Engaging Christianities and Socialisms

The Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice and the Institute for Christian Socialism are bringing together a cadre of thinkers, organizers, and working people to reflect on which forms of socialism, past and present, might be advanced by Christians today and how the power to realize them might be organized

Amidst the deepening of crises bound up with the logics and operations of capitalism, including racist and hetero-misogynistic violence, climate chaos, gross economic inequality, and the re-emergence of overt fascism, a growing number of Christians are embracing socialist alternatives. Of course, not all Christians agree about what forms of socialism ought to be advanced, for what reasons, and at what level. These differences, which often overlap with distinctive theological perspectives and denominational traditions, are not new. Historically, Christians have participated in a range of socialist, labor, and civil rights movements and realized a diversity of socialist expressions from economic cooperatives to land commons to sanctuary cell groups to political party organizing and more. 

The Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice and the Institute for Christian Socialism are bringing together a cadre of thinkers, organizers, and working people to reflect on which forms of socialism, past and present, might be advanced by Christians today and how the power to realize them might be organized. Participants will seek to illuminate how particular socialisms are shaped by fundamental Christian commitments, as well as how religion, economics, and politics are mutually transformed when put in relation. How do commitments to socialism change understandings and expressions of Christianity, and how do commitments to Christianity shape understandings and expressions of socialism? What forms of Christian identity are ruled out of bounds, especially considering the role of racism, hetero-sexism, ethno-nationalism, and related forms of supremacy in undermining the potential collective power of working people? What we hope will result are critical and constructive conversations among prominent theologians, ethicists, public intellectuals, and movement organizers about the relationship between multiple Christianities and socialisms. Such conversations, we intend, will begin to chart concrete, hopeful, and collaborative ways forward for the growing Christian left. 

Contributors: Newly Released (May 26, 2021): Aaron Stauffer

Previously Published: Jeremy Posadas; Josh Davis Sarah Ngu; Tim Eberhart; Joerg Rieger; Cynthia Moe-Lobeda; Angela Cowser

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What is to Be Done?

AARON STAUFFER

MAY 27, 2021

The Engaging Christianities and Socialisms series arose out of a fundamental unease with the current state of our economic, political, and religious lives. We see deep economic inequalities only heightened by the pandemic, where working people are once again placed at the mercy of a capitalist system that prizes profit and shareholders over working people’s lives and the planet. Our political democracy seems to be democracy in name only with corruptible politicians at the mercy of the moneyed elite. Our religious leaders, more often than not, offer excuses for the current quagmire of troubles and suffering that late modern capitalism has created.

But we at The Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Institute for Christian Socialism know that the current reality is not our only option. There is a deep and wide tradition of democratic socialism that Christians can again engage today by building economic, religious, and political democracy in their communities. By telling the story of how we got here, we can break open new imaginaries for where we can go. And yet, we need not only imagination but practical strategies for building God’s cooperative commonwealth.

Over the course of the three webinars we’ve held this spring, we’ve highlighted working peoples’ movements in response to the evils of capitalism, rising white supremacy, Christian nationalism, and ecological destruction. We have often said—and it should not be overlooked—that religion is part of the problem. Religion is not a panacea to our economic and political challenges. Instead, religion itself must be transformed into a deeper resource for liberation movements today. This is why throughout the series we’ve not only examined various economic and political responses found in socialisms broadly, but we’ve also examined how a commitment to democratic socialism and economic democracy can change our religious expressions: liturgies can be found in organizing strategies; in the body of Christ assembling in public; in listening to the movement of the Spirit through listening campaigns and deep canvassing. Christianity can make a difference within people’s movements for greater economic and political democracy, but it takes the right sort of religious vision and expression for it to make the right sort of difference. The best of the Christian democratic socialist vision and expression emerges from a dialectic of religion and organizing, where both are transformed and edified.

In the first webinar, What Have Christianity and Socialism to do with Each Other?, we explored this relationship broadly. Angela Cowser, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Joerg Rieger, and Cornel West addressed how for many on the left, Christianity provides a grounding and deepening of socialism. Socialism is a particular moment in the broader Christian worldview, as West said in our conversation. And, as Rieger argues in his written contribution to this project, this doesn’t mean that the Christian socialism we have in mind is utopian or optimistic. The Christian socialism we have in mind is deeply connected to democracy and democratic peoples’ movements that place questions of production and agency over questions of consumption. Rather than blaming individual consumers, the sort of Christian socialism we have in mind takes aim at unjust systems and structures of production and labor.

Theologically put, God invites us into covenantal relationships that are morally and ethically significant and enhance our agency as producers and co-constructors of the world with God. The model of society is not the social contract, but the Christian socialist covenant that envisions a model of society characterized by radically democratic institutions and distribution of power in all areas of life, where human and non-human agents have control over their own productive and reproductive labor, and where finally all are liberated from extractive neoliberal, neofascist, white supremacist capitalism.

Then, in the second webinar, How Can Christian Socialists Build Deeper Solidarities?, we explored the challenges of building deep solidarity. Timothy Eberhart, Obery Hendricks, Sarah Ngu, Jeremy Posadas, and Josh Davis argued that intersectional analysis, an analysis that argues for the liberation of all people and all of the planet’s biodiversity, is part and parcel of this movement. Often, socialisms are unhappily associated with deformed visions of liberation and democracy by the working people for all working people—this leads to misconceptions and overlooks that “capitalism is the ism that funds all the other ‘isms’” as Jeremy Posadas puts it. Intersectionality is crucial here. As Posadas says in my interview with him, “We rightly pursue vibrant and intentional inclusion with regard to identity-based forms of identity, but with regard to economic and class-based difference, we’re talking about abolishing not only the divides themselves, but the underlying mechanisms that create those divides.”

“Practice and demand”: That is Jessica Gordon-Nembhard’s advice for Christian socialists today in our third webinar, What is to Be Done? Gordon-Nembhard joined Ed Whitfield, Andrew Wilkes, Micah Uetricht, and myself in a conversation that addressed the question, How can Christian socialists today join all working people to build religious, economic, and political democracies, and what are the unique strengths that Christian socialists might bring to these action-oriented movements?

The challenges and opportunities set before Christians interested in socialism are rapidly shifting: for the first time in almost one hundred years democratic socialism and economic democracy are popular terms; through patient organizing, black radical critiques have hacked their way back into the mainstream liberal news, so much so that The New Yorker is publishing them. Mass mobilizations in support of police abolition have occurred in numbers the United States seldom sees. But protests do not create political and economic power. For Micah Uetricht and Megan Day, co-authors of Bigger than Bernie, the Democratic Socialists of America offers a unique platform through which to construct a viable political party for the Left. The key is to use the dialectic of mass mobilization and electoral work to shift us away from late modern capitalist politics.

