According to the Gregorian calendar, we are just about a month shy of a new decade. The state of the world on the brink of this new decade is encouraging and discouraging simultaneously. While we have top government officials denying the reality of global warming, we also live in a time where global communication is easier than it has ever been in the known history of the world. While overt acts of racism are on the rise, the everyday terror of minoritized people is palpable. Multiple justice movements exist, such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. These and other political movements are ground zero for the social change needed to transform our world into a more just and humane society. However, these movements must not be left in the sphere of the political, for in fact, they are theopolitical. The Church must do the prophetic work of supplying language and theo-logic that gives us a moral and spiritual way to talk about the existential foundations of these movements. Movements are not mere intellectual pursuits; they are primarily concerned with how one changes the system (Fromm 1994). Social movements need an ideological, sociological, and theological framework to ensure longevity. It is our task, as practitioners of the sacred, to assist people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered. We must then bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998). We must as church give voice to the prophetic impulse that seems to be the zeitgeist of the coming decade. The failure of the Church to fully engage the social movements of our time would be a failure to actualize the mission of the Church.
The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture. This alternative consciousness to be nurtured has as its role to criticize and critique the dominant consciousness in order to dismantle it. However, the prophet is more than a social critic. The task of the prophet is also found in energizing persons and communities by the promise of another time and situation toward which humanity by faith may move (Brueggemann 1978). The prophet is always holding up the folly of the present and painting a picture of a preferable future. In the Christian tradition, the prophet seeks to do this visioning in light of the person and work of Jesus.
Imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy as a collusion of systems designed to maintain power and privilege, do so as a hegemonic epistemological grounding for our social contracts. The Roman Catholic theology of conquest is foundational to the sociopolitical realities of our present world. Running through the history of the United States, from its origins and even earlier, the recurrent themes of Christian supremacy have been tied to and used to justify white supremacy (Fletcher 2017). In the same way, all of the systems of domination used to disinherit the great majority of people have been bolstered by a theo-logic. It stands to reason that freedom from such oppression will require a new theo-logic. The resistance discourse of the next decade must be rooted in the production of theological symbolism and argumentation of liberation and human flourishing.
The systems of domination and oppression that form our social contracts are infected by a radical sickness that cannot be eradicated or cured by rationalization using the same theo-logic that produced the sickness. The prophet must speak in such a way as to boldly and publicly critique the exploitative behaviors of the ruling class, and offer principled criticism to systemic injustice (Hendricks 2011). A silent church is an impotent and irrelevant church and her survival as a social institution is in question. The new decade invites the Church to be at odds with the status quo- that is, at odds with the way the uber-wealthy and the powerful would like us to see the world. Christian prophets must bear witness to God’s resurrecting power, which by definition respects the sacred integrity of all human bodies and the sanctity of all life (Prevot 2017).
The dominant narrative of the next decade must be that the Church embraced the call to prophetic critique with the following signs:
- That we embody the principles seen in the person and work of Jesus.
- That as we see injustice we are willing to speak and act in opposition to it on behalf of those most vulnerable and marginalized among us.
- That we see the work of Jesus as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing medical care to those experiencing challenges to their health.
Health care is not just a political conversation, it is a theological conversation with political implications and deliverables. The coming decade invites the prophetic voice of the Church to engage society in Gospel values in new and living ways. We look to hear fresh voices who center radically new ways of thinking and talking about God. The DNA of our thinking—those powerful and pervasive prejudgments based on race, gender, sexuality, and religious constructs that comprise an active epistemic framework affecting what we see and how we engage the world—are all bending toward new realities (Kornegay 2013). All theological construction comes out of and is shaped by, particulars. Particulars shaping theology include, but are not limited to social, political, economic, cultural, and historical dynamics (Ellen T. Armour 2005). This is the invitation to the prophetic voice of the next decade and beyond.
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry | Assistant Clinical Professor
SEATTLE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY
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Brueggemann, Walter. 1978. The Prophetic Imagination. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Ellen T. Armour, Paul E. Capetz, Don H. Compier. 2005. “God.” In Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes, edited by Laural C. Schneider, 19-76. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Fletcher, Jeannine Hill. 2017. the sin of white supremacy: Christianity, Racism< & Religious Diversity in America. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Fromm, Erich. 1994. On Being Human. New York: Continuum.
Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
Kornegay, El. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Prevot, Vincent W. Lloyd, and Andrew, ed. 2017. Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.
Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.