The Church is not now, nor has it ever been a monolith. Church shows up in various expressions and manifestations of the Universal mystical body of followers of the teachings of Jesus. The current global crisis provides us with an opportunity to see, experience, interrogate, and innovate the many ways of being Church in the world. At its best, the Church is a community bound together by the willingness to journey into the meaning and the mystery of God. We are tasked with assisting people in the work of wholeness., This is true holiness. Beyond the holiness of the elect, the central vision of Jesus is the wholeness of all (McFague 1987). The church finds its reason for being by nurturing the faithful into full flourishing. Our collective responsibility is to create environments where the disparate parts of our humanity can be bound together (Spong 2002). We are being invited at this exact moment in history to discover and innovate the ways that the work of the church can and will be accomplished.
Pandemics, partisan politics, and institutional reordering are not new sociopolitical phenomena and the church has survived and thrived the vicissitudes of 2000 years. Undoubtedly, the key to success has been adaptability. The global community is asking the church to provide revolutionary leadership. Leaders bear the responsibility of coordination and direction. The task of the pastoral and academic theologian is to revise and critique the language and practices of the church (Cone 1997). Now more than ever we need revolutionary leaders who dare to risk dialogue and engagement with the whole community. Manipulation, sloganizing, “depositing”, regimentation and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary leadership and praxis, precisely because they are components of the praxis of domination (Freire 2000). What the world doesn’t need now is a new way to package church, but a church that listens deeply for a new way of being church.
If we believe that God, through Jesus, provides an eternal expression of the length to which God is willing to go to restore broken communities, then the church is called to bear creative witness against anything that alienates the individual self from God and give itself to the struggle of dismantling structures that calcify patterns of human alienation/ marginalization in the general society (Warnock 2014). How we show this to the world in times of crisis is the defining question determining the legacy of leaders of this time. The question is not whether or not your local church continues to hold Sunday meetings., The question of the hour is how are we able to be church in the world in ways that are so undeniably life-giving that the entire world takes notice. Will we rise to the occasion and critique the crass materialism and assimilation into the American middle class and refocus on the central message of the Gospel rooted in an ethic of neighbor love? Leaders must emerge as strong cultural exegete’s able to discern the needs of the populace. If we take seriously the theo-historical supposition that Jesus shows up on the margins with preferential treatment to the most vulnerable, our leaders will be listening to our most vulnerable populations to tell us what church needs to do and be in order to respond to crisis.
Theology and particularly ecclesiology that does not work within the context of the holistic view of reality cannot address the needs of our time (McFague 1987). What is true now, and has always been true, is that viable theology has a reciprocal relationship with the community with which it interacts (Townes 1995). The church is irrelevant if it is so concretized in the modality of ritual and routine that it cannot adapt to the needs of those who it claims to serve. What are we doing if we fail to respond in tangible ways to the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbors?
What will the legacy of our leadership be? Will we rise to the occasion or will we fail to see beyond our own thoughts of self-preservation? In seeking to save our life, will we lose it? I wonder if we will be the generation that ushers in the reign of God in kinship and love in such an undeniable way, that it turns the world upside down?
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry| Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black power. MaryKnoll: Orbis.
Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.
McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Spong, John Shelby. 2002. A New Christianity for a New World. New York: Harper SanFransico.
Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spiriutality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of The Black Church. New York: New York University Press.