Does God take Sides?

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.

10 thoughts on “Does God take Sides?

  1. Does God takes sides? No, but God has clear expectations about how we are to be in relationship with each other. Despite the likelihood that injustice causes great grief in heaven, God recognizes that injustice is the result of the abuse of human freedom and must be resolved by humanity. We are not alone, having God’s covenant and compassion to guide us.

    Should Unitarian Universalists take sides? No. Poverty comes in many forms. For some it is a lack of physical resources, for others, it takes the form of spiritual poverty. We are called to give to each according to need and in the process learn where our compassion runs thick and where it is thinnest. Taking sides lengthens the wound rather than healing it.

  2. God as divide is an interesting way to look at it. One of the reasons I wanted to write about this issue is because I have a trouble with any view of God that takes sides. I’ve always been partial to Liberation theology, but I like the stance of Liberation theology because of what it calls humanity to do and be. We are called to see the world clearly and act on our deepest values and beliefs. Those values and beliefs will invariably come into contrast and conflict with the values and beliefs of others. It is how we act then that matters most of all, but we must still act.

    President Kennedy’s like to quote Dante, ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.'” This is not an exact quote from Dante, but the spirit of what Dante is saying is reflected. At the mouth of hell are pitiable souls who took neither the side of God or Satan and are thus spurned by both Heaven and Hell.

    Hymn 119 in Singing the Living Tradition also speaks to this

    “Once to Every Soul and Nation” – James Russell Lowell

    Once to every soul and nation comes the moment to decide,
    in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side:
    then to stand with truth is noble, when we share its wretched crust;
    ere that cause bring fame and profit and ’tis prosperous to be just.
    Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
    though its portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong.
    Then it is the brave one chooses, while the coward stands aside,
    till the multitude make virtue of the faith they have denied.

    And then there’s my favorite theology, rock-n-roll. John Mellencamp:

    “You’ve got stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

  3. Abraham was a rich, job creator. God chose him to be the father of nations. This is just more using the smokescreen of Scripture to tout Marxism.

      1. Agreed, but he was not a Marxist either. It’s disingenuous to use the Pharaoh comment. Hasn’t the epic failure and resultant violence of Liberation Theology in Latin America taught us anything?

      2. Well, I think the violence in Latin America in response to Liberation theology has taught us the united states will spend whatever it costs to protect its empire and the right to exploit the poor. Jesus may not have been a Marxist, but the record we have of what he said certainly makes him more of a socialist. “Take what you have and share it among you. “. Liberation theology has also taught us that the rich and privileged will do anything to keep their power and privilege.

  4. Well, thanks for your replies. Jesus teaching emphasized making a moral, personal choice not a forced or governmental redistribution of wealth. Finally, I think the rhetorical criticisms and sweeping generalizations about the so called “rich and privileged” and US Policy are not really helpful. In spite of her many faults, the USA with her free market economy and liberal democratic government has provided more opportunity for more of the worlds poor than any system in history. If you are going to be critical at least be be honest about the whole picture.

    1. Hi Jerry. I am being honest about the whole picture. You may be right. What I offer is what is left out most of the time because people tend to overlook the darkness of what keeps them rich and fed and housed. I’m not using sweeping generalizations any more than you are. For example when confronted with my perspective you leapt to just naming it Marxism, almost but quite as bad rhetorically as saying I am like Hitler. I would argue that Jesus does not talk about individual moral choices isolated from their context and effect on the community. The Jesus who concentrates on a person’s individual moral choices is a bad midrash at best and being willfully ignorant at worst. The personal spiritually only Jesus is a creation of American Christianity. This Jesus makes people more comfortable about ignoring the societal implications of greed, violence, corruption, power, and privilege. This Jesus makes it easier for Christianity to be co-opted by the political right wing. Jesus was not about getting each person into Heaven, but about bring heaven to earth. The center of his preaching was the “imperial rule of God”. A message his first listeners would have picked up on as being subversively revolutionary and direct contradiction and opposition to the imperial rule of Rome and it’s empire. The early Jesus communities called themselves The Way and seemed to understand themselves as a group that had chosen a new way to be and live together. They shared resources, were radically egalitarian, and offered assistance to the sick, the hungry, the marginalized and oppressed. They were closer to a socialist commune than to modern American Christian churches.

  5. Tony, Hitler was a Fascist not a Marxist, and the thought of equating you with him never entered my mind. I think many Marxists have good intentions, I simply don’t believe reason or history validate their ideas. I agree with you that Jesus did not teach ONLY a personal spiritual life and that he did not isolate it from community. However, even Gustavo Gutierrez pointed out the need for personal conversion and holiness as the genesis for becoming a person capable of truly loving their neighbor. Here are a few of my thoughts on this topic: 1. The community Jesus introduced was one based on love, reconciliation and yes, personal morality which he taught was created from being born again of the Spirit. It is a new family made up of individual Christ followers. They cooperated, loved, gave and served, not through what Paul would have called “fleshly weapons” (the systems of this world) but under a new covenant of love that flowed from knowing Jesus in a personal, spiritual and faith-based relationship. Does this mean we should not seek to redeem the systems around us? No, but Christ’s Kingdom is something totally other than the Roman, Bolivian, Russian or USA Government. 2. People on both idealogical poles tend to make grand, sweeping, generalized attacks and demonize their “opponents.” If one really wants to bring constructive criticism that leads to genuine change…I suggest they begin with love. MLK used to gather his protesters before a rally and ask them to spend time in quiet reflection, praying and forgiving their oppressors before beginning to march. I see very little of that spirit in the political and religious left these days. (You may say you feel the same about the right, but I would ask, is that really an answer?) Honest acknowledgement that the United States and American Christians have done a great deal of good in the world will give you a better platform to point out weaknesses, failures and abuses. 3. Just because people approach the issues of poverty differently than you do doesn’t mean they don’t care, doesn’t mean they are ignorant, it doesn’t even mean that they are wrong. The assumption that all political and religious conservatives in America are greedy, hard-hearted and unconcerned about the poor is patently false. Some are, many are not. But some on the left are using environmentalism to get rich, some have made it a false god and some are even using it as an avenue for hate. Should I castigate every person concerned with the planet because of those people? My family has personally been involved in Latin America for a decade, including providing educational resources to Peruvian Indios. We have spent our lives working directly among the urban poor in America’s inner cities. I have my own view on what is the best way to love the poor. It may differ from some on the left, but the assumption that I don’t care because I happen to be more conservative on some aspects of faith or politics than they are is simply judgmental and false. Oh, there is so much more to say, but I have already made this too long. If you want to continue this dialogue, it would be interesting. If not, I understand, life is busy! (And there are people to save!!!! whatever that may mean to each of us!)

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