The survival and vitality of institutions of our society are threatened in ways that are unique to the contemporary moment in history. It is not that the culture of domination has not existed, nor is that our institutions have been free from scandal and malpractice. It is that never before have we had access to the ways that scandal and malpractice collude in our culture of domination so freely and instantly. The ability to broadcast the brokenness and corruption of our institutions has married the technology to publish these alarms immediately and directly across every social stratum simultaneously. Just as the printing press changed the shape of every social institution so have modern advances in technology made Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn the latest technological advances to reshape the world we live in. When technology meets the colonizing forces of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy in an era where hate seems to be front and center on the agenda of those in power every institution must evaluate its self-understanding and role in the larger society. We have forgotten that the individual should not be in service of society, society should be in service of persons. When people are in service of the society, you have a monster state, and that is what is threatening the world at this minute (Campbell 1991).
The church is not exempt from the need to engage critical self-critique to determine both its role and responsibility in the larger society. Just as the whole of Western civilization is being called to question its values and systems the church must also wrestle with understanding its past and present while shaping a conversation and working earnestly toward a new way of being in the future. Theological reflection plays an important role in the life of the church because the church must be self-critical. It must be willing to examine its proclamation and practices to determine their faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the basis and norm of the church’s life and mission (Migliore 2014). The task of the Christian theologian is to keep the biblical communities of antiquity and contemporary communities in constant tension in order that we may be able to speak meaningfully about God (Cone 1986). As a theologian, my task in this moment of history is to enter into the conversation about what can emerge as picture of a preferable future for the church in light of my understanding of its past and present.
Perhaps a picture of a preferable future posits the Gospel of Jesus as the central narrative of the church, which would in essence turn the theological world upside down. The plain fact is that Jesus taught no theology whatsoever. His teaching is entirely spiritual. Historical Christianity, unfortunately has largely concerned itself with theological and doctrinal questions, which in many cases have nothing to do with Gospel teaching, in that, they are devoid of the life-giving principles elucidated by Jesus Himself. For instance, there is no prescription for ecclesiasticism, of any hierarchy of officials, or system or ritual directly linked to the message of Jesus (Fox 1966). All creeds of the church are but a commentary on the fundamental teachings of Jesus designed to serve the institutional power needs of the church, which has historically defined itself as the source of all truth, and were intended to exclude those who refused to be subject to the ecclesiastical authority (Spong 1998). This is not to say that ecclesiology is not important, rather to suggest that the church in shaping its future must revisit the message of Jesus in light of our lived realities.
Perhaps the church will begin to talk about salvation with fresh eyes. Salvation that means both to be saved from oppressive systems of domination and to be saved to self-love and the ethic of neighbor love which Jesus says is core to engaging the realm of God. In the stories of the Jewish tradition Jesus was so versed in, Hagar’s exile is the freedom from the tyranny and soul murder of forced surrogacy. Hagar’s situation is congruent with the marginalization and disenfranchisement of today’s poor, the sexually and economically exploited victims of extreme and unjust economic systems, as much as it is congruent with single motherhood and racial disinheriting (Williams 1993). To divorce civil rights from the evils of environmental concerns is to live in a deadly dualism in which there would be no air to breathe (Townes 1995). God is with Hagar in surviving and developing an appropriate quality of life. To be saved from oppressive systems does not mean to be saved from oppression. Often disenfranchised and marginalized people still suffer from internalized oppression. It is internalized oppression when any group thinks the same way about themselves as the oppressor. This leads to oppression sickness that causes the oppressed to mimic the oppression of the oppressor. The dominant culture has greatly infected the Church tradition with classism, sexism, heteroprivilege and more. Unfortunately, inferior-feeling groups often seek to make someone else more inferior (Flunder 2005).
The Church has the opportunity to reimagine herself for the generations to come, where will your congregation be found in the story of unfolding human flourishing?
Feel Free To Comment Below.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Campbell, Joseph. 1991. The Power of Myth. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books.
Cone, James H. 1986. A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.
Fox, Emmet. 1966. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: HarperOne.
Migliore, Daniel L. 2014. Faith Seeking Understanding: AnIntroduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.
Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.
Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God- Talk. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.