Circle of Hope is among the co-conspirators behind Conspire magazine, brought alongside by our covenant-pal, Shane Claiborne. I like the passion. An article in the first issue by Nate Buchanan gives me an opportunity to talk about something I have been meaning to work on for quite a while.
While I like the direction Nate is taking when he is working on participating with God’s liberation of the oppressed, I am wondering about the theology of one of his statements. I am not rebutting his article, as much as he is allowing me to think out loud about something that has been troubling me: “Sadly, our communities often mirror ‘the powers that be’ in the dominant culture. While we profess to be counter-cultural, we are most often represented, spoken for, and led by white, heterosexual, educated males – despite the large numbers of intelligent and capable women, persons of color, and GLBT members of our communities. If we seek to follow a Messiah who, by Luke’s account, silenced a male priest and had a pregnant teenage girl proclaim the greatness of his coming, this is a crucial issue.”
I think our communities (Nate’s and Circle of Hope’s) do often mirror “the powers that be” in the way Nate describes and that needs to keep changing. But I also think there is an even deeper change that needs to happen. We need to give up thinking that democratic rights = righteousness. In the U.S. the dominant culture (and I am talking about the culture at its semi-God-fearing best) fully believes that when everyone is given their rights, when the marginalized are given their share of the power and wealth, when everyone is free to be their self-actualized self, then the kingdom will have arrived – or, at least, that must be what God is working on. Whether Bush is “liberating” Iraq or Obama is easing the situation of the oppressed, political “freedom” is the goal. While I think having whatever passes for “democracy” or “human rights” in our day is better than being subject to some other philosophy — like the Taliban destroying schools, I still don’t think Jesus came merely to give teenage girls the aspiration to be president one day, as if getting one’s share of the power will save you. And I think people who believe in such aspirations so fervently should admit that they generally think it is a good thing to deprive the Taliban of their religious duty to oppress.
I doubt that anyone is interested in being that consistent. But I do think people unwittingly assume Jesus would have written the Declaration of Independence, if he’d had a chance. Among the Circle of Hope we have a cadre of people who spend an inordinate amount of time judging themselves and others for how well they or we meet the criteria the insubordinate-to-Jesus-world place on society for what is right these days. The genuinely oppressed and the so-called white males, alike, (the latter who are still generally clueless about their privilege, in my opinion) end up seeing themselves through the eyes of some bureaucratized sociological definition, not the eyes of Jesus. Even in the church, somehow, Jesus does not have a right to rule the community, but the last guilt-ridden professor who assessed someone’s status, does — “If my household or church is not balanced properly, I am living in sin!” It is a strange new holiness. I don’t think it was great when the Christians were a bit like the Taliban and they thought it was holy for men to avoid women, to segregate people of color and to invisibilize GLBT folks, but I’m not sure it is that much better to live out a reaction to that and be damned if you don’t. Better to err on the side of the latter, I think, but can we skip the damning?
If we are really going to live in the kingdom, the definitions we had for ourselves when we lived in league with the passing-away world need to pass away, so we can be named and empowered by Jesus, not by our cultural status or by our rejection of cultural status. I keep thinking of these verses from Colossians as I mull over what I am being taught by the new holiness teachers: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Col. 2:6-8) Obviously, that is just what Nate is talking about, since the church has been the lapdog of the system for centuries and it should be appropriately countercultural! My problem is that I keep getting taught a new “hollow and deceptive philosophy” to replace the previous one. I need to test out what I am hearing to see whether I am depending on Christ and not becoming dependent on the most attractive “basic principle of this world” I can find.
I fully respect people who are on the front lines of liberation, undermining the powers that be. I see myself as among their number. I was working on it last night when we were talking together about how to make a covenant of love with one another as the body of Christ. In our group of thirty or so there were people of color, women and men, younger and older, professional and not so much, wealthier and poorer. I did not have all the sociological elements I prize in full bloom, although I thought we were getting closer. But I did have my hope well-centered, I think. The new humanity I long for won’t arrive merely as a result of my tireless attempts to bring it in — even through my power to give up my power! Jesus needs to reign.