Beyond the Wheelchair Ramp

Baloncici / Shutterstock

Baloncini / Shutterstock

RECENTLY, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH moved toward beatifying Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was martyred while presiding at a Mass in El Salvador in 1980. Romero preached that, for the love of God, soldiers and paramilitary forces must stop murdering their brothers and sisters—and he paid with his life. Many have since honored his witness during El Salvador’s civil war as “a voice for the voiceless.” Without a doubt, more of us should take on that mantle.

And yet. Sometimes we are notcalled to be a voice for the voiceless. Sometimes we are called to listen carefully and discover the voices in our midst. Sometimes we are called to consider whether weare the ones preventing voices from being heard.

We are almost 25 years beyond the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and while access is still not all it should be, we need to move beyond the wheelchair ramp. We need to listen to those living with disabilities—as fully human, as fallen and holy, as friends of Christ, as people with abilities, as disciples on the Way.

What is disability? This simple question is not easily answered. There are people living with impairments, a loss of expected physiological form or function. A person missing a leg. A person whose optic nerve did not develop correctly. A person who has sustained a brain injury. The disability refers to the consequences of an impairment: loss of walking, blindness, memory issues. Handicap, in turn, refers to the societal disadvantage resulting from an impairment.

But when talking to people living with disabilities, those clear-cut categories become muddy. Some embrace the term “disability” as a simple aspect of who they are, a way of describing their lives and advocating for societal change. Others reject the term, saying they perceive no negative consequences from their impairments, only positives. Others fear the term and simply do not use it.

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Coming in From the Cold

JON SOBRINO LAUGHS ever so slightly at my question. His office in the Monseñor Romero Center in San Salvador is a paper cavern, a place where a theological archeologist digging to understand the highs and the lows of liberation movements within the church would find a mother lode of artifacts.

Where is liberation theology going from here under Pope Francis? Sobrino, perhaps one of the most prolific liberation theologians, is thin and thoughtful. He considers his words: Liberation theology is a way of thinking about how a Christian must live—in active, engaged struggle for the flourishing of all life. Liberation is the primary movement of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of those baptized into the life, death, and ministry of Jesus Christ to live this out, immediately and urgently.

In March 2013, when Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Sobrino’s fellow Jesuit, became pope, liberation theologians and practitioners took a deep collective breath—what would happen next?

The popes of the 1980s and ’90s had removed all support for the promoters of liberation theology who had lived out the “preferential option for the poor,” born from Vatican II and the 1968 Medellín conference of Latin American bishops. The church’s identification with the poor was a direct strike against the closed oligarchic structures that had strangled the lands and peoples since the European conquest.

The oligarchy, which controlled governments and armies, struck back. The Latin American oligarchic wars created countless liberation Christian martyrs.

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Stop Using God to Justify Abuse

I HAD AN EXPERIENCE with a young man who was having difficulty in seminary, having difficulty with his wife. His wife was a flight attendant, so they had limited time together. He came pounding on my door one morning.

“I’ve got to talk to you,” he said, “because I want you to hear it from me before you hear it from somebody else. I don’t want you to put me out of school. Me and my wife are through.”

“Well, come in. Tell me, what’s going on.”

“Last night, we had a fight and she got upset and she told me that, even when she was there, I wasn’t.”

“What happened?”

“I had to show her,” he said. “I got my Bible and I showed her that I am about God’s work. God comes first and you, wife, come second.”

“What did she say?”

“She said, ‘You and your God can go to hell!’ You know I don’t need a woman like that in my life! I need somebody that’s going to support me in my ministry.”

I said, “You didn’t hear what she said. What she said was, You and yougo to hell. Because your God is you. Because you told her, ‘There are no legitimate needs or desires or feelings in this house other than mine.’”

“Well, what could I have said?”

“You use God to create a hierarchy in your relationship: God first, family second, church third. But God does away with all that. Once God is at the center, every aspect of my existence is informed by my relationship with God. You could say, ‘Because God is at the center, you will never have to be second to anyone. Because I want to love you the way God wants you loved.’ We’ve got to flip this thing so we stop using God to justify abuse.”                          

 —John W. Kinney
From a story told at The Summit 2014, an annual convening of leaders by Sojourners.

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The Slippery Slope of 'Snakeology'

RECENTLY, several highly publicized events of domestic violence have reminded us of the epidemic proportions of relational abuse. While the focus has been on athletes, abuse has taken place from the halls of Congress to the pulpits of churches. We have also experienced, particularly from church leaders, a vocal outcry against such abuse.

This outcry, however, remains superficial, shallow, and disingenuous if we are not willing to challenge some of our dominant theological assumptions that provide the conceptual framework for the maintenance of this abuse.

Many of the early church fathers affirmed the subservient and secondary status of women and even encouraged the “control” and “forceful instruction” of women in order to maintain conformance to what they saw as God’s “relational design.” Even today, some promise to affirm women only as long as they stay in their “God-ordained place.” In other words, women can expect “favor” only when they remain defined by and conformed to a “divinely” decreed order and hierarchy.

