Any liturgical moment that intentionally decenters imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy as norm and gives voices from the margins room to speak is a liturgy of resistance. Practicing Christians are identified by their involvement with the symbols of particular Christian traditions. There are many Christianities based on the many engagements with ancient text. These ways of being Christian are lived through the patterned symbolic activity that we call ritual or liturgy. It is our liturgies that embody the main theological teachings of our traditions (Empereur 2002). This is the place where the conversation begins for my upcoming course at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. As we consider the one set of interlocking political systems that are foundational to our nation’s politics; and we live in a political climate where so much of our populace is being impacted by the collision and/or collusion of these systems, those of us who take ecclesiology seriously must create spaces where resistance takes center stage (hooks 2004). Liturgy is about ritual; it is about holy actions. Christian liturgy is particularly a volunteer gathering of diverse people in local communities enacting a shared vision that always carries public meaning (Lathrup 1993).
Our worship gatherings are some of America’s most intense moments of ritual. Ritual provides the actions and forms through which people meet, carry out social activities, celebrate, and commemorate (Empereur 2002). In this way liturgy lends itself to be a site of prophetic resolve or resistance. I believe that the heart of the gospel is found in Jesus’ message of radical welcome; he consistently identifies with those on the margins. This message of liberation is a prophetic critique of the society which Jesus encountered as well as the world we face today. The tasks of our liturgies, then, is to empower the community of those gathered to engage the principles of Jesus message of liberation. In this way the church becomes a real, visible, embodied presence of Christ’s body in the world, i.e., the sacramental presence of God on earth as it is in Heaven (Pecknold 2010).
We live in an epoch that demands a countercultural prophetic critique of the systems of domination that threaten to hamper human flourishing. Our liturgical moments must involve the transformation of cultural patterns that idolize the self or the local group at the expense of a wider humanity, or give central place to the acquisition of wealth at the expense of the care of the earth and its poor (Wilkey 2014). Our conversation on May 30-June 2 will focus on strategies of resistance from the past and present, with an eye toward the future. Whether it be the music selection, the text for preaching, or the drama presentation in your local church context, each can be a transformative countercultural moment of resistance. Often our resistance is as simple as changing the lyrics of a hymn that excludes our siblings based on gender or that dismisses our siblings based on race. Our resistance can be as profound as changing the bread we serve at the moment of communion. Wherever we discover systems of oppression, domination, or subjugation that marginalize, disenfranchise, and alienate people from experiencing the fullness of human flourishing, the Church is called to rituals of resistance. This week ask yourself and your worship planning team in what way will our liturgy allow the suffering to speak?
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Empereur, James L. 2002. Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company.
hooks, bell. 2004. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.
Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Pecknold, C.C. 2010. Christianity nd Politics: A Brief Guide to History. Eugene: Cascade Books.
Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.