The interpretation of this text that has made the most sense to me is the one I heard given by Rev. Dr. William Barber at a speech in Chapel Hill during black history month. He pointed out that the three young Hebrew men choose to refuse to eat the bread of the empire. The food of the empire may be rich, may be filling, and may be tasty but it is bought with the injustice of crushing the poor, exploiting other ethnic groups, and the warfare that destroys the earth while soaking it in the blood of the innocent. It is their way of choosing to not participate in the injustice that reigned in their day.
Dr. Barber spoke about the examples of people throughout history who had chosen to make different choices to avoid participating in the subtle ways first slavery and then racism was woven into the fabric of American society. Such heroes as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X each chose in different ways to stand against the injustices based on race.
He suggested the text calls us to consider the ways in which we cooperate with injustice in our daily lives. We cannot live in a society with systemic racism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia in the way ours is despite the best efforts of so many our society continues and totally avoid some participation with this injustice. However there are little and big ways we can choose to opt out of practices which continue to mindlessly prop up these abuses.
In William Wilberforce’s day, he did this by joining many in not eating products produced through slave labor and not being silent about the abuse slavery brought in his community and to the legislature. In Martin Luther King’s day this included boycotts and marches. I have dear friends and colleagues who in our day were thrown in prison for standing against such injustices in the Raleigh legislature, as well as others who have changed which foods they buy and how they manage their use of electricity to lessen the footprint they leave on the earth.
One way in my life I have chosen to practice this was years ago to choose not to serve as a pastor, to join as a member, or give my tithe to God to any church that openly excludes people based on race, gender, class, or sexual orientation. At some points this has been an easy choice, but there have been times that has been tough for me, especially when it meant leaving the Grace Communion International denomination that originally ordained me and whose Southern California church I was serving. I am still weighing which other small and big ways I can choose to change my life so as to cooperate less in the injustices in our society.
What little and big ways you hear the call not to cooperate with injustice in your life? I invite you to share. Perhaps it will help others discern their own part in being a force for healing in this world.