"Liberation Play" Challenges Our Prejudices

by Tim Boyle, missionary
Buraku Liberation Center, Osaka

Of the many activities the Buraku Liberation Center engages in to
educate people both in the church and in general society, the
“Liberation Play” is perhaps the most thought-provoking. The latest
play, “Forty Days in the Wilderness,” is the eighth one produced by the
BLC and was first presented at the 36th Kyodan General Assembly in
October 2008. The basic plot of this play revolves around the actions of
a local church pastor as he tries to help the son of a parishioner of
buraku background land a job in a major company. Instead of interacting
with these people as his equals, however, the pastor unconsciously looks
down on them. Thus, his desire to help is actually motivated by feelings
of pity for them and superiority over them. The pivotal line, which he
utters while talking with a contact in the company, is: “He is from the
buraku, but he’s not really a bad person at all.”

The meaning behind these words is that in reality, he too holds the
common perception that buraku people are generally untrustworthy and
lazy, though in his mind this particular young man appears to be an
exception. Because he inadvertently lets the “big secret” slip out, the
net result is that the young man is passed over by the company in spite
of his clear qualifications. When the pastor finally realizes what he
has done, he figuratively goes into the “wilderness” to reflect deeply
on it, repents of his sin, and then embarks on a struggle to lead his
church to grapple honestly with the issues of prejudice and
discrimination. It is a struggle indeed, as some of the “respectable”
members are more concerned about the reputation of the church than about
doing what God is clearly calling them to do. It is a play that makes
those who watch really think about their own subconscious attitudes, and
challenges all to look into their own hearts and face up to their own
prejudices.

In the year and a half since I began working at the Buraku Liberation
Center, I too have thought deeply about my own prejudices as well as
prejudicial attitudes in general. Probably the biggest barrier to
eliminating discriminatory attitudes is the failure of most
people–including those who profess to support “universal human
rights”–to understand the basis of those rights. The Christian gospel
proclaims that it is the “image of God” imparted to each individual
human being that is the guarantee for his or her intrinsic value and is
thus the grounding for the fundamental human rights of all human beings.
The “image of God” concept teaches us that God values us for who we are
and not for what we can do for his kingdom or for any utilitarian
purpose. Any other basis one could think of for grounding fundamental
human rights ends up being utilitarian in orientation.

For instance, the basic assumption underpinning the secular humanist
worldview is that there is no “creator” other than the chance happenings
of the natural world. Thus, according to this view, just as humans
physically evolved from lower animals, the various cultures they
manifest and the ethical value systems embedded within those cultures
likewise evolved naturally, without any external input from a
(non-existing) deity. Right and wrong are totally relative, and there is
no inherent worth in human beings independent of their utilitarian value
(as determined by whoever is in power).

Within such a system of thought, then, there is no ground for any
concept of universal human rights without borrowing the concept from the
biblical worldview. While the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of
Human Rights” is a secular document in the sense that it does not
mention God or expressly ground its contents in any religious doctrines,
it clearly is based in the Judeo-Christian worldview, since these rights
are based on our intrinsic value as human beings. But there is no
“intrinsic value” unless this value is grounded in something ultimate,
namely the value our Creator has imprinted on each person he creates.

This is why any form of discrimination is an affront to God when is
based on who a person is (as opposed to what a person has done). In one
sense, there is a proper kind of “discrimination” against any particular
individual–namely just treatment for what he or she has done. For
instance, we properly “discriminate” against someone when they are
justly sentenced to prison for harming someone else. Here, of course,
the word “justly” must be emphasized, as the reality is that there are a
considerable number of cases of injustice, where improper discrimination
(based on who a person is) gets in the way of true justice (based on
what that person has done).

One classic example of this in the Japanese context is the case of
Ishikawa Kazuo, a man of buraku descent who was framed by the police for
a murder he clearly had nothing to do with, based solely on the
expediency of finding someone from the local buraku without an airtight
alibi who could serve as a scapegoat. The BLC has been at the forefront
of widespread efforts to first secure his release from prison (he was
finally released on parole after 31 years) and now to get the Japanese
court to reopen the case so that he can clear his name.

After his transformation into an apostle of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
Paul stated in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave
nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These
are, in fact, the three main categories of discrimination that are
experienced in human society: racial/ethnic, class, and gender
discrimination. Our goal as followers of Christ is to first to be set
free from prejudicial attitudes in each of these areas and then to lead
society in the same direction. May God grant us the grace and courage to
persevere in this great effort. Your prayers and support for the work of
the Buraku Liberation Center are most appreciated.

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