By Jessyka and Kiefer Dooley — Jessyka and Kiefer Dooley in conversation about equality and the American Dream

Twenty-twenty has been a year for the books. We’ve all become accustomed to words like “unprecedented,” “can- celled,” “social distancing,” and “quarantine,” thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. If that wasn’t enough, we were also caught up in a period of social unrest brought about by in- equities in our country that were highlighted by the highly publicized slayings of several people of minority ethnicities by police officers. So, while we were quarantining and social distancing in the midst of these unprecedented times, we turned on our televisions or opened up our Twitter apps to watch as social justice initiatives called out for the (re?) establishment of equality in America.

Jessyka: As followers of Jesus, we should be the first people to acknowledge that every single person is made in the image of God and loved by Him. But it’s one thing to acknowledge that and another to actually walk that out in our day-to-day lives. Jesus was one to not only root for the underdog, but to highlight them as loved and whole.

Over this past year I’ve seen many Christians go out of their way to proclaim how they are leaning on God during these troublesome times, then go out of their way to speak harshly against those they dislike, vote in ways that suppress the basic rights of their fellow citizens, and become more self- seeking rather than going out of their way to care for others.

Kiefer: I’m with you. I’d even go so far as to put our own titles in the mix . . . because I think that as Seventh-day Adventist Christian followers of Jesus, we do a very good job of acknowledging that every single person is equal in the eyes of God. But we may not be so good at putting it into practice. This could be in part because we’ve been set up to arrive at this point by the world around us. Our founding fathers, held in great regard by our country, made sure that equality was front and center in our nation’s charter documents. We all know the lines by heart. “We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

But like you said, Jess, somewhere along the line, we got mixed up and stopped way short of the call. We stopped with writing it down and never put it into practice. The ineptitude, the double standards, the “all men” actually meaning “land owning white guys” crept out of politics and into the way we live our lives as individuals…even now 244 years later. And it’s just counter to the way of Jesus Christ.

Jessyka: We have definitely stopped short of the call as a country, but as a church it seems like we lag even further behind. In the book of Galatians, Paul shares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If our church lived that out, I for one, would have had a better experience growing up as a female in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I think, in a lot of ways, denominations across the board have become a mere reflection of their current culture and political climate rather than pursuing the way of Jesus first and foremost.

Kiefer: To take what you’ve said and elaborate . . . we can’t rely on the world, or America, or the constitution or even the institution of the Church to be our guide. If we do, we’ll always be disappointed. We’ll always see some flaw in the reflection. I feel like this is especially true of the call to justice and equality—both of which are very much biblical ideals. Before highlighting the flaws anywhere else, we must find ourselves fully known and loved and filled in a relationship with Jesus.

We need to see others equal because it’s what Jesus sees. Not because the Church or anyone else asks us, or doesn’t ask us, to see that way. It’s from our position as sons and daughters of Jesus that we can go about the politics (or activities associated with making decisions in groups) of equality inside of the church and inside of the country with His mindset. After all, what is the Church and what is the Country other than the people who make it up?

Jessyka: Exactly. I’ve often found myself easily pointing out the flaws I see in our country and in our church when it comes to the poor execution of equality, but at the end of the day, I’m a United States citizen and I’m a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. If I’m not actively living in the Spirit and following in the footsteps of Jesus, I’m just as much to blame.

The crazy part is what Jesus calls us to do is so radically different from the “American Dream” so many of us aspire to pursue. He does not call us to accumulate heaps of wealth, but rather to give to those who are in need. He doesn’t ask us to draw barriers both physically and metaphorically between ourselves and others, but rather to welcome them with open arms. He doesn’t call us to hatred and violence, but rather to turn the other cheek. Sometimes I feel like living a life modeled after Jesus is very “anti” American.

Kiefer: Jesus’ way is definitely not the American way. I think we can look to the Sermon on the Mount to see that Jesus takes everything we hold in high esteem and flips it up- side down. Blessed are the poor and the meek? The last shall be first? Excuse me, Jesus . . . don’t you mean blessed are the rich. The hustlers? The winners? No. He was pretty clear.

The way of Jesus is different and uncomfortable when held against our American worldview. But this is where we must take action to make decisions that demote the self and elevate the other. Because this is where we find equality and justice. We can make personal sacrifices for the good of our communities. We can see the tax collector, the prostitute, the thief, the stranger, the foreigner, the homeless, the “other,” and maybe even a woman, as equal. When the “other” is authentically viewed as an equal through the lens of Jesus, our actions will fall into place. When our actions fall into place, equity and justice will have a foothold to take root and transform our community, our church, our nation, and our world.

–Jessyka and Kiefer Dooley are RMC youth leaders. Email them at: [email protected] and [email protected]