The Vision of Oscar Romero: A Look at Economics, Ethnicity, and Ethics in America [Part 5]

oscar-romero-iconLife in the modern world is best interpreted through three primary lenses: economics, ethnicity, and ethics.[1] As Oscar Romero demonstrated in both his ministry and in his pastoral letters, the problems faced by a specific people in a specific time and place hold a primary place in the life of church which practices and proclaims the liberating word of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in order to move toward an articulation of my own vision of ministry, it is imperative to consider the economic, ethnic, and ethical dimensions of life in the modern society of the United States in the beginning of the 21st century.

In his book Journey to the Common Good, Walter Brueggemann names the controlling economic narrative within U.S. society as the “kingdom of scarcity.”[2] The primary characteristics of this kingdom are fear and anxiety, which lead to “entitled consumerism… in which we imagine that something more will make us more comfortable, safer, and happier.”[3] Consumerism, and the energy required to sustain it, leaves no room for working towards the common good; life in community is nearly impossible because everyone is too busy taking care of themselves.[4] When the pressure of consumer debt in America is considered, Brueggemann’s analysis provides a clear, powerful insight into a reigning economic force in the lives of millions of Americans.

The work of leading Greek Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas sheds considerable light on the ethnic dimension of American culture. According to Zizioulas, “there is a pathology built into the very roots of our [modern, Western] existence… and that is the fear of the other.”[5] This fear grows from our culture’s foundation of individualism, which comes to see other individuals as threats.[6] In this environment, “radical otherness is anathema” and “the fear of the other is in fact nothing but the fear of the different.”[7] This fear can only see differences as divisions, which create a society of institutionalized fear as these divisions are codified as laws.[8] Zizioulas’ analysis rings especially true when ethnicity is considered. Even today, fear of the racial other continues to divide American society.

Finally, the work of James K. A. Smith offers considerable insight on the ethical dimension of contemporary American life. Smith defines human beings as “liturgical animals” who are “governed not primarily by what we think but by what we love, what we desire.”[9] Human love is oriented toward particular “visions of the good life” through everyday habits that train human desire.[10] Some of these habits are part of a larger, more powerful practice that attempts to reformulate human desire at its most fundamental level and Smith defines such “thick” practices as liturgies.[11] He reveals three secular liturgies fully operative in American society – the mall, the stadium, and the university – which make “us the kind of people who desire a version of the kingdom that is antithetical to the kingdom of God.”[12] These secular liturgies demand a considerable amount of worship across American society and therefore exert a powerful force on this society’s ethics.

[1] Adetokunbo Adelekan,  Lecture, Truth and Transformation: Ethics of Visionary Leadership THLE624, Palmer Theological Seminary, King of Prussia, PA, October 25, 2012.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Journey to the Common Good (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 29.

[3] Ibid., 28-30.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] John Zizioulas, “Communion and Otherness,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 38, no.  4 (1994): 349.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 350.

[8] Ibid.

[9] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 215.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 92, 215.


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