Developing a Theological Vision for Social Change

By August 13, 2015TL

Excerpted from an essay by Jakada Imani, the Director of PSR’s Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation

The need for social and spiritual transformation is more critical now than ever before. It is important that we grasp the moment we now face to fully appreciate the peril and potential of the current age.

Most indicators underscore this point: the U.S. has the largest income gap ofany industrialized nation; many of our communities have become re-segregated along class and racial lines; there are over 7 million people under correctional control in our prisons; America has been waging two major wars (and many “little ones”) for more than ten years. Perhaps most troubling, the hottest 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have been since 1998.

The current economic and social systems are oppressive, exploitative, and fundamentally altering our planet in ways that will have long-term, devastating consequences. These structures are maintained by time-tested method of “divide and conquer.”  A “zero-sum game” only works if there is scarcity, whether it is real or perceived, and where there is an “us” and “them.”

At least two theological postures or assumptions fuel this current moment of challenge and opportunity. The first we might call “pop theology,” or what many people in the U.S. tend to believe rather unconsciously. One of the strongest tenets of today’s pop theology is the notion that the way things are is simply the way that God made them to be, including all the ways our society is stratified by the “undeserving poor” and the “deserving rich.”

A second explicitly theological posture, related to the first, is this: the mistaken belief that our differences reflect a divine plan to remain separate. Human beings tend to confuse what makes each of us distinct from one another to mean that we are and should be separate from one another and indeed from the rest of the world around us. This mistake leads to a host of horrific outcomes: racism, sexism, war, extreme poverty, and genocide, not to mention planetary-wide ecological disaster.

These theological problems demand theological solutions. And this will mean examining closely our various understandings of God, who humans are in relationship with and to God, and how God would have us live. In this way we can develop a self-aware and not merely an unconscious theology. We need, and urgently, a theology that respects the intrinsic dignity of all life on this planet. And I believe a range of theological traditions provides compelling sources for this approach, an approach to correct our mistaken ideas about God and thus transform the root causes of social and ecological devastation that threatens the future of all life on the planet Earth.

This great work could begin both modestly and profoundly with the three Abrahamic traditions, all of which share the opening words of Genesis in common: “In the beginning, God…”

These four simple words can be the anchor for a “reverence movement” that promotes respect for all of God’s creation. If we root our understanding in the truth that the entire universe is a divine expression of God, then everyone and everything we see is God manifest. None of it is throw-away. We are always in the presence of God to the degree we are conscious of it. If a theology for social transformation begins there and stays rooted there, we can work collectively to create shared prosperity, a fundamentally just society, and a sustainable ecology for our planet.

There are already thousands of organizations working to solve social ills. We have email lists, micro enterprises, online crowd-source funding platforms, Facebook, Twitter, blogs – all of these give us the ability to reach thousands of people in a moment’s notice. In addition there are more and more socially-engaged spiritual practitioners who are weaving together the “beloved community” in church basements, community gardens, clearings in the woods and start-ups.

Places all over the country are lifting people up, rebuilding hope, working to increase the peace, train new leaders who can lead with their whole self and live into a different vision of life. Places like: Urban Peace Movement, Pachamama Alliance, Home Boy Industries, Impact Hub Oakland, the National Day Labors Alliance. These and so many more are working out what it means to be with people and the world in a way that honors our intrinsic interconnection.

All of these are base camps for social transformation and we need strong spiritual practices and carefully honed theological ideas to expand these camps into an even broader movement for the thriving and flourishing of all.

Theology alone will not save us. But theologically informed and spiritually rooted leaders can help to lead us into a brighter future. That’s exactly what inspires me about PSR’s new Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation. Please join us – the future is now.

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