Sunday, March 27, 2011

Liberation theology and horcruxes - a Church, divided

I cried today in church. It takes a lot to bring me to tears; normally I am very good about handing things over to God so they do not stress me out. But what do you do when worship itself is what concerns you? When the very church which introduced you to Jesus Christ - the Roman Catholic church, the pinnacle of Christian liturgy and worship - does not practice fellowship and radical love and the act of bringing Heaven to Earth that is the very essence of the one whose life we are saying we should model ours after? "Jesus answered, 'Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will build it again'" (John 2:19). Jesus is not interested in architectural beauties and gold and shrines. He is much more interested in seeing his people - human temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) - bring God's kingdom to Earth. The way to honor Jesus and the Father is to love our neighbors and ourselves. To be apostles, and call disciples by name.

There are approximately one billion Catholics in the world, and that's not to say anything about all of the non-Catholic Christians. If all of these Christians - or even just the ones that attend church on a regular basis - practiced the radical lifestyle which Jesus showed us, surely our world would be in a better place. True, Jesus understands that we are prone to sin and in fact died for our sins, but He did so in order that we could more fully live in Him. And to live in Christ means we must die to self. "Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). And how are we to "die to sin and live for righteousness"?

"He said to them all, 'If you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me'" (Luke 9:23).

This implies a necessary deliberate denial of worldly desires on our part. It begs that we have what Gary Haugen in his book Good News About Injustice calls "compassion permanence: a courageous and generous capacity to remember the needs of an unjust world even when they are out of immediate sight." Jesus regards justice as one of the "really important teachings of the Law" (Matthew 23:23) and calls us to be his hands and feet on Earth, seeking justice in his name. In answer to the question of how God seeks justice for the oppressed when local officials are corrupt, Haugen comments, "Unless the work of seeking justice is a category of endeavor that is completely different from every other activity on earth that is important to God, the answer to the question has something to do with what God's people do or don't do. If you think about it, two truths apply to everything that God wants accomplished on Earth: (1) he could accomplish it on his own through supernatural power, but instead, (2) he chooses for the most part to limit himself to accomplishing that which he can achieve through the obedience of his people."

In order to follow Jesus, we must not live for ourselves but for God. We must choose to be his servants here on Earth. And in so doing we are making a conscious decision to let the Spirit guide us.

"I am telling you the truth," replied Jesus, "that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again" (John 3:5-7). Those who decide to take up the cross and follow Jesus do not regret their decision, for the Christian life is a very fulfilling one.

The term "liberation theology" has been coming up over and over again in my life recently, so I decided to look it up. And lo and behold, it seems to answer some of my questions about why seeking justice does not always go hand in hand with Christianity. Liberation theology is a grassroots movement which originated in Latin America in the 1950's-60's and helped bring Christianity to rural and marginalized sectors of society through the formation of "Christian base communities." It helped the poor (who are rich in Spirit) make sense of a world in which they were subjected to economic, political, and social injustices.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and the Vatican rejected the "Marxist-based" idea that class struggle is fundamental to history and ridiculed the liberation theology movement for focusing too much on the political dimension of social justice and seemingly disregarding other aspects of scripture. [He said, "to interpret the "poor" in the sense of the marxist dialectic of history, and 'taking sides with them' in the sense of the class struggle, is a wanton attempt to portray as identical things that are contrary." (What?)] Given the Catholic interpretation of original sin, Jesus's "preferential option for the poor," and the reality of economic, health, and other social disparities that have always existed in the world, it seems odd that the Vatican would reject the idea that class struggle is fundamental to history. Why else would we be called to follow in Jesus's footsteps in the present day, other than to continuously work to correct these injustices? And I find it surprising that "Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stated that liberation theology has a major flaw in that it attempts to apply Christ's teaching on the sermon on the mount regarding the poor to present social situations" (Wikipedia).

If we aren't called to make Christ's teachings applicable to our current life situations, what good is scripture? Derek Murphy makes this point crystal clear in the first chapter of his book Jesus Potter, Harry Christ: "The task of each generation is to read the Bible through the fresh filter of its own experience."

As a public health and social justice activist living and working in the South Bronx, I am keenly aware of the injustices faced by "the least of these." And after a Faith-Rooted Organizing training held by NY Faith & Justice and having the good fortune of working for an organization that truly understands the importance of community-based participatory research (Bronx Health REACH), I also know that the poor are rich in spirit and that human capital is vastly underestimated. To not give credence to grassroots community mobilization - be it the Pope's incomplete embrace of liberation theology or the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's failure to invest in community solutions to public health by not supporting another generation of REACH - is to shortchange society's potential and cause more harm than good. Power to the people!

So, as a born 'n raised Catholic, now social justice activist who has familiarized myself with Franciscan and non-Catholic Christian sermons and worship styles, sitting in a predominantly Latino Catholic church in the South Bronx makes me keenly aware of all that the promise of Catholicism and Christianity has not done for God's people. And now that I know a little about the history of liberation theology, I cannot ignore this bit of historic turmoil within the Catholic church. Having experienced true Christian fellowship with both Franciscan Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, I can't imagine how one could walk with Jesus and not live in a "Christian base community," characteristic of the early church.

Which reminds me of my earliest thought in church this morning, and one that constantly burdens my heart - the divide of Christianity into denominations (or "seven churches" as described in Revelation). I admire Protestant/non-denominational sermons as much as I respect Catholic liturgy. There are gems of wisdom in each but it's still a divided body - as divided as Voldemort's soul which is split into seven horcruxes in the Harry Potter epic. Infinitely different than if unified. It's hard to figure out where I belong. Jesus Potter, Harry Christ indeed.