Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Spiritual Politics of Yes & No

The primary confession of Christian faith, Kurios Christos, or Christ is Lord, is a political claim even as it is a confession of faith whose repetition is a spiritual practice. In the time of the early church, when that simple confession emerged, the Roman Empire required every citizen to make an annual public profession of loyalty that said “Kurios Caesar” or Caesar is Lord. To say “Christ is Lord” in such a world was an act of dissent and even disloyalty to the Empire.

As the machinery of war grinds on, questions of dissent and disloyalty press in. The vice president accuses war critics of aiding the terrorists. The flag is waved higher and higher. The terror threat level will rise just as surely as the sun as the November elections draw closer.

In the midst of all that, to say Kurios Christos threatens the empire. As Robert McAfee Brown put it, “Caesars don’t like that one bit, whether they reside in Rome or in Washington. So the First Commandment, ‘You shall have no other gods before me,’ and the earliest Christian confession, ‘Christ is Lord,’ are making the same claim in different language, a claim around which all of us not only can, but must, rally. In the name of saying yes to what is ultimate for us, we must be prepared to say no to whatever falsely claims that place of ultimacy. To say yes to the true God is to say no to the idols, wherever and whatever they are.”[1]

Obviously, such saying yes and saying no is a political act, but just as clearly, it is a spiritual practice of Christian faith for it reshapes and reforms us closer to the image of Christ.

Just as the heart of the earliest confession of the faith is deeply political, so too is the heart of our most cherished prayer. When we pray “thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven,” what we’re saying is truly revolutionary: let us live as if God were the ruler of the earth and not the kings and generals and presidents and CEOs whose actions dominant. As Marcus Borg said, “The Kingdom of God is about God’s justice in contrast to the systemic injustice of the kingdoms and domination systems of the world.”[2]

Saying the Lord’s Prayer is saying “no” to the powers and principalities and saying “yes” to God. It is most clearly a deeply spiritual practice of the faith for it ought to transform us, but it is also just as significantly a political gesture that aims at transforming the world.

Even in the deeply personal act of prayer, then, we recognize that while God is, indeed, personal, God is not private. As Jim Wallis says, the “personal God demands public justice as an act of worship. We meet the personal God in the public arena and are invited to take our relationship to that God right into the struggle for justice.”[3]

Of course, one wants to know how? How do we engage in a spiritual practice of social action and protest that does not simply devolve into competing factions shouting beyond one another in endless rounds of mounting anger? We do well to keep in mind William Sloan Coffin’s caution that a “politically committed spirituality contends against wrong without becoming wrongly contentious.”[4] That must involve the deep conviction that those we oppose in the social arena are also beloved children of God, and that we must always seek to find and honor the Christ in them even as we work to achieve an often radically different vision of social arrangements.

Then there is that question of vision. What is the vision of justice toward which we aim and on what is it grounded? Put simply, provisionally and decidedly nonprogramatically, the Biblical vision of justice is this: sorting out what belongs to whom and returning it.[5]

So, for example, in a world of plenty food belongs to those who are hungry; in an economy of abundance work belongs to those who seek jobs; in the 21st century health care belongs to those who are sick, shelter belongs to those who are homeless, and clothing belongs to those who are naked; in our nation’s cities good schools belong to children left behind; in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ordination belongs to those who are called; in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across these United States marriage belongs to those who are in love regardless of sexual orientation; in Northern Ireland, in Israel, in Palestine, in Darfur, in Iraq and everywhere that plow shares still give way to swords and shields peace belongs to us all.

It is far past time for sorting this stuff out. It is far past time.

It is far past time to move beyond religion that focuses only on the next world, that insists on an unbiblical distinction between the sacred and the secular, and that, as a result, blesses the status quo even as that status crushes millions beneath the weight of injustice, oppression, sexism, heterosexism, racism, militarism and neoconservative globalism.

It is far past time to recognize that the doing of justice is the primary expectation of the God of the Bible.[6]



[1] Robert McAfee Brown, Speaking of Christianity (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997) 43.

[2] Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 2003) 132-3.

[3] Jim Wallis, God’s Politics (San Francisco: Harper, 2005) 40.

[4] William Sloan Coffin, Creedo (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004) 69.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, in Brueggemann, Parks, Groome, To Act Justly, Love Tenderly, Walk Humbly (New York: Paulist Press, 1986) 5.

[6] Brueggemann, 5.

1 comment:

yo sistah said...

You go, bro. Tell it!