This strategy, Gordon-Nembhard worries, too often forgets that democratic socialisms are economic visions (not just political visions) for change and so participants never truly grasp their class agency. Gordon-Nembhard has magnificently chronicled how Black cooperative efforts built economic power and agency to protect and fight for their political and civil rights. Without power over productive and reproductive labor, those who work for a living, immigrants, women, and people of color are at the mercy of the moneyed elite who exercise undue influence over our political life. The point of economic democracy is not just more democratic distribution, but actualizing democracy in the processes of production.

For too long, Christian communities have demurred to the political elite for reform efforts directed at a system that is designed to disenfranchise and crush the working majority, especially people of color, women, and immigrants. Late modern neoliberal capitalism thrives when communities are under false consciousness regarding their economic position and pitted against each other by racial, gender, and sex identities. These identities are significant—but as thinkers of racial capitalism and black radical traditions have shown us, capitalism uses value differences to benefit the few.

What is to be done? The way forward starts with agency grounded in our unique experience as working people and starting small. The practical vision we want to offer has to do with reclaiming intersectional agency as working people and beginning to participate in the solidarity and cooperative economies in ways that practice our ideal. This vision comes from the history of peoples’ movements for liberation who stay committed to this fight because their faith grounds them and helps them weather the storms that always come with difficult organizing. From this practice, however small, we can begin to demand support of the solidarity economy from our political and economic systems and begin to transition to an economic and political democracy that puts labor over capital. Participating in this work puts us in solidarity with the most vulnerable workers, people of color, immigrants, and women. But the transformation extends beyond economics and politics into the transformation of our religious practices. For churches, a first step can be to align themselves to support, and eventually contribute to incubating worker, consumer, or producer cooperatives. When we practice the solidarity and cooperative economy, we can begin to demand the realization of God’s cooperative commonwealth. This is the work set before us. Beginning with unease, we end with a chastened hope in the work ahead.

Aaron Stauffer is the Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Vanderbilt Divinity School, working primarily with the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice. A recent PhD graduate in social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York, his dissertation, “Organizing Lived Religious Practices for Power: Sacred Values in Broad-based Community Organizing” focuses on the political role of sacred value in broad-based community organizing. Drawing from a tradition of radical democracy, constructive feminist and anti-racist critiques of liberal political theory, and the rising field of “lived religion,” he argues for the importance of religious values in the practice of community organizing.BACK TO TOP

Christianity and Capitalism are Fundamentally Incompatible

AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. JEREMY POSADAS BY DR. AARON STAUFFER

April 29, 2021

For this contribution to the forum, Jeremy Posadas sat down with Aaron Stauffer to explore the significance of Christian socialism today, how theology bolsters his socialism, and how churches can confront the challenges of capitalism. Enjoy!

Aaron: Well, Jeremy, again, thanks for taking this time to sit down and talk with me. We’re really excited to have you be a part of the upcoming Engaging Christianities and Socialisms webinar titled, How can Christian Socialists Build Deeper Solidarity?

To start, I want to get a sense of what it means for you to call yourself a Christian socialist. What does that term mean to you?

Jeremy: I think, for me, it says as much about what it means to apply the label socialist to Christian as it puts me in relation to other socialists. To say I’m a Christian socialist is to say I find value in Christian traditions for thinking about why socialism makes sense as an approach and that Christianity provides the kind of foundational ideas about human being and about society that motivate or bring me to a socialist vision. But in some ways I find it’s as important to think about what it means to say I’m a socialist Christian as a Christian socialist.

Particularly now there’s a lot of discussion in left Christianity or progressive Christianity in light of the Trump era—and the utterly reprehensible collusion between Christianity and Trumpism that assists white nationalism—but, for me, to connect socialism and Christianity is to say it’s not enough for progressive Christians to have a bland kind of general inclusiveness that doesn’t really look at undermining, disrupting, or dismantling fundamental economic systems. There are some versions of progressive Christianity that are largely comfortable with the underlying capitalist system that we’re in and mostly want to make it a little less bad without really reworking some of those fundamental mechanisms that create these problems.

The connection between Christianity and socialism is also a commitment to fundamentally transform not only identity-based inequalities and disparity, but also class-based forms of inequality and exploitation. For a number of years I’ve shared in the concern of Christian scholars and activists—including the Wendland-Cook Program—that we just aren’t paying enough attention to class-based inequalities and integrating that with identity-based inequalities. I find that the Christian socialist vision does a good job bringing those concerns together.

Aaron: I think that was one of the things that I really loved about our first conversation with Cornel West, Joerg Rieger, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Angela Cowser. That conversation helped emphasize that a socialism without a Christianity is, say, soulless—that a general humanism for Christian socialism isn’t enough.

Perhaps let’s get a little more theological here, though. What theological concepts, then, do you really find as particularly operative in your socialism?

Jeremy: One concept that’s been important to me for several years now is a Christian theology of creation. Such a concept of creation, to my mind, does not replace Marxist perspectives on material interest but complements it. I’m thinking here of Christian cosmology, protology (the area of doctrine dealing with first things and beginnings), as well as anthropology. In a different way, each of these concepts gets at the question, “What is the vision of society we’re going for and why?” What’s crucial here is focusing both on the what and the why of this question, because the Christian doctrine of creation says there’s a fundamental connectedness and integrality that is our ground of being and the source of our life-force, as well as the vision where we seek to be. Again that doesn’t replace a sort of classical Marxist analysis of material interests and conflict, but it provides another way to talk about our relationality to one another.

Another important theological concept involves the ongoing struggle in Christian theology regarding eschatology. For me (as for many liberationists), eschatology is always about ongoing struggle, not some final end result or apocalypse. This sort of eschatology is a much more complete political program: to imagine that we are always more fully living into the reign of God and the Beloved Community. One of the problems that socialisms have often encountered is the idea that it’s either revolution or we’re just mired endlessly in the system.

I think that eschatology—I mean distinctly liberationist eschatology—has within it a sense of what it means to be committed to ongoing struggle and that we create a politics and a spirituality that’s based on ongoing transformation in the world.

