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April 27, 2014

Favela de Cantagalo, Rio de Janeiro, Photo by Hmaglione10 (CC ASA, 3.0 Unported)

And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went from year to year on a circuit…But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there” (1 Samuel 7: 15-17).

Earlier this month heavily armed Brazilian troops stormed another favela in Rio de Janeiro. These armed attacks on Rio’s slums are being billed as attempts to improve security, in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. The less articulated goal is to take over the territory currently ruled by gangs, and turn existing, high elevation, urban poverty into enviable, upscale, real estate.

This is gentrification at the point of a gun.

Promises of better education, health, and social programs have been made to slum residents. While the pledged improvements have stemmed any large scale protest, they have yet to materialize.

How often have the powerless been displaced from land to which they had longstanding ties? The Israelites were, themselves, expelled by the Romans from Judea (renamed Palestine) in 70 AD. The history of Native Americans provides additional examples. Treaty after treaty with them was broken, once it appeared that there was an advantage to be gained.

If the prophet Samuel judged America as he did ancient Israel, would we pass muster? How then are we to approach problems like Brazil’s use of the military to redefine the social contract with its impoverished citizens?

What if instead of self-interest we used God’s standard of justice to govern our actions, personal and political? Does the treatment of our own citizens — especially the most needy — meet that standard?

Here are a few thoughts:

• No society in this flawed and sinful world of ours is ideal, even our own. No society can, therefore, achieve perfect justice. This does not make fighting for justice a useless exercise. The pursuit of justice is always worthwhile.

• The United States has been richly blessed. Our nation, therefore, has great responsibility to share its blessings.

• Likewise, our nation has great responsibility to use its strength for good. But we should put our own house in order, before setting out on new ventures overseas.

• The United States will not always be loved, whatever stance we may take on particular issues. Many will envy us our prosperity. Some will hate us because of their opposition to the very ideals on which this nation was founded. We may as well strive to uphold those ideals. Compromising them will not make us any more popular. It will only cause us to lose our way.

One final note:

Most reading this article will never live in ramshackle houses, stacked one atop another. All of us, however, know what a home is – even one made only from tar paper and cardboard.

A home has been a basic human necessity since prehistoric times. Food and shelter are the least a civilized society should enable its citizens to procure. That applies equally to Brazil and the United States.


  1. Planting Potatoes permalink

    good read…what a wonderful world we would live in if we governed it with God’s justice and love….also, your words bring my young days of living on the south side of Sacramento and the slums of Washington dc to mind. I was once homeless..and I observed entire families that seemed at home in the shelter we shared because they were so thankful that God had blessed them with a place to sleep, while also being able to keep their family together; I gained much hope from their example..

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is moving to read about your experience w/ homelessness. Most do not realize the magnitude of the problem. May God keep you in His care.

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