Our church is in a 21-day fast, and a few people have asked me about my fasting practices. Before it began I set about finding a “good fast”, meaning to me, how do I fast in a truly Christian way? I try to consider how I ought to do things, and how it has been done previously, by other faithful witnesses now long gone from this world, but still very much alive in Christ. I found a few elements that characterized Christian fasting: mournful repentance, particular days of fasting, less moral rigidity than I supposed, and a focus on social justice. (more…)
If this man went to your church, or Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, how do you interpret Galatians 3:28 or Colossians 3:11 in light of their experience?
I have been troubled by this question for the past few months, as I live astride that blurred line between church and society. In conversation with other evangelicals, I have heard, echoing a popular commentary, social distinctions do not exist in the Body – we are all one in Christ. Often, discussion of racism and other structural sins is dismissed out of hand, based on the one in Christ idea, in order to maintain unity. I will not dispute that we need to focus on Christ, and our unity in him. My question is how do we do that? How can the Body of Christ truly recognize the Christ in all and also withstand the evil systems of oppression that intersect redeemed souls?
I do not want to be like the goats before Christ and he find me wanting, asking me, “Didn’t you see me bound? Didn’t you see me oppressed? Didn’t you see me hurting? When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?”
Let us approach the question another way – Paul also said that whoever is born again in Christ is a new creation, the old is dead and gone, the new has come. To use an old convention, I don’t know about you but… I don’t feel like a new creation. I fall short of the glory bestowed on me by Christ. Yet, Paul did not lie. To call my lived reality simply a lie and continue to speak or affirm what I do not know in my experience is willful blindness. No, something else is at work here.
The spiritual reality of the new creation is true, even if scarcely experienced. The dominating earthly reality is also true. We experience the gap between the two as, what I call, a “dissonance of realities”. But God is bringing a new experience, what I call “creative tension”: the bridging of the gap between our dissonant existence by the power of Christ. Faith is the strong force that pulls these two realities together, a concrete trust in action working creatively with God to remake earth into heaven. To apply it, my faith works with God to make the me that lives with Christ in heaven manifest on the earth.
Christ’s judgment of the sheep and goats reflects this idea. The material reality is that some are American and illegal aliens, white and black, male and female, rich and poor. The spiritual reality is that Christ is in and loves every single one of “them”, just as they are, in the condition that they are in.
But to follow Howard Thurman, if a Roman soldier kicked Christ into a ditch, how can we acknowledge the moral wrong of the kick, yet be willfully blind to the fact Jesus was kicked also because he was a poor minority living under the oppression of an unjust authority? The question should come back to us, “When you saw them bound, oppressed and hurt, you saw me. Why didn’t you help me?” Unity in Christ means peace, but not a negative peace. As MLK taught us, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. If Jesus is the prince of peace, he is also the prince of justice. As Jesus reigns over us, what he wants is not the veneer of unity, but the deep, powerful, abiding force of justice.
We can withstand evil when we realize and act upon the understanding that within the Mystical Body of Christ our brothers and sisters are not white-washed Christians untouched by the systems of oppression the adversary has constructed in the world he (for now) rules. No – our brothers and sisters are touched, hurt, violated by these systems – these demonic principalities and powers. To simply say there are no social distinctions and deny the lived experience is itself an oppression and a violation of the gospel. We can withstand evil when we leverage our faith in active confrontation with the systems of oppression, both struggling against the evil in our own souls, and with the systems outside ourselves.
This is hardly the end of the matter for me. Questions are better than answers, so I challenge you to ask some of the same question I’m asking myself:
- Which parts of the Body of Christ hurt under the pains of injustice? Am I willfully blind to their pain? Am I complicit in their pain by my actions or inaction?
- Do my politics – all of them, across every issue – truly accord with who Christ is? Do I support policies by my vote or donations that may oppress others?
- Are there any people whom I view as the enemy? Do I love them as Christ commanded me?
- Would Christ think I see him in all people?
A recent HuffPo article entitled “Sorry Republicans But Jesus was a Marxist” provoked my interest. I encourage you to read it because I am convinced you can learn much from those with whom you disagree. I hope you agree with that, because out of what follows, 20% of you will love it, 10% will misunderstand it, 30% will cherry-pick and miss the point, and the majority will hate it.
One commenter (yes, to my chagrin, I read the comments) rightly pointed out it is anachronistic to call Jesus a Marxist, and yes, it is prima facie. In a draft of this post, I briefly explained Marxist philosophy, but you will thank me for deleting it. I will help you with the gist: for various historical reasons, Communism doesn’t equate with Marxism, and the latter has a lot to recommend for a philosophy of government and public policy. Let’s debate that one another time. What I rather explore with you is Jesus’ teachings on socioeconomics.