Tragically, this hierarchy is established by the curse and the culture—not the creation and certainly not the Christ. When the curse and the culture establish our doctrine, we embrace “snakeology,” not theology. This snakeology distorts the character of God, relationships, authentic manhood, and authentic womanhood.

The revelation of God in creation, Christ, and the Holy Spirit invites us all to experience the breaking of the bonds of the Fall and to celebrate the liberating truth in God’s self-disclosive expressions. The celebration can commence with a return to our beginnings.

THE TESTIMONIES OF the creative event recorded in Genesis provide a core principle related to God’s intent and desire for human relationships, the developing family, and the human community. Men and women are called into a relationship characterized by mutuality, reciprocity, and shared responsibility.

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Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

ORTHODOXY AND orthopraxy—strange theological words from Sojourners’ past.  But I was recently thinking back to the theology with which Sojourners began—43 years ago—and how it is still so central and fundamental to me today.

I remember the word that we so often used back in our formative days: “and.” As young Christians, we said our fledgling little movement was committed to evangelism and social justice, prayer and peacemaking, spirituality and politics, personal and public transformation, contemplation and activism, real salvation and real social change, orthodoxy and orthopraxy—which means starting with a biblical and Christ-centered personal faith and then living and practicing that faith in the world—in ways that changed both our own lives and public life. “And” was our big word in a church that was so divided and polarized. Another way we expressed it was calling for a “third way” beyond conservative and liberal, evangelical and mainline.

I want to refer back to some of the earliest expressions of our critique of both the conservative and liberal theologies of the time. Please forgive some of the passionate and movement language from the later 1960s and early ’70s (and the generic “male” language), but this was written when I was 23, in 1971! Yet the heart of the editorial commitment expressed so long ago remains true of Sojourners today:

We contend that the new vision that is necessary is to be found in radical Christian faith that is grounded in commitment to Jesus Christ. ... The offense of established religion is the proclamation and practice of a caricature of Christianity so enculturated, domesticated, and lifeless that our generation easily and naturally rejects it as ethically insensitive, hypocritical, and irrelevant to the needs of our times.

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Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute/RNS.

A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

One in the Lord

MULTIRACIAL CHURCHES are becoming more common in this country—but that doesn’t happen by chance.

A 2010 study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, based on a random sample of more than 11,000 congregations, revealed an increase in multiracial congregations in the U.S.—30 percent of churches reported that more than half of their members were part of minority groups.

Members of three multiracial churches in and near the nation’s capital—one Catholic, one Methodist, and one nondenominational—say that at their church “people don’t look the same, or think that much about it,” and describe their congregations as welcoming places “where you can feel God’s presence, where you can be yourself.”

Though Sunday worship time is still known as “the most segregated hour in America,” older members of churches such as Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, D.C., St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Md., and Culmore United Methodist Church in Falls Church, Va., remember when things started changing. As migration and demographic shifts altered neighborhoods and communities, members sought to engage in “desegregated” worship, opting to join communities that mirrored a world with different cultures and ways to praise God.

Reconciling Divisions
Dave Cho, a Korean-American who started attending Peace Fellowship Church in 2008 with his family, said he felt welcomed by Dennis Edwards, the founding pastor.

“Rev. Edwards’ philosophy is to reach out to people on the margins,” Cho said. “We didn’t know anybody. About 60 percent [of the congregants] were African American. We didn’t have much in common other than our faith.”

Faith was enough. Even though Peace Fellowship, a small, nondenominational community in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C., did not set out to be a multiracial church, it welcomes everyone.

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Waiting for the Music

Cienpies Design/

Cienpies Design/

I am waiting for the music to return — the sonorous graces of laughter and kitchen clinking, of bird call on the hillside. 

I am waiting for the music to return — the precarious arrangement of hope and memory that uplifts and guides. 

I am waiting for the music to return — the band, the orchestra, the seisiún, the jam, the people who make and craft sound.

Instead, I am stranded in an eschatological posture like pause on my mp3 player. The Wifi Spirit does not respond and even if I could connect, the playlist I have randomized is sore lacking. I miss the people who make these sounds. I miss their voices. 

Faith is a Verb - A Theology of Love


Love and faith need to be verbs. oneinchpunch/

There is a line in the famous movie Ben Hur in which one of his relatives goes to hear Jesus speak. She comes back enthralled. The way she describes Jesus is by saying that he is like no one she has ever met before, that he speaks words of life. And so he did. The Gospel writers add that he spoke as one who had authority. The Message version interprets this as meaning he lived out what he spoke.

Our lives have the most impact when we live what we speak. Jesus of course is the perfect example of this. For 2,000 years he has captivated people of all races and colors. There is something about this man that is like no other. He speaks words of life and he lived those same words. He loved his enemies, he walked the extra mile, he denied himself, took up his cross and lived a life of obedience to the Father.

Our lives speak, whether we like it or not, and whether we think so or not. We are either speaking life or we are speaking death. We all have a worldview.