Aaron: I think those are really important and interesting interventions. What you’re offering here is really exciting because there are multiple popular trends and thinking about creationism and eschatology that address ecological issues, or address political issues, or address economic issues—but they address them all separately. What you’ve offered us is a way to integrate them all and strategically redirect the conversation in a way that takes class, race, gender, and sex seriously—all together. This is exciting not only just for this conversation, but it’s also suggestive of the emerging trends within the study of theology: more people need to pay attention to the way that class, race, gender, and sex are mutually implicating oppressions.

Jeremy: Yes. We haven’t done enough with what creation and eschatology can mean as both ecological and economic critiques. I mean, just to pick up on something you were saying just now, I think obviously we are constantly drawing upon the creation account to think about ecology, but there’s also an economic side. If you take the ecological and the economic sides together, you have to start pushing towards a socialist vision, or that is to say: if one reads the creation accounts carefully with an eye to both ecology and economics and social equity, I don’t see how Christianity can ultimately uphold a capitalist order.

Aaron: That’s extremely well put and is a helpful way of bringing us to think together about the theme of the next webinar, which is building solidarity and intersectionality. Why is this an important theme for Christian socialists to think about today?

Jeremy: Yeah, so two things come to mind. One of which, you know, we’ve talked about before in other contexts. Religious communities at their best can be places where multiple parts of people’s identities come together. You and I have talked about this on the labor side of things, in regard to Jane McAlevey’s “whole worker” organizing and community-based organizing, but I think religious communities have a parallel or an analog to offer. Religious communities invite people’s whole selves to be present within and to each other, and that creates the possibility of people connecting across multiple dimensions of their identity. Now, of course, this only works if religious communities truly are committed to bringing together diverse communities and/or reaching out to communities that are different from them and engage in authentic relationship building.

I also think solidarity is important for Christian communities particularly to wrestle with right now, especially in a time when more and more churches are pushing to diversify their staff, programs, and congregations. But in terms of economic justice, diversity is not going to be the primary pathway for economic justice. An economically just community does not mean a proportional representation of each class within the congregation. It means we ultimately abolish inequalities based on class. So, I think Christian communities have to wrestle with that difference and have to learn additional ways of talking about that. We rightly pursue vibrant and intentional inclusion with regard to identity-based forms of identity, but with regard to economic and class-based difference, we’re talking about abolishing not only the divides themselves, but the underlying mechanisms that create those divides.

Solidarity means we have to learn multiple ways of being in solidarity. The push for diversity is one of them, but it needs to be complemented with a much clearer class critique. For me, the most important solidarity Christian committees have to wrestle with is bringing together our commitments to race, gender, and sexuality inclusion with the abolition of class exploitation.

Churches have to be willing to confront capitalism as part of the problem. So, for example—and this isn’t the case everywhere—but in some progressive Christian contexts, you’ll see a reference to classism, rather than capitalism, alongside racism, sexism, and nationalism. What’s at stake with regard to our economic inequalities is fundamentally the question of capitalism, not classism (which is a wholly owned subsidiary of capitalism). We have to name that as part of the problem. And then—in terms of how we get there—I think something that Joerg Rieger and Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger have brought up is a key conceptual shift that’s also a practical shift, and that is shifting from charity and advocacy models (where it’s based on Christians already occupying a certain position of privilege) to solidarity models, where it’s not about solving some problem for people, but really acknowledging what is our situatedness in the capitalist system and how do we disrupt that?

It comes down to naming the problem and also having different understandings of what is our position within the system that we’re trying to dismantle and transform. We have to reach a place where we can name that Christianity and capitalism are fundamentally incompatible.

Over the years, I have done a lot of work on LGBTQ inclusion in the church and, you know, Christianity has very readily wielded the language of what’s incompatible with Christian teaching: what kind of relationships, what kind of intimacy are incompatible with Christian teaching. Well, it’s time for churches to proclaim—Christian socialism asks churches to prophetically proclaim this—that capitalism and capitalist inequalities are incompatible with Christian teaching. We cannot serve the gospel and also uphold the dictates of capitalism.

We have yet to fully live into this prophetic teaching, and that I think is what the prospect of Christian socialism offers us.

Aaron: Thank you so much, Jeremy, for this time.

For those of you who didn’t catch the second webinar in the Engaging Christianities and Socialisms webinar series, check it out here. Be sure to register for our next conversation on May 17 at 7:00pm CST, featuring Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Ed Whitfield, Andrew Wilkes, Micah Uetricht and moderated by me, Aaron Stauffer. Register here!

Jeremy Posadas is an associate professor of religious studies and core faculty member in gender studies at Austin College (on the rural Texas-Oklahoma border), where he holds the John F. Anderson Chair of Christian Thought. A queer-feminist social ethicist, he has written on anti-work theory, reproductive justice, and Christian rape culture and is currently writing an eco-queer ethics against capitalism. He is a member of the committee that oversees the largest gathering of religion scholars in the world and has twice been selected as a fellow of the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. BACK TO TOP

Faith Means Solidarity

JOSHUA DAVIS

April 29, 2021

You wouldn’t know it from most Sunday sermons but there’s considerable disagreement among New Testament scholars about just what faith means. Christians generally assume that faith means believing something to be true when you can’t know it to be true. In Paul’s letters, there’s that famous turn of phrase, which became the sticking point during the Reformation, in which he says we are “justified” by our “faith in Christ.” The truth is, the phrase is ambiguous, and even New Testament scholars don’t know for sure what it means. You’re likely to hear faith talked about as belief in Christ, and because of your belief in him your sins are forgiven. It can just as well mean, though, Christ’s own belief. And that’s just the problem: belief is not the right word at all here.

Faith in the New Testament, and all the other Greek words that are closely associated with it, means something more like loyalty. It’s talking about a relationship. Even loyalty doesn’t quite get at it, because it means something that a person does, a stance that a person takes in relationship to others; it’s the kind of stance that defines who you are in that relationship. Nijay Gupta gives a helpful example from Plutarch, describing the men who refused to turn over Odysseus to Polyphemus:

Even when they were dragged about and dashed upon the ground by the Cyclops, they would not denounce Odysseus nor show that fire-sharpened instrument prepared against the monster’s eye, but preferred to be eaten raw rather than to tell a single word of the secret—an example of self-control and loyalty which cannot be surpassed.

The word loyalty here is the same word as faith in the New Testament. Others have suggested that it might mean allegiance, like that of a soldier’s. It is not that the men believe in Odysseus, nor that they trust him, though they certainly do. What matters is that they stand with Odysseus; they don’t betray him. By standing with Odysseus, they not only sustain their relationship with him, but they deepen it, expanding its horizon of possibility.

