Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ideologically Speaking

A few decades ago I was the featured speaker during a Sunday Worship service at a community church in Kingston, Jamaica. For my text that morning I chose Psalm 24 verse 1..."The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." The Psalmist was of course being consistent with the worldview expressed in the Book of Deuteronomy where it is written: "Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it."

As a young man seriously preoccupied with issues of Justice, the sentiment expressed in this particular text had a certain resonance with me. It was the 1970s, and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa was generating a profound consciousness of the impact of a cruel system that disenfranchised the inhabitants of a country in which they were the majority. The name Nelson Mandela was well known in my generation, as he had become the face of the struggle against wickedness in our world.

That Sunday as I spoke to this congregation in Kingston, I sought to explore with them the contradictions inherent in a belief system that at once proclaimed the fatherhood of a loving God, while its adherents rationalized the very real inequities found in our social, political, and economic experiences. If we believe in the fatherhood of God, I argued, that then makes us brothers and sisters. As such we have a right to demand a certain quality of relationship with one another, relationships consistent with the nature of our heavenly parentage. What then gives a few of us the right to demand the lion's share of our Creator's endowment, while relegating our divine siblings to a life of poverty?

To further substantiate my point, I drew on The New Testament, specifically the Epistle of John which declares: "God is Love, and all who live in Love live in God, and God lives in them." This same Epistle goes on to hammer home the point that... If a man says he loves God whom he has not seen while he hates his brother whom he can see... That man is a liar! Made sense to me. This was a theological conclusion that nullified all the ideological rationalizations of those who practiced the evil of unbridled greed.

That morning as I stood in the doorway of that church greeting congregants as they exited, a man whom I had known since I was a boy walked up to me with a scowl on his face. I had known him all these years as the mild mannered insurance agent who had come to our home every month to collect the premiums on the policy my mother had purchased through him from a company which was one of the largest of its kind on the island. "You are a communist!" he reprimanded, as he passed me without offering his hand. He was very angry for some reason...Maybe something I had said? His rebuke surprised me... It took me a minute to recompose myself... But I was young and inexperienced in the art of ideological warfare,

Four decades later I have come to realize that the reaction of that mild mannered Christian businessman is pretty much the template for opposing the demand for economic and social justice in our society. "Communist!" is the epithet of choice for those who would deny the demand for equal treatment of all in our society. Anyone, preacher or politician, who dares stand up against the culture of inequity is branded as such in an effort to alienate them from a populace that has deep religious instincts. The obvious contradictions between a culture of greed and a faith that touts the brotherhood of man are thus hidden in the crude fog of what is called "a godless ideology". In the midst of this ideological fog I know this one thing for sure: We cannot own the Earth and its fullness... But we can be good stewards of its bounty. That is how we establish the brotherhood of mankind... And this is our divine calling.

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