Quintessential contradictions run deep in the fabric of the soul of America. A nation established upon principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with a founding document that dehumanized and disinherited everyone who didn’t fit the immediate demographics of those very persons writing the documents. This seismic moral chasm has been the thorn in the flesh of this nation, birthed through colonial revolution, the entirety of our grand democratic experiment. The treatment of those on the margins and outside the center of power has rendered us unable to rid ourselves of the tyranny of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. The psycho-spiritual trauma of intrinsic inhumanity has damaged the soul of the nation in ways too numerous to name, but it is clear both the souls of those in power and the souls of those on the underside of power have been severely damaged. We have been given over to oligarchs who use their power to create more wealth and power for themselves and those like them. This has always been and remains today a nation in deep need of healing.
We need an intervention, elections alone don’t change moral dilemmas. The illicit marriage of corporate and political elites – so blatant and flagrant in our time, undermines the trust of informed citizens and disallows the voices of prophetic critique to be heard (West 2004). We need elected officials and religious leaders who possess key civic capacities that seem to be missing in our current leadership. Capacities that allow leaders to hold conflict inwardly in a manner that converts it into creativity, allowing it to pull them open to new ideas, new courses of action, and new relationships are necessary in the contemporary moment to explore what a preferred future and a path forward might look like. In a healthy democracy, public conflict is not only inevitable, but prized. Taking advantage of our right to disagree fuels our creativity and allows us to adjudicate critical questions of many sorts (Palmer 2011). If we are ever to rid ourselves of the toxicity of abusive language that leads to deplorable behavior, rooted in the maintenance of systems of domination, then we will have to hear voices in leadership that are willing to be deeply self-critical. The vitriolic speech we hear in every news cycle sounds to us like anger, but in truth it is deep pain. Anger is the best hiding place for anyone seeking to conceal pain or anguish of spirit (hooks 2004). The leaders we need must arise out of the discursive formation of their particular communities vocalizing resistance discourse steeped in prophetic critique of all systems that continue the long American tradition of dehumanization of the “other”. We cannot be silent.
What is needed now more than ever from religious communities is a return to the foundations of every religious tradition. The ethic of neighbor love must be centered in every conversation, gathering, or liturgy. The idea that every person is of sacred worth and that humanity must be responsible stewards of the earth must be central to conversation and actions of religious institutions. Religious communities need to create large spaces of welcome, understanding, and confrontation from the pulpit and from the religious programming (Townes 1995). Bishops, Pastors, Priest, Rabbis, Imams, etc., need to affirm strength and righteous agency. If religious leaders are at all serious about the survival of the parishioners in the context of the nation then they must risk the comfort and prestige of their respective enclaves of ecclesial privilege and commence a new moment. This moment calls for a new engagement in a public theology of liberation (Warnock 2014). This public theology of liberation must be deliberately intersectional, because if any marginalized group is left out of its redemptive and reconciling narrative there will never be a decentering of normative power. Intersectionality is not the work of liberal erasure; it is the intentional honoring of the ways in which social systems collude to marginalize, disenfranchise, and disinherit people considered nonnormative by the oppressive social systems of those in power. Racial erasure is the sentimental idea that racism would cease to exist if everyone would just forget about race and see each other as human beings who are the same (hooks 1992). This concept of erasure is not limited to race, it has become a sentimentality that moves to make all “otherness” invisible, without considering the systems that problematize difference.
We need a radical intervention that offers prophetic critique of all systems of domination that oppress and marginalize any and all people and calls our nation to heal from deep atrocities and quintessential contradictions that run deep in the fabric of the soul of America.
For related theme’s listen to this week’s edition of Liturgies that Lift:
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Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: race and representation. Boston: South End Press.
—. 2004. The Will to Change: Men. Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.
Palmer, Parker. 2011. Healing the Heart of Democracy. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.
Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spiriutality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of The Black Church. New York: New York University Press.
West, Cornel. 2004. Democracy Matters. New York: Penguin Press .