the Ukraine, as well as pregnancy centers and women’s shelters throughout North America. Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream and the host of The Jason Jones Show. He is also the author of three books, The Race to Save Our Century, The World Is on Fire, and his latest book The Great Campaign Against the Great Reset. His latest film, Divided Hearts of America, is available on Amazon Prime.

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