Howard Thurman shares with us that the core message of Jesus asks us, his followers, to focus on the urgency of radical change—a transformational change from within the hearts of the weary and burdened followers of The Way of Love.
Ched Meyers, Marken scholar writes in Binding the Strong Man: ‘our churches usually focus on the baptism of Jesus empowerment through the spirit’s descent from above’. We need to realize he suggests that Jesus was being empowered through a deep and full spiritual immersion into his beloved homeland, his neighborhood, from below so to speak. Jesus sought grounding. He began not with a consciousness of alienation, but an experience of empathy or identification, focusing on what he was for.
Liberation Theology, as described in Gutierrez’s We Drink from our Own Wells, suggests that we use resources that are locally available and produced within a community, rather that being reliant upon external sources. At the core is a commitment to self-sufficiency, and the creation of sustainable communities.
We might ask, how might we urban dwellers apply liberation theology, known primarily from the experience of poor disenfranchised peoples from Central and South America, and former slaves in our own country. Consider the missional work many of us are engaging through a variety of local agencies and non-profits:
Advocating for social justice: This could involve working to address issues such as homelessness, poverty, and unequal access to resources.
Build community: Urban areas often lack a strong sense of community, and liberation theology can help to build relationships and networks of support among residents.
Empower marginalized communities: In urban areas, marginalized communities such as BIPOC, immigrants, undocumented, addicted, mentally ill, and low-income populations often face significant barriers to resources and opportunities.
Promote economic development: Urban areas often struggle with economic inequality, and liberation theology can be used to promote local economic development that benefits all, rather than just a select few. Advocate on behalf of environmental concerns: Urban areas are often overwhelmed with environmental challenges, air and water pollution, lack of green spaces, transportation systems, and waste management.
As mostly white Christians with power and privilege we can learn from liberation theology to recognize the which our privilege contributes to systematic oppression. We can learn to embrace solidarity with marginalized communities and work together to challenge the historical and current systems of oppression. We can learn to recognize the role of power, as suggested by Thurman, and how we might use our personal and community power to challenge oppressive systems. We can prioritize social justice, and work towards creating a just and equitable society.
Liberation theology can provide a transformative perspective for white Christians with privilege, helping us to understand the ways which our privilege contributes to systems of oppression and challenge us to work for social justice and liberation for all people. In Jewish tradition, the word “misphat” is often associated with the concept of a just society, where all individuals are treated fairly and equitably. The word is used to refer to God’s judgment or divine justice.
Consider this passage from Isaiah 58
6 Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?
7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?
8 Then your light will break out like the dawn,
and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
10 if you open your heart to the hungry,
and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
your light will shine in the darkness,
and your gloom will be like the noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually
and provide for you, even in parched places.
He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account;
the foundations of generations past you will restore.
You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Livable Streets.
As we experience the frenzy of an enthusiastic State of Minnesota legislative season, and are midway through our liturgical season of Epiphany, where we learn of Jesus early ministry and the calling and formation of his disciples, I suggest we reflect on the following questions.
Who are the local marginalized workers that Jesus might have called to join him in building his movement, and where might they live? Who might be the prophetic voice from the Twin Cities Metro that most represents John the Baptist? Where are you called to Build, Empower, Advocate, or Promote?