Judas Iscariot is the figure in the New Testament whose actions epitomize the opposite of this allegiance. With the striking exception of his women disciples, all of Jesus’ apostles abandon him, and in doing so show a lack of faith. But Judas goes much farther and does not merely deny his relationship to Jesus but, unlike Odysseus’ men, betrays him in the hope of saving himself.

Betraying his relationship is exactly what Jesus does not do. His ministry began with a public pledge of allegiance to the most vulnerable of the world: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Faced with Rome’s promise to crush that mission, Jesus remains loyal, allegiant, faithful to it “to the point of death—even death on a cross,” as Paul writes. It can be difficult to imagine what exactly Christ’s resurrection is, but we know that it means we live now in the extraordinary reality in which Jesus continues to be loyal to that mission, on the other side of his death. Death cannot crush it.

I know of no better English word than solidarity to capture the reality expressed in the New Testament. “Faith” comes close because there is trust, even hope in this action of loyalty, but its most fundamental aspect is that of uncompromising commitment. Most vital, though, is that the New Testament is not talking about devoted allegiance to a moral ideal, but to a concrete social reality and the kind of life with others that sustains it. Jesus’ solidarity with the most vulnerable is so complete that he can say, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40).

The Apostle Paul, then, later says that it is this solidarity that justifies us, that sets us in a right relationship with God and others. In fact, the word justified means justice. Solidarity creates justice. What the New Testament scholars disagree about is whether that justice is created by Jesus’ solidarity with us (while we were still sinners) or by our solidarity with Jesus, but both of these options come down to the same thing: that the justice that God desires, a justice for which even now the nonhuman world is crying out in agony to be born, takes root in the world through solidarity with the most vulnerable, for whom Jesus gave away his life. It is to say that Jesus’ solidarity is identical with God’s solidarity, and our solidarity with Jesus, our faith, is identical to Jesus’ solidarity with the most vulnerable. That solidarity is how we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; how we love our neighbor as ourselves. It is our own participation in Jesus’ mission to establish God’s justice on earth.

The Christian’s faith means deep solidarity. This is a spiritual solidarity that is all the more material because of its share in the deepest of mysteries; a political solidarity that is all the more mystical because it is material. This is not the shallow solidarity of the rightwing. The right’s appeal to solidarity are always implicitly authoritarian, because it requires uniformity, the preservation of racial, sexual, gender, imperial, and ecological hierarchies and the repression of egalitarian diversity, which is imagined to be a menace. This is exclusion, not solidarity. It is an idolatrous politics, the ideological spirituality of betrayal. But when we at the Institute for Christian Socialism talk about the “Socialism of the Gospel,” we mean just this spiritual-political mission of deep, emancipatory solidarity. We are not in solidarity with Jesus if we are not in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us, and we are not in solidarity with the most vulnerable if we are not working to overcome capitalism. That means being where God’s justice is embodied—in solidarity.

Joshua Davis is the Executive Director of the Institute for Christian Socialism and is an Episcopalian theologian and educator who has taught at several universities and seminaries, including The General Theological Seminary. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama.BACK TO TOP

How can Christian Socialists Build Deeper Solidarities?

SARAH NGU

April 8, 2021

A few weeks after the Atlanta Spa shootings, I participated in a virtual teach-in with three other clergy leaders and friends. Convened as a response to the spike in anti-Asian racism, the teach-in sought to address racist, historical dynamics between Asian and Black communities. The oft-tossed word, “solidarity” came up. “Solidarity,” someone said, “is about building relationships.” 

At first I shook my head, subtly. Solidarity is, for me, about locating your self-interest in another person’s fight for justice. It’s about seeing struggles as interconnected, not disparate lanes that can only be bridged by kind gestures of allyship. I felt that in action when I reported on the hunger-striking grandmas in Manhattan’s Chinatown who were protesting their landlord and uniting with several tenant groups across New York City. 

I still believe that. But I can’t deny the centrality of relationships in any leftist movements. Whether I was reading Vivian Gornick’s Romance of American Communism or interviewing 70-year-old communists in my Malaysian hometown who took me to visit my Communist grand-aunt’s grave when most of my family had forgotten where it was, it’s clear to me that at the core of all these Communist movements was something that looked like family. They did not come together for the sake of building relationships, but for a common goal. If the goal was why they came together, relationships were a big reason why they fought for each other, and in some cases, died for one another. 

These movements were not exemplars of equality and diversity across race, gender, and sexuality, but they certainly strove for it. In the 1930s, the US Communists instructed white organizers to teach all Communists that they must “be willing to die in defense of any Negro’s rights” if they wanted to build class unity, as reported by Jodi Dean, author of Comrade. The comrades of my grand-aunt were Chinese immigrants to Sarawak, an Eastern state of Malaysia. They were a minority group in Sarawak, which is majority indigenous. During the rise of anti-imperial communist movements across the globe in the 20th century, some chose to return to China to take up arms, but many, like my grand-aunt, were inspired by these national movements to stay and fight for independence — and then a classless society — for all peoples in Sarawak. Even today, the elderly Communist guerillas have annual ‘family reunions’ where they go on vacation together or pay respects at the graves of Communists who died in armed struggle, fulfilling the duties that sometimes biological families neglect.

While for Communist movements, politics preceded relationships, in the case of the church, it tends to be the reverse. My involvement in that teach-in came about because the pastor, Tonetta Landis-Aina, who hosted it and I were friends. She’s a Black, queer woman who grew up in North Carolina and has lived in Washington DC for the past two decades. I’m a Chinese Malaysian queer person who’s hopped around from Malaysia, to California, and now New York City. We met through Q Christian Fellowship, an organization that hosts a large annual conference for LGBTQIA Christians. It’s in that conference that many of us come out to ourselves and to others for the first time. And so these conferences feel like a “family reunion,” where we go less for the agenda and more to catch up on each other’s lives. 

So we were able to trust each other with hard stories. Tonetta shared a story about a visit she once made in her twenties to a gigantic home of an Asian friend. There, she learned that her friend’s parents owned a liquor store in a Black and poor area of Washington DC. “It’s only in recent weeks that I have been able to name the betrayal I felt by Asian folx driving into black communities to make money without investing in the community in return,” she said to us. “My most regular encounters with people of Asian descent have been in the context of them as vendors often behind bullet-proof glass.” And we listened and held that, after which our friend, Erna Kim Hackett, shared a story about an Asian friend of hers in Los Angeles whose father owns a similar store, and who has been shot at while working in the store. There was no bow-tie resolution, but we got to name the stories we had been hiding or putting away.

