“Social justice is now linked to my understanding of religion,” says Randy Bruins. “Growing up I was very skeptical about God and religion, and I was all the time searching for truth. In college I discovered Jesus and the Bible through a friend’s church, and later the connection to social justice through a pastor in my church. It has been since an ongoing spiritual and engaged fulfilling journey.”
Bruins’ parents were not particulary religious; his father was even an atheist, but one who would quote Jesus Christ when teaching forgiveness to his son. To provide him with a religious education, they enrolled him, nevertheless, in Sunday school at the local Methodist church. Not convinced, Bruins walked away at the age of 13.
“I did not think that God existed and nothing was supernatural to me,” he says. “It may have been linked to the sudden accidental death of my father when i was just 11, and to the deep feeling of loneliness I experienced afterwards,” he adds.
These were the 1960’s, the prevailing talks of transcendance; the search for a just, truthful, genuine society; the existential questions raised by the Vietnam war… All still translated to some degree, for Bruins, in a religious question, one, however, that he did not know how to solve.
In 1972, Bruins joined Miami University, Oxford, OH and, inspired by the movies of Jacques Cousteau he had been watching, decided to study environmental sciences. Miami University, a predominantly white college, triggered then his awareness of racism, and reminded him of his own concerns about disparity, having grown up in a separate, wealthy, priviledged white Chicago suburb.
“I became very conscious of institutional racism,” he says. “I realized it was systemic, continuous and not willingly recognized, and I decided to do something about it.”
Bruins made up a sandwich board sign, front and back, on which he simply wrote “White Racism Lives”. He carried it on his shoulders around campus and meant it provocative. But doing it alone and with no group support, he quickly felt isolated, and gave it up. He was not good then at creating connections, at forming coalitions; he was just a loner still searching for his convictions and how to express them. A couple of years later, and thanks to a Christian former friend who invited him to join his Christian fellowship, Bruins discovered them through religion and through his new belonging to a church community.
“I met people who were pious worshipers, who were living a true and genuine relation with God, one not imposed on them but just motivated by their faith,” he states. “It opened my eyes; inspired me to discover and learn the Bible and the Gospels; helped me, after deep and serious searching, find truth; and got me convinced to follow Jesus. I was 24, and it was the beginning of a new phase in my life.”
Bruins joined then officially the non denominational and independent Christian fellowship church that his friend had introduced him to, and thus became a welcome and active member of its family.
After graduating with a Master’s degree from Miami University, he moved to Cincinnati, took a job at the EPA, got married and started a family.
He found locally a church, similar to his previous one in Oxford, and joined it.
He is now, and for the past 15 years, member of the University Christian church, also a non denominational protestant city church which started as an outreach to the University of Cincinnati and more recently also to the broader community in the same area.
Ten years or so ago, Bruins added social justice activism to his own religious mission.
“Our previous pastor, Troy Jackson, had begun a PhD in history, focusing on the publication of Martin Luther King’s papers,” he says. “Through his teachings, he introduced us to MLK, to his stands against injustice, and helped us understand and realize the Bible’s general calling for social justice.”
Jackson also provided Bruins a venue for growing his social consciousness through the Amos Project, a federation of faith congregations in Greater Cincinnati, dedicated to promoting justice and improving the quality of life for all residents. The Project focuses on community issues that impact the poor and working families; it organizes and mobilizes with the most vulnerable, proposing and implementing solutions to their problems. Bruins has participated since in many of its actions: he has helped, for instance, previously incarcerated individuals integrate back society; campaigned actively for issue 44 in order to provide affordable quality preschool education to all kids, in particular those in poverty; worked to pass a levy benefiting senior citizens; protested to bring attention and justice to the case of Sam Dubose, an unarmed African American man, fatally shot by a University of Cincinnati white police officer, during a traffic stop.
Bruins is also now part of the Cincinnati Community Coalition which consists mainly of interfaith get together dinners started right after the latest presidential election by Ismaeel Chartier, Imam of the Clifton Mosque, and David Meredith, pastor of the Clifton United Methodist church. Last year he hosted one such dinner at his church using as focus the work of an invited Moslem artist.
For many years he has also been working with youth through City Gospel Mission. He reaches out to kids in the transient community of Winton Place, picks them up every sunday and provides them with a teaching program to help them with their studies.
Last summer he invited the youth of a Moslem organization to join the community garden where he lives, giving them plots to plant, and offering them educational programs linking gardening, the environment and spirituality.
“Gardening has an inherent spiritual value,” he says. “Looking at plants and getting in touch with nature connects one directly with what God has created.”
In his church, Bruins is actively involved in its interfaith engagement program, reaching out to other religious communities and coordinating the exchange between them. He is also part of a justice team which meets monthly to read and discuss books about peace and justice and educate the rest of the congregation about the issues. Their focus recently was racism, also the “other” and immigration. Bruins’ church is actually part of the Sanctuary movement, providing solidarity and support to threatened immigrants.
Bruins is also involved in the Rohs Street Cafe that his church started within the building of its sanctuary in order to create a place for the community to meet, also to encourage fair trade coffee. The church in fact supports a coffee-growing community in Guatemala, and has helped it establish a cooperative to improve the production and the marketing of its coffee and facilitate its sale in the US. Bruins visited that community, participated in the harvest of its coffee and in educational programs targeted to its growth. Every year the church also sends there students to help in different ways, such as digging wells for water, implemeting sanitation projects, etc.
Working for Social Justice is now an integral part of Bruins’ Christian faith. He adds his voice and his hand to fight injustice wherever he sees it, addressing its causes, attempting to right its wrong for a better world. He does it, empowered and enlightened by daily prayer and by Bible studies, alone or in group, always asking himself what he can do to put in practice the teachings of Christ.
“We live in a fascinating world,” says Bruins. “God created it and infused it with love. As an environmentalist I always try to share with others the beauty of nature, plants, animals… that connect us to God; but also as a humanitarian, the beauty of world cultures and places.” “We need to preserve that beauty and always add justice to it,” he states.
Now retired, this is what Bruins would like to continue doing with his wife when she soon retires, and possibly in different places of the world.
What Is the University Christian Church The University Christian Church (UCC) is a non denominational Protestant church which has for Core Beliefs Jesus and the authority of scripture. The essentials of its beliefs are in the identity and meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It sees in everything else room for dialogue, with each other, our culture, the scripture. UCC's Mission is to share the love of Jesus with everyone and to encourage and equip its community members to share it in their home, their work, their life. UCC's Core Practices are: *Ritual and Rythm of Life, where a commitment to a lifestyle of faithfulness (within the congregation, the community, home), teaches the faithfulness of God *Submission to the Process, where spiritual, personal, relational growth are an ongoing process, God being the one shaping us a little at a time. *Generosity, where by giving ourselves wholly, we're following Jesus' example and trusting God's abundance and generosity. *Hospitality, where by opening ourselves and our lives to each other, we’re understanding the welcome that Christ extended to us. *Patience and commitment in sharing love and developing realtionships with each other.
Religious Peacemakers is a regular column published in Streetvibes; it highlights Greater Cincinnati individuals who use their faith and religious beliefs for peace and justice and for a better world.
It is authored by Saad Ghosn, founder and president of SOS (Save Our Souls) ART.