It is said that theology arises from the freedom and responsibility of the Christian community to inquire about its faith in God (Migliore 2014). This is for me true, and yet I see the responsibility of theology to continually examine the proclamation of the church by continually critiquing and revising the language of the church. (Cone 1997) This critique is always considering the tradition of the church and the praxis of Jesus. The contemporary church may be missing its opportunity to live into its primary task. We are now faced with national and global evils of epic proportions that call for religious communities to respond with a clarion call to action. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us of three evils in the twentieth century that only become magnified in our own time. These three evils are materialism, racism, and militarism (Cornel West 2014).
Materialism is the spiritual catastrophe that underlines the wicked behaviors that fosters empire. Capitalistic greed promoted by a corporate-media complex has so hardened the hearts of the bourgeoisie that poverty and its egregious effects have become acceptable human conditions. This materialism lies is the root of modern racism and militarism and has become so pervasive in the church that it has silenced the prophetic critique that is fundamental to the message of Jesus. The opportunity of the church is to take seriously the lived reality and embodiment of Jesus (Wallace 2002). The poor Jewish Jesus with his non-normative body shows up with an anti-imperialist message over against the religious tradition of his time. It is Jesus who unhinges the relationship between the underprivileged and the privileged: born in a manger and becoming King of the Jews without amassing either wealth or military might. Centering the lived reality of Jesus in all of our liturgical functions must become a priority of all those who claim the message of Jesus.
Racism is the moral catastrophe born of materialism in the context of the United States. From the beginning of its insidious functions on the shores of North America, religion has been used to justify the inhumane treatment of multiple people groups based on the social construct known as race. If culture comprises a people’s total social heritage, including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organizations, and traditions etc., then white culture built on white religion and theology certainly exists in the United States (Douglas 1999). White-supremacist thinking, rooted in metaphysical dualism, socialized citizens of this nation to think in binaries such as good/bad and black/white. This has been the ideological rationale for the domination permeating our nation’s religious thought and shaping its most powerful institutions (hooks 2003). The Church is invited in this moment when racism is espoused so openly at the highest level of government to call for a moral revolution that centers the idea of imago dei. For the Christian, it is immutable that all souls are of sacred value and made equally in the image of God. This must be of utmost importance in the constructs and substance of our liturgies and community outreach.
Militarism is an imperial catastrophe produced by a military-industrial complex that was nurtured in the womb of materialism. It was fed on the milk of racism and once again religion has been its teacher. The particular genius of imperialism is found in its capacity to delude so much of the world into the belief that it is caviling primitive cultures when in fact it is grossly exploiting them (Cornel West 2014). For those who claim the Christian faith, our human interactions rest on the ethic of neighbor love; this is true of all great religions. The aftermath of violence is bitterness and often tragic rage. Our nation has become so immune to the ravages of war we no longer bother to declare or end wars. We are in constant violation of the ethic of neighbor love. The church must fulfill the prophetic call to speak truth to power and seek peace and that must be woven into the fabric of every liturgical moment.
There is much for us to do to call our nation and our world to live into the highest of human potential, and the Church has the means and systems to do it. Will we rise to the occasion or become tragic victims of the culture?
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin. | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
Cornel West, Christa Buschendorf. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston : Beacon Press.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
hooks, bell. 2003. Rock My Soul. New York: Atria Books.
Migliore, Daniel L. 2014. Faith Seeking Understanding: AnIntroduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Wallace, Maurice O. 2002. Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in Afircan American Men’s Liturature and Culture 117-1995. Durham and London: Duke University Press.