Cultivating honest, trusting relationships is the bread and butter of the church. But to go further in our solidarity requires a robust, political analysis. One goes beyond who the liquor store owners are and names the system of capitalism that determines who receives loans to set up shop where, who is deemed “trustworthy” of a loan, and that determines which neighborhoods receive investment while others are dis-invested. In other words, one that names the Roman empire and not Jewish tax collectors (who do, also, bear some responsibility). 

We must go further and ask the questions, “Who owns the means of economic production? Of reproduction? Of war? And who doesn’t?” in examining the white supremacist logics of chattel slavery, displacement of indigenous people from their lands and suppression of femme and gender-diverse shamans, and the plundering of natural resources and raping of women “abroad.” Such an analysis and education will channel the relational energy cultivated by the church into a more organized, disciplined and sustained operation. One that will truly become the corporal body of Christ. 

That is my hope for Christian socialism.

Sarah Ngu is the community director on the executive council at Forefront Brooklyn Church and cofounded ChurchClarity, a database that scores churches for how easy it is to find their LGBTQ and Women in Leadership policies on their websites. Sarah hosted the Religion & Socialism podcast, which is produced by Devin Briski and is platformed by the Democratic Socialists of America’ Religion and Socialism working group.BACK TO TOP

Creatures of the World, Unite! 

TIMOTHY EBERHART

April 8, 2021

One translation of the famous socialist cry for labor solidarity against capitalist oppression reads: “Workers of all lands, unite!” This evocative rendition invites us to expand our understanding of worker agency to include the lands, waters, skies, plants, and animals in the sustainment of the world. In truth, not only is the exploitation of human workers a central feature of capitalism, so too are the labors of the whole of non-human creation (Rom. 8:19-23) diminished and degraded – to the point of exhaustion, precarity, and ultimately collapse – within an economic system powered by the unrelenting drive for private financial gain. We might even say that more-than-human Nature is now rising up in protest to throw off the chains of bondage. From my perspective, as a Christian and an eco-socialist, the intersectional analyses and collective actions urgently needed today are those that will contribute to the deepening of both social and ecological solidarities.  

Human life is wholly reliant on the web of biotic and abiotic relations that make up our planetary home. Without the contributions of soil microorganisms and minerals, richly diverse and interwoven plant, animal, and insect populations, solar heat, rivers, lakes, and ocean waters, and stable earth systems that regulate temperature, humidity, and far more, we human creatures simply would not exist. In the first creation story (Gen. 1), humankind is formed last, and in the second story (Gen. 2), directly from the earth, suggesting both a terrestrial unity of all created life and a mutuality of inter-dependencies, with human existence in fact the most dependent. Whatever uniqueness we might possess among the other creatures, interpretations of humanity’s vocation to “have dominion” (1:28) over them that serve to justify or sanction the “biological annihilation” of species are – to understate the matter – theologically blasphemous, spiritually wicked, and scientifically ignorant.   

The growing number of environmental appeals, initiatives, and organizing efforts that are now emerging from diverse Christian traditions worldwide is a cause for encouragement. But far too many Christians who are genuinely committed to the just care of creation remain unwilling to recognize that capitalism is the root cause of the rotten ecological fruits (Matt. 7:16-20) they rightly lament. And here is where critical analysis is crucial in helping us to see at the level of deep patterns, material forces, and systemic connections. 

Socialist analysis, in particular, provides a necessary lens through which to understand that in a capitalist society, the value of work is determined only after any particular labor is transformed into a commodity, or something that can be bought and sold through market exchange. And because the sole purpose of capitalist production is to maximize short-term financial returns on a trajectory of perpetual growth, the large majority of those who own the means of production, including shareholders and investors, will always seek to extract as much value as possible from labor and society in order to stay competitive, while simultaneously seeking ways to minimize compensation. This basic pattern holds true, regardless of how personally kind-hearted, devout, socially well-intentioned, or charitable individual members of the ownership class might be. The strategies are legion, but we can name depressed wages, unpaid domestic work, layoffs/unemployment, management for hyper-productivity, shifting work patterns, benefits, and locations in a global race to the bottom, and corporate tax avoidance, as well the propagation of white supremacist chauvinism.       

From an eco-socialist perspective, we can recognize comparable patterns and strategies at play in capitalism’s extractive and degenerative impact on more-than-human Nature. Like the domestic work of childcare and home-keeping, the life-sustaining labors of earth’s creatures and systems – often feminized – go unaccounted for within capitalist economies, allowing producers to extract financial value from what are deemed “natural resources” without any proper compensatory return. The inevitable result, especially when coupled with over-management for the sake of increasing productivity, is the ongoing depletion of myriad life forms and ecosystems at rates faster than they can be replenished. Examples include the overfishing of oceans, deforestation, soil degradation, and the overgrazing of lands. And just as private enterprises are able to externalize the costs and consequences of low wages and benefits for workers onto society, they similarly externalize the environmental wastes of production and distribution into the biosphere. The root cause of single-use plastics, landfill overflows, and most notably climate change, is not the consumption habits of individuals – although if we’re to focus here, the chief culprits are undoubtedly the world’s super-rich – but rather the capitalist system that organizes and governs social and ecological relations worldwide. Neither conscientious consumption nor the “greening” of products and services will save us from the “ghastly future” that is already now breaking into the present. To be blunt, the only Christian appeals for creation care that ought to be taken seriously will be those that are explicitly anti-capitalist (Matt. 3:10). 

As Marx clearly saw, the exploitation of humans and more-than-human Nature in capitalist economies have always been intimately interconnected. As such, it is not by chance that the cries of the oppressed and the cries of the earth are so often entwined at common sites of socio-ecological degradation. From the beginning, capitalism’s integral accomplices of race and racism, settler colonial conquest, hetero-patriarchal domination, and related forms of social oppression have intersected with innumerable forms of violence against the lands, air, waters, plants, and creatures, all for the sake of maximizing short-term capital gains. The fact that a growing number of Christians are “connecting the dots” here in recognizing that those currently suffering the worst effects of climate change are the world’s poor, whose skin colors are darker hued, including indigenous peoples, women, children, and the elderly, is crucially important. But understanding the broader picture – which is what the most steadfast form of a neighbor-love-that-seeks-justice presses us toward – also requires seeing that the intersecting lines materialize in and through the logics and operations of capitalism.               