A thick book digging into the cultural, historical and religious context of Jesus’ various teachings on socioeconomics would be the most effective, but I likely only have your attention for a few hundred more words, so let me use it more wisely and focus on one of his teachings, as cited by Reza Aslan:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Put yourself in the scene. You are a Jew in 1st century Palestine: a poor minority living in an occupied territory under brutal religio-political oppression. Think Blacks in Klan-territory of the Jim Crow South after Reconstruction. You have no legal standing. No rights. Violence can be lawfully inflicted upon you without recourse. Dreams of liberty are dashed when anyone who fights back is crucified.
The religion of Jesus taught reversal, and he was crucified for it as an enemy of the state.
Now Jesus tells you that you’re blessed for being meek, that you will inherit the earth. I imagine some will sharply intake their breaths and get a new steely gaze in their eyes, others will look at him quizzically. Everyone though will desperately want to believe him, despite how fantastic his words are. How can the meek inherit the earth? The powerful inherit it, that’s just the way of things, what Jesus suggests is not new it’s a reversal of what is.
And there it is: Jesus taught and believed in socioeconomic reversal.
Jesus believed and taught that when the Kingdom of God came, everything would be turned on its head: the meek would inherit the earth; the hungry filled; the merciful wouldn’t be taken advantage of, nor the peacemakers mocked. Summing up his ministry at a synagogue in his hometown, Jesus said prisoners would be liberated, the blind would see, the oppressed free.
The reversal theme is captured nowhere better than when Mary, the Mother of God, sang this prophecy about her Son:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
But has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
But has sent the rich away empty.
The religion of Jesus taught reversal, and he was crucified for it as an enemy of the state. Today, the religion of Jesus is still barred in autocracies, believers killed, because they knew what American slave owners knew: if they hear the Gospel, they will want to turn the world upside down.
In our country, the spirit of the antichrist, which John said is even now in the world, perverts the Gospel in our churches to have us bless social inequality as God’s will that we always have the poor with us, or to focus on giving to get or giving to build. Our attempts to silence teachers who say otherwise reflects our rebellious attitude to our soothsayers, and our willful blindness to Jesus’ own words on reversal demonstrates we disagree vigorously with our Lord when he says “You cannot serve both God and money.”
Now is the time for argument. If Jesus taught socioeconomic reversal, we’re all wrong in our politics, our foreign policy, our individual lives. Nothing can shake loose, however, until we fully acknowledge what Jesus actually taught – and continues to teach today.
If Jesus taught socioeconomic reversal, then it is with this fact we as Christians must deal.
A quick aside about this story: http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/7/central-americanchildrenrefugeesguatemalaimmigration.html
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34
Let’s not pick and choose arbitrarily which parts of the OT we wish to support, just because one verse rather than other supports our preconceived political notions.
What would Christ have us do?
That’s the question we, as Christians, should ask when considering how to politically handle this new and difficult influx of child immigrants from Central America. We can make a difference in not only what we support politically, but how we support it.
The impending denial of an economic right such as free access to safe drinking water is a tragedy made even more insufferable because it’s happening in America. I encourage you to read a good article about it from al-Jazeera America. Read it here.
What are your thoughts?
This is inconceivable. Water is a common good, a free gift from our good and common God. #DetroitWater @UNrightswire (Click to Tweet) He makes it rain on both the righteous and unrighteous, so who is anyone is then take God’s place, and deny access for some and not for others?
Of course, we have to pay for water, as it takes someone to get it where it needs to go. The infrastructure and its upkeep requires investment. But any public policy has to stand on a moral basis, and in this case that’s free, equal and equitable access to water.
The resources of the environment are made into instruments to enforce the artificial position. Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume [injustice] to be normal–if normal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions. Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg 43
The Beloved Disciple John said that there is no fear in love, rather, perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear then, is the antithesis of love; and if God is love, fear is inimical to the very nature of God. In the 2nd chapter of Disinherited, Thurman takes up the issue of fear. (more…)
“It is necessary to examine the religion of Jesus against the background of his own age and people, and to inquire into the content of his teaching with reference to the disinherited and the underprivileged.”
The first chapter of Jesus and the Disinherited has many rich ideas, such as how Paul’s Roman citizenship affected his views on political authority, or how the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots stand for different ways to resist an oppressive power. I want to highlight, however, the social and political implications of Jesus’ Incarnation and teachings as expressed by Howard Thurman. (more…)