Monday, March 14, 2005

Living theology as if people mattered

"The tongue is a fire...with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brother and sisters this ought not to be so." This stinging indictment from the New Testament letter of James links reverence for God with tangible actions of respect for people. The theological assumption is drawn from the Hebrew Scripture's assertion that all humans possess the image of God and it is inconsistent to worship God and disrespect that which is made in the likeness of God. James states that as brothers and sisters in the 'called out' community of the Church we must not be guilty of this mixed signal. The New Testament asserts that the people of God are called to be a light of God in contrast to the values of whatever culture surrounds them. Creating classes of 'somebodies' and 'nobodies' is part of human nature. That is precisely the point. The living "body of Christ" on earth is supposed to show a radical, supernatural difference in interpersonal relationships. The community of Life--resurrection life-- is to be a living alternative to death, dysfunction and the cheapening of life and relationships. Making one's self out to be more deserving of respect and others as less is at the core of the theological crisis known as "sin". The result has been a human history of racism, sexism, rankism, slavery, tyranny, ethnic hatred, domestic violence, rape, child abuse, corporate corruption and the economic exploitation and war and the toxic drug of violence. Systemic exploitation, institutional violation of others and individual acts of manipulation all come from the same source: the uninhibited ego that says everyone and everything exists for me. The grand "I" or self at the heart of "sin" views a vast universe as revolving around me. The measure of someone or something's value becomes how well it serves my desires. People begin to relate to the environment and to other people as an "it" without any sacred dignity. The burdens we pass on to future generations become unimportant in comparison with the present benefits to "me". The Nazi Holocaust and the ethnic genocides of Rwanda and Bosnia and now Darfur show that the easiest way to justify the torture and slaughter of others is to first label others and dehumanize them. Even in our personal relationships we often give in to ranking some as more deserving of dignity than others. The sin of "rankism" not only looks down on some, but looks up to others and often extends protection to one's own social rank while seeing others as not legitimate to the same protections from abuse. The abuse of the weak by the powerful and the strong cuts across national, gender and racial lines. We render whole groups of people "invisible" and unimportant and ignore the mechanisms that make them less valuable and held to the margins. I humbly submit that as long as any group of people does not matter in our thinking, then our theologies are worthless in the eyes of God. Unless our interpretations of Scripture nuture God's concern for the excluded and powerless then we are not really engaged in any ministry of reconciliation nor are we allied with God's cause. Once again the letter of James puts it with all the bluntness of a raving, Hebrew prophet: " My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, 'Have a seat here, please' while to the one who is poor you say, 'Stand there,' or ' Sit at my feet' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor...You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." Rankism and the denial of human dignity to all is immoral according to the moral vision of the New Testament. Breaking the bonds of rank, class and discrimination is according to Scripture the difference between being church and playing church. God's vision is that each person is worthy of honor and respect regardless of the status or station their contemporary society accords them.


Blogger Pat O'Leary said...

Thanks Tim. Loved your thoughts. People matter. Keep writing!

5:38 AM  

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