The struggle against exploitative domination and for equitable, mutualistic social relations is perhaps the central concern of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. From the exodus of those forced to labor under cruel working conditions (Ex. 1:11-14) to the prophetic denunciations of the wealthy who hoard their spoils stolen from the poor (Is. 3:14-15) to Mary’s song of praise that the powerful are brought down and lowly lifted up (Luke 1:46-55) to Jesus’ upending tables of economic exploitation (Matt. 21:12-16), the persistent theological claim is that the divine source of all life hears the cries of the oppressed and takes up their side against the pharaohs, taskmasters, moneychangers, and lords of history. Throughout these narratives, more-than-human Nature plays a central role as both co-agent and habitation of salvation. The floods, hail, animals, amphibians, insects and pillars of fire and cloud co-labor with the Hebrew workers for redemption toward the promise of lands overflowing with the fruits of abundance. And amidst repeated perversions of justice, the prophets envision a new society in which ecological flourishing is rooted in social equity and peace (Amos 9:11-15). Jesus, who is befriended in the wilderness by animals (Mark 1:13) and who cooperates with the elements in his healing ministry (John 9:1-12), most often describes the breaking in of God’s reign of loving-justice through the operations of seeds, soil, bushes, birds, stone, pearl, grains, fish, and branches. And for Paul, the gospel is the good news of God’s “new creation” in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:16), the “first fruits” (1 Cor. 15:20) and “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15), through whom we are invited to be reconciled within a new social formation in which every member is activated by the Spirit to work in organic unity for the sake of the common good of all (1 Cor. 12:4-26). 

For those of us committed to this socialism of the Gospel, the deep solidarity that is needed, I believe, will be one that unites diverse efforts within our churches and communities for racial justice, gender equity, queer liberation, ecological sustainability, economic justice, and related emancipatory movements in a common pursuit of a new political-economic system beyond capitalism. Even more, as an eco-socialist and a Christian, I urge us to prioritize solidarity building with the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, fruit trees of every kind, great sea creatures and all ocean depths, the atmospheric dome of the sky, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. For in truth, all of these and more have always been united in a great cooperative labor to sustain all that lives, including we human creatures. In this sense, the models of political economy that are best aligned with the broad scriptural vision of salvation – from worker-owned cooperatives to publicly-owned utilities to the redistribution of wealth and lands to state-run financial institutions to liberative public education to common pool land trusts – will be those that integrate practices of social and economic democracy with a deep democracy of the earth. Among movements on the Left, Christian socialists ought to be the most active today in rejecting industrial, productivist, and techno-utopian capitalisms and socialisms, while organizing instead around the systemic approaches, political principles, reparative policies, and hopeful visions of deep socio-ecological solidarity.                        

Workers of all lands, unite indeed. The creation is laboring – and not only the creation, but we ourselves are groaning – to be set free!                


Timothy R. Eberhart, is the Murray H. Leiffer Associate Professor of Public Theology and Ecology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, where he directs the master of arts in public ministry program and oversees a concentration in ecological regeneration. His publications include Rooted and Grounded in Love: Holy Communion for the Whole Creation (Wipf and Stock, 2017), The Economy of Salvation: Essays in Honor of M. Douglas Meeks (Wipf and Stock, 2015), and chapters on mission, ecclesiology, and ecotheology. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a trained permaculturalist, UMC Earthkeeper, North American Secretary for the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies, and co-founder and co-chair of The Institute for Christian Socialism.BACK TO TOP

What have Socialism and Christianity to do with each other?

JOERG RIEGER

Feb. 22, 2021

Wondering about connections between Christianity and socialism must appear odd to most people raised in the United States. There are many taken-for-granted assumptions about socialism and about Christianity that make this an unlikely if not incongruous pairing. In addition, both terms evoke strong reactions among many, both positive and negative. Nevertheless, while putting socialism and Christianity in conversation does not seem to make much sense to some, there is growing interest from others based on new embodiments of socialism and Christianity. What is going on here, and how might things be developed?

From the very beginning, socialism has had plenty of detractors in the United States. During the Cold War, the pushback against socialism became even more pronounced as it was decried as atheist, unpatriotic, totalitarian, unrealistic, and generally misguided. Christianity, by contrast, has enjoyed broad support in the United States but has found itself dealing with a growing number of critics in more recent years. Younger generations in particular see it as out of touch, a bastion of conservativism, and the handmaiden of a status quo that perpetuates the inequalities that capitalism, racism, and sexism keep producing.

The track record of Christianity on those counts is indeed problematic. Too often, Christians and their organizations have supported injustice rather than justice. But throughout the ages, there have also been embodiments of Christianity that promoted justice over injustice. In the United States, for example, the abolition of slavery, voting rights for women and minorities, civil rights, and even the labor movement were supported by people of faith and some of their communities. Unfortunately, many of these histories have been forgotten or suppressed. Present engagements, like faith communities supporting the Occupy Wall Street Movement or the Black Lives Matter Movement, are not widely known and get little attention in the media.

The track record of socialism has its own ups and downs. Unfortunately, collective memory in the United States hardly remembers the ups, and there is widespread confusion about socialism, even among those who are open to embracing it. Some initial clarifications are in order before we can tackle the relation of socialism and Christianity.

First, socialism does not necessarily require overbearing governments or totalitarian politics, as is often assumed, although too much government has indeed been a problem of certain socialisms in recent history. Neither is socialism by nature undemocratic or even anti-democratic. Second, it is often mistakenly claimed that socialism requires naïve idealism or optimism about human nature. It is true that utopian socialisms have at times lacked a certain sense for reality, but those traditions have mostly failed and do not necessarily define the heart of socialism. Conversely, most socialisms would question the optimism of capitalism, which assumes that people can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and that its leaders have done so.

This brings us to some intriguing parallels of socialism and Christianity that merit greater attention and ongoing conversation beyond what can be presented here.

Parallels of socialism and Christianity are sometimes seen in an ethos of sharing. The references in the book of Acts (2:42-47; 4:32-36), where the early Christian communities are described as holding everything in common, may serve as an example. This so-called “love communism” has inspired many through two millennia, although these communities have rarely been sustainable in the long run. Even in the book of Acts itself there are indications of failure (Acts 5:1-11). In socialist discourses, this ethos of sharing has sometimes been taken ad absurdum, inviting jokes about the practicality of sharing toothbrushes and underwear. More down-to-earth socialisms, by contrast, understood that the question of sharing is related to the ownership of the so-called “means of production”—such as tools, machines, and other assets of corporations—involving not only shareholders but the workers themselves. This conversation has been embodied, for instance, in the cooperative movement that has on occasions worked in connection with religious communities. These relationships are growing again today.

