Church in the Image of the Cross

Ascending by GilbertCantu

Ascending by GilbertCantu

Because Jesus is fully human, the church is called to affirm humanity, reaching out in attentive, vulnerable love to the whole human family, but especially to those who are poor and hurting. In Christ’s identification with suffering humanity – with a humanity ground under the wheels of the powers and principalities – the church receives its own orientation as those who are called to be with and for the victims of this present age. Bonhoeffer writes, “Christians can and ought to act like Christ: they ought to bear the burdens and sufferings of the neighbor… It must come to the point that the weaknesses, needs, and sins of my neighbor afflict me as if they were my own, in the same way as Christ was afflicted by our sin.” That this bearing of burdens is not simply “religious talk” but refers to concrete action is made clear when Bonhoeffer notes: “The hungry person needs bread, the homeless person needs shelter, the one deprived of rights needs justice, the lonely person needs community, the undisciplined one needs order, and the slave needs freedom. It would be blasphemy against God and our neighbor to leave the hungry unfed while saying that God is closest to those in deepest need.” The bearing of the sins and burdens of others to which Jesus calls the church is nothing less than a concrete imitation of Jesus’s own life, a cruciform life, one that was fundamentally disruptive and that cannot be contained in the categories of religion.

…The church’s identification with those who suffer unveils the fact that the current age, in which the few are on top while the many suffer below, has met its end in Jesus Christ… Christians solidarity with the suffering is a search for Jesus who is hidden in their midst.

…Bonhoeffer is not merely interested in the church being in solidarity with the suffering, but calls the church to actively seek to eliminate the suffering of the poor through an ethics of responsibility with two practices of prophetic ministry: unceasing prayer and action for justice.

…The practices of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution are constitutive of [John] Perkins’s vision of the church. The church is that community marked by witness to the gospel, the whole gospel. The church’s most appropriate social location then is among the poor in the abandoned places of empire, a location that places the body of Christ in the ideal situation to witness to the whole gospel, which meets the whole needs of the whole person. The prophetic church, as Perkins’s envisions it, is a space in which all people, black and white, poor and rich, can gather and grow from an economy of grace.

Peter Goodwin Heltzel and Christian T. Collins Winn, “Religionless Ecclesiology and the Missional Church,” in Mobilizing for the Common Good: The Lived Theology of John M. Perkins, 108-122.

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.