The interesting story of Father John Kaiser, Catholic priest, in Kenya, part one of three. We don't even need to read the upcoming parts two and three to use this as a case study and a cautionary tale. His example is a caution against those individuals who believe they have either a divine mandate or a personal responsibility to "change the world" via "social justice."
Let's use deductive reasoning to help see the problem. Father Kaiser and others assume:
If A is true: There is terrible oppression, criminality and social injustice and
If B is true: And I am witness to it then
C must be true: One must either "speak up" to "fix the problem" or "be silent."
In other words, whether religious or laity it is easy to assume that there is only one choice to be made: whether to "speak up" and/or "fix the problem" or "be silent."
Genuine life demonstrates that this is a totally erroneous path of logic.
No problems are solved simply through the process of 'denouncement.' For example, we have the problem of tainted peanuts (with salmonella) in the United States. The solution is not to have a loud rhetoric of denouncement since accusation and shaming usually results in people thinking they should have hidden the problem better. That is a problem of human nature. Denouncement triggers a human response, which is to not modify the behavior but to hide it better.
The second problem is that there is an assumption that people are just too ignorant and weak to solve their own problems and change their own government. That is ultimately paternalistic and racist. Father Kaiser fell into the common problem in Africa, which is to assume that unless "bwana" "leads the people to freedom," that they will continue to suffer in injustice. Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Every country on the planet has a different history that demonstrates that there is no "one man or woman bwana fixed the mean bad government to free the downtrodden." Every country and culture achieves freedom and social justice in its own organic way of life, with many swerves along the way.
The key to freedom is education and the uplifting out of poverty. I would argue that if Father Kaiser and others focused on quietly building good and simple Catholic schools, for example, that perhaps instead of him thinking he is "bwana" himself, he would have raised twenty graduating classes of well educated kids out of which a handful might have gone into politics and achieved much, much more themselves.
If you want to help an oppressed group you do so by grassroots provision of, of course, spiritual resources (the sacraments if you are a Catholic priest, for example) but on a secular level by teaching people how to make the best of their situation and improve in their poverty mitigation and their educational goals. It is not a coincidence that generations of Catholic priests, brother and nuns worked the fields among their flock, and built and taught secular educations in addition to religious, rather than run around denouncing injustice.
That does not mean one remains silent. However, the tone must be set by the bishop, not a priest. The bishop has the responsibility for any denouncing that must take place. There are many reasons for that and all of them match human nature and what works and what does not. Throughout faith history it is the bishops who would confront, for example, an unjust king, not a priest. The priest must preserve himself for the uplifting of his flock, not risk his head in a spiritual clash with a high secular power. That is why the bishops, like the cardinals, wear red.
The middle ground offers many solutions that are invisible to someone who is too extreme in their zeal, too black and white in their view of injustice, and too inflated about their own individual role and "destiny." Father Kaiser could have been a thousand times more effective if he had understood that.
For example, what if he built a Catholic school that offered a solid and noncontroversial education, and had stayed put in one place, nurturing that school and class after class of kids? Who know what stability that would have brought to that one community, that parish, and all the kids and their families as they progressed through the years. What if that good example did more to shame the corrupt powers than loudly denouncing them?
Want to win a corrupt power over? Build a school and name it after him or her, and show decency through your own quiet example. What if we could have been reading in the LA Times about the "Father Kaiser and Kenya President" schools, and all the poor kids who received hope over the generations (while also receiving the sacraments), rather than a self doomed messiah complex priest who "made his own bullets."
What would Jesus have done? Isn't that awfully obvious to someone is has not driven themselves crazy with messiah complex? Jesus would have had the whole country covered with grass hut schools within twenty years, naming them after anyone who at the very least did them no harm. Jesus would have set up "Caesar's school for poor kids" all over Jerusalem if that had been his mission, even if Caesar did not contribute a single drachma, denaris, piece of silver or whatever. Jesus would not and did not run around head butting and confronting every secular injustice, of which there were aplenty. This is partly because that was simply not his ministry, as he made perfectly clear. But it is also because Jesus is not there to take away people's normal lives from them. People need to evolve their own cultures and governments, and reach their own justice as a group, not by looking for a "bwana." This is why the cream of Europe arose from people who believed, who were Christian, but who attended schools that taught secular subjects and ethics within the framework of the monasteries and other real life institutions. People followed Jesus and developed appropriate institutions; they did not try to "be" Jesus.
The point is not to pretend to be this generation's "social justice Jesus" but to recognize that no one is or will be Jesus but Jesus himself, and, rather, to role model one's self after what has worked. People achieve social justice when tribal and other hostilities are overcome by a common grassroots lifting out of poverty and the establishment of even the most humble of schools (laptops really not needed, thank you very much).
Just to recap: be alert for error in logic if you find yourself thinking "I 'must' 'do something' about this 'social injustice.'" The emphasis on "I" and "must" should be a warning that you have assumed that there is a problem that other people have that only you can fix, and that is an error in logic. People fix their own problems when given the tools and the accurate facts.
Here is a silly analogy, just for a smile. Suppose you encounter a village that is starving, and you find it is because someone has convinced everyone that the seeds they plant for their crops will only grow if you throw tar over them first. Do you confront and insult the elder? Maybe, but if you fail, the people continue to starve. Go down the road and buy some land. Start planting the seeds the right way. As the crops grow give them to the people to eat. You've now given them face saving room. The elder can say, "Well, he probably is lucky and got ground that does not need the tar" or "the tar must be invisible in that patch of land" or whatever. The point is that by not confronting you are not "being silent," but instead, you are letting your actions speak for you and not cornering people in a place where they have no choice but to fight you.
Humility, humility, humility.