In the socialist tradition, it has been assumed that Christianity is characterized by a “socialism of sharing” and socialist traditions by a “socialism of production” (Karl Kautsky). Socialisms of production are concerned with the exploitation of working people and with what difference the agency of working people can make in the transformation of the world—not only in economics but also in politics and culture, including religion. Similar concerns, however, can also be found in the Jesus movement and even in some of the Pauline literature, where the focus is on organizing peasant communities and urban communities, which are trying to carve out productive spaces in the world of the Roman Empire. It can, therefore, be argued that a concern for production and agency is at the heart of both Christianity and socialism: in Christianity, terms like sanctification can be interpreted in this way; in socialism, it might be terms like economic democracy. Note that these are not just intangible ideas, as religion and labor movements have embodied these concerns since the beginning of capitalism and are picking up steam again today.

At first sight, atheism appears to be the point where Christianity and socialism are in diametrical opposition. Most intriguing, however, is the fact that, for good reasons, early Christianity was also accused of atheism. After all, Christianity presented a profound challenge to the theisms of the Roman Empire, which worshiped the gods of power and might and of the respective status quo. It is no mere coincidence that these are the kinds of theisms that socialism also questions. In some of their traditions, both socialism and Christianity are deeply suspicion of anything that is worshiped as ultimate if it is presented in the image of the few who dominate rather than in the image of the many who work. Isn’t the God of the Abrahamic traditions the one who gets the divine hands dirty by creating Adam from clay and by planting a garden, and doesn’t this God take the side of the Hebrew slaves in the Egyptian Empire?

Conversations between Christianity and socialism, which have deep and long roots, deserve to be picked up again for all of these reasons. There is a great deal of resonance on both sides, and the emerging challenges and tensions might prove to be productive, leading us beyond the impasses of the present.BACK TO TOP

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What Have Christianity and Socialism to Do with Each Other?

CYNTHIA MOE-LOBEDA

March 5, 2021

Christianities are multiple, as are socialisms. The connotations and denotations of both terms shift with context. Thus, what the two have to do with each other depends on which Christianity and which socialism one considers.

The biblical story into which Christians are called may be the most liberating and subversive love story the world has known. Throughout two millennia, some streams of Christianity have understood the story like this: The Holy One, the source of all that is, loves this world and each of us with a love that will never cease. This love – the life-saving, world-transforming, healing and liberating power of the cosmos – is at work on Earth to bring fullness of life to all (Jn 10:10). Therefore, in the face of injustice and the torment it causes, this love seeks justice. That is, it will dismantle or transform all forms of structural injustice (structural sin) that would thwart God’s gift of abundant life for all.

The story spirals on. God calls the human creatures to receive this love, to trust it and relish it, and then to live it into the world, to give it social form. In the words of Jesus: “You will love your neighbor as yourself,” or in other translations, “You will love your neighbor as God loves you.” This is heart of life for people of biblical faith.

The implications of this wild unlikely truth-story shake the foundations of economic life as we live it because neighbor-love, as revealed in the biblical witness, does not pertain only to the interpersonal dimensions of life. Neighbor-love—in the trajectory of a dark-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus and the Hebrew prophets in whose footsteps he walked—pertains also to the ways in which human beings set up the structures of our life together, and particularly our economic structures. Why?

Probing this question requires moral-spiritual courage. The response rests on two features of neighbor-love: 1) It serves the well-being of the neighbor. Therefore, if unjust structures are hurting others, neighbor-love includes seeking to undo or transform those structures while recognizing that doing so is long-term and collective work. 2) Neighbor-love pertains to whomever my life impacts. Through economic life (what I buy, invest, earn, consume or use, get rid of, and the systems that enable these activities) my life impacts countless people near and far.

They include the farmworkers whose inadequate wages keep my food prices low, the sweatshop workers in Bangladesh whose life-threatening working conditions contribute to high corporate short-term profits and the value of my mutual funds, the Walmart employees whose low wages spell poverty for them but high investment returns for others, the former residents of lands in India taken over by Coca-Cola plants or tourist resorts, the Amazon forest dwellers whose waters are rendered deadly by oil industry’s toxic residues. The economic systems and practices assumed by many in U.S. society to be normal bring enormous wealth to a few, material comfort to some, and tormenting poverty to vast numbers of people. For many of them, poverty means death.

Clearly, following Jesus includes attempting to live in ways that do not damage or kill others. The daily activities of life for a Christian ought not kill, degrade, dehumanize, displace, or otherwise endanger other people.

However, economic life as we live it—according to the norms and demands of advanced global capitalism—do just that. This is the heart of the problem. Let me repeat: The economic systems that shape our economic lives demand that we betray the call to love neighbor. African American theologian, Peter Pero, speaking of the global economy, put it starkly: “In ecclesiological terms, if the church is the one universal body of Christ, this body of Christ is divided among active thieves, passive profiteers, and deprived victims” (Between Vision and Reality: Lutheran Churches in Transition, 262) (and, I would add, courageous resilient resisters/rebuilders). This reality is tormenting for those of us who benefit materially from these systems. From this truth we long to flee, but face it we must. At least we must if we take seriously Jesus’ call to love neighbor as self.

Neoliberal capitalism and we who abide by its rules, betray also the other primary rule for living given by God—the commandment to serve and preserve God’s garden (Gen 2:15). An economy that normalizes and rewards maximizing profit, consumption, and growth is inherently exploitative of neighbors and of Earth. This is not to say that profit, consumption, or growth are inherently exploitative, but that maximizing them is.

From a Christian perspective exploiting others to maximize profit is not acceptable. This is why many faithful Christian leaders throughout history have denounced economic practices and systems that enable some to enrich themselves at the cost of impoverishing others. Martin Luther, for example insisted that Christians could not sell essential goods at a price as high as the market would bear, because so doing would harm the poor. The purpose of selling, he declared, should not be maximizing profit but rather making an adequate living and serving the needs of the other.

In short: A Christian cannot simply accept economic life as we know it in the United States today, for it is a horrific betrayal of God’s call to love neighbor and to serve and preserve the “garden.” That is why working for more equitable and ecological economic structures is an inherent dimension of Christian discipleship. Jesus’ call to love neighbor includes the call to engage in building modes of economic life that do not force us to betray neighbor-love and Earth care. To put this positively, we are to build ways of economic life that are structured to enable all people to have the necessities for fullness of life, and allow Earths life systems to flourish. These are two central features of an economy that is acceptable from a Christian perspective—equitable and ecological.

