Sunday, May 08, 2005

Two Types of Religion, Part II

Prophetic-Liberating Faith

By contrast, prophetic-liberating faith is non-hierarchical, striving for a discipleship of equals and servant leadership. Power is shared widely and tends to flow from the people to leaders. It may have a place for rules, but they are hardly the center of its understanding of the life of faith.

Sacred Scriptures are not seen primarily as rulebooks, but as visions of the character of God and God's purposes in the world--at least in monotheistic religions. The ethics of this type of faith redefines purity and holiness in terms of "compassionate justice" for the vulnerable, marginalized, or powerless.

By its nature, this type of faith is inclusive--it may warn of judgment against those who are violent or unjust to the powerless, but it seeks the redemption even of the oppressor. Orthopraxy ("right practice") takes precedence over orthodoxy and both are defined in terms that allow for disagreements, dialogue, disputes, uncertainties, and ambiguity. The focus of prophetic-liberating faith is on justice for the neighbor, not on the righteousness of one's self. Its major concerns are compassion, justice, peacemaking, the common good, care for the creation, empowering others. Sexual issues are not ignored, but do not dominate ethical concern. Even then, what counts is justice, right-relatedness, dignity, covenant faithfulness, and nonviolence in sexual matters, not purity concerns. The underlying ethos is not fear but joy--the joy of empowered service.

When this form of religion enters the political sphere, it does so to promote the common good. It may be motivated by the particularities of its own faith, but it offers arguments that can be understood by those of other faiths or no faith. It seeks to respect the adversary, no matter how much it must denounce particular actions, policies, attitudes, etc.

This form of religion has been marginalized in recent decades in the U.S., but it is clear that this was the form of religion which motivated the abolitionists, the first generation feminists and suffragists, the Social Gospel, the Catholic Worker movement, the church-based Black Freedom ("Civil Rights") movement, the Liberation theologies of Latin America with the Base Communities, the church-based struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and much of the gospel-motivated peace movement.

It is easier to motivate people by fear than hope in the short run. Thus, today, authoritarian religion is dominant in the U.S.--if not in numbers of adherents, surely in social and political power. But people grow tired of fear mongers and tyrants, even religious tyrants. Theocracies never last.

I believe there is a hunger abroad in the land today for prophetic-liberating faith. If we work harder to paint a vision justice, compassion, creation-care, and peacemaking, motivated by a spirituality of nonviolence, I think that people will respond. The authoritarian religious tyrants and their political allies will begin to lose influence. Of course, this means that people who hold to prophetic-liberating faith will have to share it, to get over their squeamishness about evangelism (rooted in the bad models they've seen from the authoritarian types) and bear witness to their alternative spirituality at every opportunity.

An African-American Pentecostal student at a Mennonite college was full of praise for the faculty and students and the way they lived their faith in service. Asked if he had any criticism at all, he responded, "I wish they would preach what they practice more!" Let us proclaim and practice a prophetic-liberating faith--the world is hungry for it.


By Michael the Leveller, who sometimes blows us away with brilliance


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