I re-posted this graphic to my Facebook page this past week:
It generated some interesting comments, among them a question about God taking sides being the root of fundamentalism. I believe in the mystery and wonder of love and justice that is available to everyone, no exceptions. God is God of the rich and the poor, the just and the unjust. However, that spirit of God calls us, as human beings, to take sides. We are called to take the side of the poor, the powerless and the oppressed. We are called to orient our lives and our living to human liberation. Justice is what love looks like in action. Liberation is what God looks like alive in the world. In that sense, you could make the argument that God takes sides or least has a preferred option for the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed.
The Occupy Wall Street protests yesterday caused me to re-examine the original work of liberation theology – Gustavo Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation. I am on the side of the unions, the Occupy Wall Street protestors, the jobs bill, universal health care coverage, GLBT rights, planned parenthood, local farmers, and a host of other people and causes that are poor, powerless and oppressed in the face of Wall Street, Corporate Interests, Agribusiness, and other powerful oppressors. Why? My existence is bound up in the existence of others in what Martin Luther King called a “an inescapable network of mutuality” and my salvation is bound up in the salvation of human systems. As Gutierrez says:
“Salvation is not something otherworldly, in regard to which the present life is merely a test. Salvation – the communion of human beings with God and among themselves – is something which embraces all human reality, transforms it and leads it to its fullness in Christ.”
What prevents salvation? Well, sin. I know this is a difficult term for those of us in the fold of liberal religion, but look at how even Gutierrez, a 1960’s Roman Catholic, addresses the topic. He makes sure to connect the individual and the systemic breaking of right relationship.
“Sin is historic reality, it is breach of the communion of persons with each other, it is a turning in of individuals on the themselves which manifests itself in a multifaceted withdrawal from others. And because sin is a personal and social intrahistorical reality, a part of the daily events of human life, it is also, and above all, an obstacle to life’s reaching the fullness we call salvation.”
Elsewhere in A Theology of Liberation, Gutierrez echoes James Luther Adams, calling on us to accept agency and the moral responsibility to create beloved community and the good.
“An unjust situation does not happen by chance; it is not something branded by a fatal destiny; there is a human responsibility behind it.”
When Gutierrez wrote A Theology of Liberation in 1968, he saw the economic injustice in South America that led Christian communities to organize for their own support against the injustices and oppression they suffered. It was a system that led Dom Helder Camara, Brazil’s “bishop of the slums” to say:
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Gutierrez called the economic and political reality of Latin America, under American imperialism and other oppression a “sinful situation.”
“This characterization, in all its breadth and depth, not only criticizes the social order, it challenges all their practices, that is to say, it is repudiation of the whole existing system – to which the Church itself belongs.”
We find ourselves in the same place today in North America. The same system that has visited systemic injustices upon Latin America is now blatantly seeking to assert itself more forcefully upon American life. Wall Street financiers disregard regulations, conservative state governments seek to openly weaken or remove the power of collective bargaining from workers and working people, tax breaks are consistently for the rich and not the poor, taxes for the provision of the common good are increasingly considered passe, health care is not a right but a privilege of those who can pay the exorbitant costs, and education is a burden on state budgets to the point that education may at some point be only for the children of the richest of the rich among us. Does God take sides in this situation? Does God have something to say about this maddening and perverse social order? Yes.
Love, justice and human liberation demand that we hold accountable those who enjoy great power in this social order. Doing this makes even people in the liberal churches uncomfortable. Doing this means questioning even the premise of capitalism itself, as if capitalism were a given constant and the only economic system available to us.
700 protesters were arrested in New York yesterday, calling attention to the need of system for liberation and justice. To date, not one Wall Street financier has been arrested, jailed, tried or convicted for abusing the system – actions that helped in great part to cause the current financial crisis.
Protests such as yesterdays in New York are the building blocks of Beloved Community, not threats to it. Again, A Theology of Liberation is instructive:
“The historical political liberating event is the growth of the Kingdom and is salvific event.”
It is in and through such powerful actions we save ourselves and through such events that God is made known. Amen.