The reality of sin calls for a third feature—democratic. Humans are subject to sin, both structural and personal, including the tendency to use power to serve self and tribe even at expense to others. For this reason, we are to build economies in which power is equitably distributed and accountable. Distribution and accountability of power are the heart of the democratic principle. In the U.S. capitalism, however, this democratic principle has been limited to the political sphere with the economic sphere exempted from it; economic players and powers are not accountable to the people who bear the consequences of their actions, and economic systems concentrate rather than distribute wealth (power). (The meanings of “democracy” are shifting and variable, and the term often is truncated to mean voting rights, a mere shadow of its larger implications. See, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Healing a Broken World: Globalization and God (30-35 and 39-45); and Robert Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics.)

Since the early 1800s in the North Atlantic world, many efforts to build economies that are equitable and democratic have gone by the name of democratic socialism in one form or another including Christian democratic socialisms, or (since the early 20th century) economic democracy. (Space here precludes delving into the shifting relationships of these terms to one another, or into their diverse manifestations and varied intellectual and practiced genealogies. See Gary Dorrien, Economy, Difference, and Empire and Social Democracy in the Making.) These efforts – while highly varied — have at their heart a “passion for social justice and radical democratic community” (Dorrien 2019, 4). In this sense, they are – while imperfect as all human efforts — aligned with the Christian call to structure economic life so that it will serve the wellbeing of neighbors, both near and far.

Current efforts to build more equitable, ecological, and democratic economies are situated in the stream of democratic socialisms, and have invaluable wisdom to gain from that trajectory. Therefore, it is a tremendous mistake and a dangerous loss to proceed along the lines of three common misunderstandings – 1) that socialism refers primarily to its centralized non-democratic forms, 2) that democratic socialisms have been idealistic undertakings with little impact, and 3) that the robust complex history of Christian democratic socialisms does not exist. All are false.

For Christians to take seriously God’s central call to the human creatures — to love neighbor as self with justice-seeking, Earth-caring love — entails joining with others to build economies that serve neighbors’ well-being, with particular attention to those who are vulnerable. This means building equitable, ecological, and democratic economic structures, policies, and practices. That is the work of democratic socialisms, including Christian democratic socialisms, and is the vital link between Christianity and socialism.BACK TO TOP

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A Biblical Vision of the Political, Economic, and Religious Worlds as They Should and Can Be

ANGELA R. COWSER

March 5, 2021

Capitalism urges us to strive first and last for our personal enrichment, and it formerly held out the hope (and still does) that the selfishness of all would create the universal good. … Christianity makes the love of money the root of all evil. Capitalism cultivates the love for its own sake and gives its largest wealth to those who use monopoly for extortion. Thus, two spirits are wrestling for the mastery in modern life, the spirit of Christ and the spirit of Mammon (Walter Rauschenbusch)

The Vision

The writers of Torah drew up a vision of the human community which they called “shalom.” Shalom means “wholeness,” “well-being,” and “harmony,” which in turn means bodily health; security and strength; a long life, ending in natural death; prosperity and abundance; successful completion of an enterprise; prophetic, relational religion; and, victory in war. The goal was a society where “there would be no poor among us.” In the New Testament, Jesus’ Kin(g)dom of God is the full embodiment of shalom upon the earth.

Is it possible to accomplish shalom communities within 21st-century vulture capitalism? What proof do we have that over the past 400 years the leaders of American government, commerce, and religion have (consistently) put the health of the whole people, especially poor people, as their top priority? Do we stay with a system designed to desecrate, dominate, and destroy all but the wealthiest people, or do we consider other ways to organize society for shalom?

I am an African American woman. Using God’s shalom rubric, let us evaluate the relative health of African American life after 400 years of American vulture capitalism.

1: Bodily Health and a Long Life Ending in Natural Death

  • Compared to their White counterparts, African Americans are at higher risk for hypertension, cancer, lung disease, diabetes, and HIV-AIDS.
  • African Americans are at increased risk of dying from COVID-19 because of discrimination in healthcare, which can lead to chronic and toxic stress. Limitations to healthcare access are increased because of lack of transportation, childcare, or ability to take sick leave; communication and language barriers; cultural differences between patients and providers; and long-standing distrust of healthcare systems.

2: Prosperity and Abundance

  • Racial segregation affects schooling opportunities, access to neighborhood amenities, and access to jobs. For example, homes in predominantly White neighborhoods appreciate much more rapidly than those in predominantly Black areas. To wit, in 2020, “a single-family home in Montgomery County [MD] sold for $465,000, while a similar home in Prince George’s County [MD] sold for $370,000.” “Why the $95,000 difference? It really boils down to the lack of amenities and poor school rankings in Prince George’s County. The lack of investment in Prince George’s County is a lingering impact of redlining.” (The Washington Post)
  • In 2016, the typical middle-class black household had $13,024 in wealth vs $149,703 for the median white household. The typical black household headed by someone with an advanced degree has less wealth than a white household with only a high-school diploma.

3: Strength and Security

  • 40% of Black women experience physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes, and also face a particularly high risk of being killed at the hands of a man. More than 9/10 Black female victims knew their killers.
  • Black women also experience significantly higher rates of psychological abuse—including humiliation, insults, name-calling, and coercive control—than do women overall.
  • More than 20% of Black women are raped during their lifetimes—a higher share than among women overall.

4: Relational, Prophetic Religion

American Christianity

  • Has bone-deep racism and anti-black animus (Robert P. Jones, White Too Long) in most white American churches whose primary (unstated) interests are protecting white supremacy. This worldview—violent, fascist, misogynist, patriarchal, and anti-structural—is profoundly anti-Christian.
  • Has too many racial-ethnic churches captivated by cultures which value authoritarian patriarchal leadership, entertainment, and otherworldliness rather than justice, power, and mercy.

Indifference and cruelty will not lead us to the Kindom of God. However, the Shack Dwellers will! Let’s go see!

5: Some Proof: A Socialist Shalom Community Found in Namibia!

  • I spent 6 months in Namibia (January-June 2010) doing my dissertation research with the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia. The Federation is a nationwide, matriarchal community of 23,423 members (@ 1% of the population) of 751 savings groups made up of very, very low-income African women who, collectively, have saved N$25 million. Together, the women have built 3,488 houses for 6,230 Namibian families [https://sdfn.weebly.com/]. Savings are used to leverage the government for land and infrastructure. The Shack Dwellers strive to build and sustain communities of trust, helpfulness, and goodwill. In the work of clearing land, digging ditches, and building bricks, the women enrich each others’ souls, while also caring for others’ health, nourishment, and cleanliness, building each others’ new homes, thereby living into their calling as ministers of God.

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