Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Power of God" in Social Movements, And What Difference It Makes

Fleming Rutledge, among the first women ordained in the Episcopal church, is one of America's great preachers.  (Check out a video here.)  She proclaims a powerful message of orthodox, evangelical Christianity that involves the transformation of the world.  Here she writes on how social transformations like the civil rights, anti-apartheid, and Solidarity movements have rested on the power of God rather than "the possibilities inherent in human nature":

For some time now, the academic guilds have been moving away from a rationalistic mode of biblical interpretation. This development opens the way for a new appropriation of the conceptual world of the New Testament, in which the presence of the demonic is presupposed. This perspective shapes theo-ethical thinking in two crucial ways: First, it allows Christians to view opponents not as evil in themselves, but as those who are in the grip of external forces. This conviction empowered Martin Luther King in his consistent message that blacks and whites together were in need of deliverance. Second, the worldview that acknowledges the agency of an active Enemy in world events encourages Christians to look for the power of God not only in stories of individual deliverance, but also in the great social movements of our time.

What practical implications does this have?  Well, for example, in the context of exploitative factory conditions,

[i]f we are thinking theologically, we cannot in this illustration cast the corporate bosses as guilty exploiters and the workers as innocent victims. Rather, we see how the Enemy works to seduce and insulate powerful people from perceiving the suffering of their underlings. The bosses of workers in unjust situations are not evil in themselves. They are in bondage to the desire for profit, so that they think of their workers as means to an end, if they think of them at all. Who can loosen such bonds? God alone. Therefore, social action undertaken in the sight of God has the potential to liberate not only the workers but also the bosses, not to mention the activists themselves! This is the uniquely Christian vision based in the knowledge of the power of God for the justification of the ungodly (Rom. 4:5; 5:6).

Rutledge speaks in distinctively Protestant terms, but do these ideas resonate with Catholic themes?



Berg, Thomas | Permalink

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