Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Christian "Church"? How about Christian "Liberation Organization"?

Resistance art on the wall -- Aida refugee camp, Palestine

So much occurred during my two weeks in Palestine that I am reluctant to single out one moment.

However, I keep thinking back to a discussion with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). They were briefing us on the current strategy of "internationalizing" the question of the status of Palestine, i.e. their sense that the time has come to stop relying on the U.S. to dictate the pace of peacemaking, and instead move towards full Palestinian membership in the United Nations and the ICC.

The conversation turned to the role of the churches -- particularly U.S. churches -- in working for peace and justice in Palestine.

I said that I wondered what would happen if churches were encouraged to talk about Palestine less in the context of "Holy Land" and more in the context of "anti-racism." In particular, I mentioned that

Michelle Alexander,
The New Jim Crow –
Mass Incarceration in the
Age of Colorblindness
(1) Virtually every US. church is being drawn into the debate generated by Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, including working to stop mass incarceration, reverse racist sentencing laws, end police abuse, and taking part actively in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. (See, for instance, this article by a member of the congregation I'm a part of: “A Gigantic Prison Enterprise” … As Seen By a Chaplain in Prison and Family Ministry)

(2) Churches are now front and center in the struggle for justice for immigrant people in the US, and for a radical re-thinking of the relationship between the US and the other nations of the Americas. (See, for instance, this account of an event held just a few days ago, on Palm Sunday, to advocate for better treatment of the service workers in our community, who are frequently immigrants: "We Who Are Many Are One: From the Lord's Table to Every Table" )

Palm Sunday 2015 in Chicago: "We Who Are Many
Are One: From the Lord's Table to Every Table"
As frequently happens with me, I was a little unsure of myself as I was saying this.  But the more I have thought about it over the past several days, I feel more and more sure that it is important to think about.

Of course, it helped that on Palm Sunday our congregation joined others to  to advocate for better treatment of the service workers in our community, who are frequently immigrants. See: "We Who Are Many Are One: From the Lord's Table to Every Table" This was a joyous reminder of the priorities we choose.

Palm Sunday wouldn't have been the same for me without an epiphany about our connectedness to people throughout North and South America. A (virtual) friend of mine in Mexico City urged me a few months ago to learn more about the Ayotzinapa 43 and to tell others. It led me to think much more deeply about the ways our behavior in the US affects people in communities throughout the hemisphere. (See Ayotzinapa43: US People Need an Attitude Adjustment )

And then I thought back to a blog post I wrote about a year ago: When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"? . "Oh yeah," I said to myself, "the PLO is not the only radical liberation organization around here . . . In fact, they've got nothing on the Christian Church (at least if the Christian Church is really being true to itself)!"

"Now that I've seen it I'm responsible for it."
Reproduction of West Bank wall art by
Metro Chicago Synod Working Group on
the Middle East for Good Friday, 2014.
This idea -- that liberation is the business of Christianity, and that the calls to support the liberation of Palestinians and African-Americans and undocumented immigrants are all really part of a single connected call -- grows naturally out of the way our trip to Palestine was framed. Mitri Raheb has urged us to be clear about the true scope of the struggle -- it is, after all, a struggle against Empire, he reminds us -- as well as the place the struggle occupies in time (world time, our time) and history.

Is this related to "liberation theology"? Perhaps . . . but I wonder if "liberation theology" isn't colored by a kind of romanticism that allows it to be treated as something that is appropriate to somewhere else -- a resort of desperate people in Central America, perhaps -- but not really the day-to-day stuff of people in ordinary US cities like Chicago.

Churches in ordinary US cities like Chicago are waking up to the fact that, in order to actually live, they may need to be more like community organizations and less like traditional, closed-on-themselves, denominationally-doctrinaire congregations. And that the justice issues are very close at hand -- they don't require a mission trip to a foreign country in order to engage them.

So: "Christian Liberation Organization." It's worth trying on for size.

Related posts

Here are links to my posts during my visit to Palestine:

“The churches provide the software” (and a related post written immediately on my return: ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Apartheid is to Pluralism as Desktop Computing is to the Internet )

The Gospel According to Angie

Needed: Abrahamic Conversation

What Might a Blossom Signify?

Endgame: Overlord, Middle Ground, Underclass

Take to me to the river . . . .

Efrat and the Dream Grocery Store

The Land of Milk and Honey and The Garden State

Other related posts

I believe that once the Church comes out of the closet -- that is, once we start speaking quite openly about the difference between the world as we find it and the world as we believe God wishes it to be -- there is no way this old world will be able to stay the same.

(See Let the Church Out of the Closet )

"Missa dos Quilombos" asked for forgiveness and sought healing for the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Dom Helder celebrated the Quilombo Mass. He said: "Mariama [Mother Mary], we aren't here to ask that today's slaves be tomorrow's slave masters. Enough of slaves! Enough of masters! We want liberty!" The beating of the drums was overpowering, they exploded like the screams of our souls!

(See Hélder Câmara and Liberation Theology 101: Where? When? Why? Who? )