Both Bonhoeffer and Cone talk about seeing the world from below, a Christology from below. They argue in their own ways that the Jesus we follow (or worship) is the one who was pushed out of society and onto the cross, who was despised and marginalized, who ended his life in powerlessness.
We, of the Christian west, are not used to thinking in powerless terms. We live daily with certain expectations. If the electricity fails, we expect that it will come back on. If we run out of food, we know that there will be more food on the shelves of the local supermarket. We can even run out of money and find more—loans, friends, family. We believe that justice will be done if we are wrongly accused. We trust our government to work properly, to defend our rights, to protect us from harm.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder what on earth religious faith is for in America! Certainly we all have personal pain and needs. Prayer and spiritual practices do help us to cope with those parts of ourselves. And perhaps that is its chief function—it offers a touchstone for the anxiety of postmodern life, in spite of the fact that our physical well-being is assured.
But if we think about Jesus as being identified with the politically and socially marginalized, it is now like a thunder clap of insight for me to think, "Who are the marginalized in my midst?" If I am not one of them, then shouldn't I be looking for who they are? I suppose evangelicalism would have classified the marginalized as those without Christ. Everyone (rich or poor) qualify as "poor in spirit."
Yet in reading Cone, I'm challenged to ask if there isn't some insidious misuse of religious faith at work that actually smothers the impulse for advocacy for the ones who suffer at the hands of all the institutions we take for granted as righteous, good and supportive. Is it possible that by focusing on the eternal condition of souls, we give people a way to ignore the troubling conditions of life as it is lived, here, on earth if you don't happen to be in the privileged set?
I read an article last semester by Sister Diana Ortiz. She was a victim of torture that was supervised by the CIA in Guatemala in November of 1989. She found it impossible to understand why Americans weren't outraged by the discovery of what she had gone through. I'm at a loss to understand it myself. Yet the truth is that she suffered in a way unthinkable for many of us and we are not moved to action or critique.
The most common responses to my comments about possible social injustices on the places I post are: defending the conditions of that era, the minimizing of the participation of the groups we come from, the suggestion that the future success of that group depends on their initiative.
Is Cone on track or is he over-reaching? Have the twisted "Christian" values that enabled western Christians to practice centuries of racism (against blacks and Jews and Muslims) left us a legacy of faith that is detached from suffering because it has been in the habit of dominance?
I wonder now if the evangelical emphasis on heaven and personal morality (rather than social justice) is a direct descendant of a deeply damaged and sinful faith, the kind that could be married to oppressive power without batting an eye. Today's Christians are so used to not seeing the hypocrisy of power-laden Christianity that they defend the current version of the faith as the orthodox and true version. Cone says, "No, this can't be." He demands that white Christians look again at the ways in which they have twisted the Gospel to suit their advantages.
That's why he can say that those who owned slaves could not possibly be Christians.
What do you think?