Bishop Hans Vaxby, Justice, and Social Capital

“You do not need to be president to open doors,” said Bishop Hans Vaxby, preaching at Princeton United Methodist Church yesterday, the first Sunday after the presidential election and also the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Born in Finland and based in Moscow, the bishop governs the Eurasia Area, the largest geographical area in the Methodist church, covering 11 countries. Re Christian persecution in formerly Soviet states, he told an anecdote about tourists in China who couldn’t take a scheduled boat trip on a river because it was too dry. Then some VIPs arrived. For them, a dam was opened so their boat could pass, and then all the other tourist boats could sail as well.

Referring to Buchenwald and Stalingrad, and invoking Amos 5:24 (“Let justice roll down like a river, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream,” which echoes the inscription on the civil rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama) he challenged us to fight the subtle forms of persecution found in this country. We are silent when we should speak out about bullying and injustice. “To let justice roll down for you and me mostly means – not to open a dam, but to open our mouths, to say ‘what do you mean by that,’ or ‘I’m afraid I can’t agree with you.’

Bishop Vaxby’s words echoed the advice of Melissa Harris-Lacewell in post-election commentary two days ago (November 7 post). Asked what ‘ordinary people’ could do, she advised, “If you belong to a group, don’t wait for marching orders from the top. If you don’t, look for one.” In her most recent post, she challenges academics of all stripes, from PhD candidates to high schoolers looking for term paper topics, to investigate an aspect of the Obama campaign.

Here are some other opportunities I know about and I’m asking for everybody else to chime in with their suggestions and experiences …

Support Not in Our Town, a congregation-based organization dedicated to stamping out bias and eliminating racism. Also keep in touch with the YWCA’s Racial Injustice Institute.

Hear David Abalos, a professor in the Princeton University politics department, speak on “The Impact of Hispanic Immigration on the Economy of the Princeton Region,” at the Princeton chamber on Wednesday, November 19, at 7:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club.

Help increase “social capital,” which has a surprisingly low score around here, according to a survey by the Princeton Area Community Foundation and the chamber foundation ( “Social capital” refers to the friendships, acquaintances, and working relationships that tie people together and, as Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, they won’t come to yours.” Communities that can increase their social capital are likely to have higher educational achievement, less crime, well-performing governments, better community relations, and faster economic growth, said Lewis Feldstein, speaking at the Better Together conference last month.

Donate to the Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton, which works to prevent hunger and homelessness. It hosts the Soweto Gospel Choir in a benefit at McCarter Theatre on Monday, November 17 (

Fighting persecution need not be relegated to Eurasian Christians who are walking through the darkest valleys referred to in Psalm 23. It might mean obeying the advice in the parable in Matthew 24:35, “I was hungry, and you gave me food… I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Or resisting a bully with words.

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