This past summer, I had the pleasure of working at GLIDE, a United Methodist Church and non-profit foundation in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. Though GLIDE is in part a church, more so it is a beloved community of people who seek to be radically inclusive and love unconditionally. Not everyone at GLIDE believes in God, but as a body, they live out the teachings of Jesus in a uniquely action-oriented way. Built into their core values is the notion that as people committed to justice and inclusion, we all must “walk the talk.” This idea of walking the talk—of not just holding beliefs and spiritual ideals but actually acting on them—challenged me to re-examine the way I live as a Christian.
First, I think it’s important to clarify what walking the talk means. To me, it is the distinction that as believers, we do not just philosophically espouse Jesus’ idea of agapic love, but also act that out in the practical ways he commands—feeding the poor, clothing the needy, and providing other kinds of practical aide. Furthermore, walking the talk looks like being an active advocate for causes the poor and oppressed care about. It is easy to say that you believe in a theology of liberation and a preferential option for the poor, but it’s another thing entirely to have your “ear to the ground” as Rev. Cecil Williams at GLIDE says. The great actors in the narrative of liberation theology have been those who are vocal advocates for the causes of the poor, even when that means getting political.
The author of James points to the idea of walking the talk, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14-16).
Though many Christians do participate in some works of charity to the poor, to truly walk the talk to me means to do everything possible, at all times, even if it is unpopular. GLIDE acts out the completeness of walking the talk by not only telling the homeless they are welcome in the church, but also inviting them for a meal, reserving them a bed in a nearby shelter, providing resources to reduce harm in drug use, and spaces to tell their story and receive healing. This principle of meeting both physical and spiritual needs reminded me of a complete expression of cura personalis—the Jesuit value to care for the whole person.
Walking the talk is not easy, and it is often uncomfortable. How much easier is it to say we welcome the immigrant, than to actually call your senator to oppose the DACA repeal, teach an ESL class, or push to provide sanctuary for immigrants? As Christians, we are compelled to walk the talk, not out of obligation, but out of the joy that comes from serving Jesus, who is present in every one of our brothers and sisters.
The writer of Matthew envisions Jesus at the judgment, commending those who walked the talk, and condemning those who did not. Those who did good works question Jesus, saying “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” Jesus—speaking through the figure of the King—answers them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37-40).
I know I have often failed to walk the talk, and I will continue to fail many more times. However, GLIDE taught me that by having my ear to the ground and listening to the needs of the people, I can better hear Jesus’ own voice guiding me towards advocacy and action. Walking the talk will not always be easy, but if the community at GLIDE is any evidence, it is only in doing so that we can hope to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.