Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Standing with the Outsider

From its earliest days, Christianity was the religion of outsiders. It was in its earliest moments a radical Jewish sect that stood on the side of the marginalized. It garnered opposition from the religious leaders who feared its reach into the populace. The Romans at first just feared any group that threatened order. Over time the Romans opposed the growing church because it declared primary allegiance to Jesus and not to the emperor. It did this by refusing to worship the emperor. Something happened in 310 AD. Constantine made a bargain with the church -- state sponsorship in exchange for church support. No longer was the church on the margins, it had made it into the halls of power. So different from the early days. When Jesus made it into the halls of power it was as a prisoner on his way to an execution. The same would be true of his followers.

So, what should we think of power and systems?

Going back to Peter Rollins' book, Fidelity of Betrayal, I'm struck by his reflections on the Christian calling to stand with those on the outside. After telling the parable of a man who goes before St. Peter and discovers that only Christians get to go in, he, a Christian, chooses to remain outside in solidarity with those excluded -- which apparently made St. Peter happy.

He writes:

The point that is being made here is that Christianity, as a religion without religion, always resists being implicated in the dominant ideological systems within society by seeking to stand with those who dwell outside of them. As religion without religion Christianity's ir/religious expression cannot be reduced to a tightly held worldview without being effaced, for it is expressed fundamentally in the texture of one's life particularly in relation to the poor and oppressed. Is this not the deep insight expressed in James 2:26 when we read that faith without deeds is dead?

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is all well and good to assert that Christianity arose in opposition to power and systems, but when Christianity becomes the religion of those in power, it confronts a new circumstance, one that cannot be denied or reversed - we are where we are; now what does Christianity do about it? About its position of dominance, its status as institution, and its power to effect results.

What do Christians do? What does Christianity as an organism/institution do?

Christianity is no longer the prophetic Nathan, Christianity has become the royal David.

To continue with the analogy, how does the king stand with the outsider who is perceived to be dedicated not just to overthrowing the king, but overthrowing the kingdom?

On a more pedestrian and personal level, in being called to stand with the outsider, we are called to work out how Christians, as admitted publicans/insiders, bridge the gap between ourselves and the sinner/outsider?

Must the "outsider" become an "insider"? Do we expand the definition of "insider"? Do we develop a paradigm where the contrast remains in place and we find a way to stand with the outsider? Is this possible without some degree of hypocrisy: if we cared that much about the outsider would we not invite them in, share the wealth? Does out failure to invite them in reflect an ambivalence toward our calling, a half-heartedness - about the value of the outsider - about the validity of our position?

Restated the problem differently is the contrast the message to the rich young man ('sell all you own, give the money to the poor and follow me') and the message of the story of Zacchaeus who repents and becomes a follower yet retains half of his wealth. Which course is a truly committed follower to take?

John