Voices

Structural evil vs. simple good

A mother teaches her sons how to fight

Issue: "Food fight," May 3, 2008

My mother is one of my great heroes. Among her many strengths was her unambiguous stand for life at a time when lines around life issues were just beginning to be drawn.

I'm one of six brothers, which meant that, in a household of eight, Mom was the only one with two X chromosomes. Not surprisingly, we XYs would tease her incessantly, and she would tease us right back. When I was about 12, though, I knew not to tease about one thing: Mom's once-a-month evening out to meetings of a national woman's organization. She was dedicated to the organization and for some time was president of the local chapter.

But somewhere in the mid-1960s Mom stopped going to the meetings. Like rumor in a seventh-grade math class, word passed from son to son. Surprisingly, Mom didn't offer any explanation. In my boyish immaturity, I never bothered to ask. Instead, among us six it was, "Mom's staying home tonight. She can help us with homework." We never thought that there might have been some principle at stake in her decision.

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There was. Mom had resigned her position and membership because the organization was beginning to position itself as "pro-choice." Abortion advocacy was simply unacceptable to my mother. She felt it a denial of everything human and everything woman. I suspect that, were she alive today, Mom would explain, "Life is life. It deserves to be protected. If it isn't, everyone will lose, both women and men. So I had to take a stand, as small as my stand was, against the organization." In face of organizational evil, my mother made a small choice for simple good.

These same polarities, structural evil and simple good, run throughout the Scriptures. As an example, in Romans 12:6-10 the Apostle Paul advocates simple good. I might paraphrase his thought this way: "It doesn't matter what your gift is. It could be prophecy, it could be service, it could be the ability to teach and motivate, or to give with generosity, to lead with wisdom, to show mercy with joy. Whatever the gift," Paul says, "let each of us through faith in God put it into action."

Simple advice, yet profoundly appropriate to both Mother's Day and the cause of life! In a dark day when the calculus of inconvenience and socioeconomic burden is applied unremittingly to the unborn and diseased and aged, small things like generosity, encouragement, mercy, and service on behalf of life matter. Small things like a mother's leadership before six sons become, in retrospect, shiningly heroic.

The darkness of the culture of death is dark indeed. At times I wonder how much simple choices really matter. This is especially the case when I compare the rare and slight moments of progress on behalf of life to the seemingly immovable massive monolith, the political-cultural-institutional stronghold that is in place today against life's sanctity. Do our small actions, our simple gifts, our unnoticed leadership, our generosity, our votes, our presence at services and meetings, our policy proposals, our halting words of explanation, our attempted answers to perplexing questions-do these things really make a difference?

"Yes," the Apostle Paul would answer stirringly, "small and simple good is God's way against structural evil." Paul in Romans and elsewhere in his letters writes about "powers," "principalities," "dominions," and "thrones": in other words, about evil in high places, evil resident in social structures and human institutions and, mysteriously, spiritual realms. He had divine insight into evil's stronghold on societies and cultures-and yet he counsels time and again toward small, faith-filled, seemingly unnoticed, simple choices.

This shouldn't surprise us. After all, it was the way of his God to choose the insignificant, the overlooked, and the humble to overcome massive evil: Nazareth, a virgin, a manger, a cross. And so it was Paul's way. He understood evil's Goliath and persisted in asking us to be like youthful David and in faith use small stones (our simple gifts) to assault towering evil.

Matthew P. Ristuccia
Matthew P. Ristuccia

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