This is an interview of me by Ted Peters, whose systematic theology classes in the late 80s were among my favorites. Ted pursues Public Theology at the intersection of science, religion, ethics, and public policy. He is an emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union, where he co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, He is the author of many books. Here is Part 1 of the interview, which appears on Patheos, where Ted has been interviewing “public theologians” from around the world. See also Part 2, The Ecotheology of Sharon Delgado.
Link to the article here: Cross, Creation, and The Powers–The Public Theology of Sharon Delgado
Sharon Delgado: Pastor, Theologian, Activist. If you have not met Sharon Delgado or read her works, you’re in for a treat. Sharon incarnates what it means to be a progressive Christian like a freshly ripened peach incarnates heavenly nectar.
I first met Sharon when she was writing her master’s thesis on environmental ethics in Berkeley, where I teach. Sharon was a pastor in the United Methodist Church, ready to sound the trumpet. She was ready to call those Methodists to wake up and smell the roses beneath the stench of air pollution. First, the Methodists. Then, the world.
Today, Sharon Delgado is founder and director of Earth Justice Ministries. Along the way she’s authored gripping theological books and blog posts that will knock your socks off. Sharon follows Jesus, prays, preaches, marches, and makes a joyful noise that disturbs the powers of domination. Sharon is an activist who teaches the way of Jesus by example.
Sharon, you are a Progressive Christian. What does “progressive Christian” mean?
My blog, Progressive Christian Social Action, is an expression of public theology or “street theology,” written to engage people in church and beyond in dialogue about social issues and the common good from the perspective of Christian faith. So yes, I am a progressive Christian, but that category is broad; it includes people with a variety of spiritual experiences and beliefs. The definition on the Progressive Christianity website is simple and clear: “Progressive Christianity is an open, intelligent and collaborative approach to the Christian tradition and the life and teachings of Jesus that creates a pathway into an authentic and relevant religious experience.”
I more often think of myself as a follower of Jesus, whose passion for the reign of God led to his confrontation with the powers and to his death. The spiritual path I seek to follow is informed by Jesus’s life and teachings as portrayed in scripture, by the presence of the risen Christ, and by the tangible activity of the Holy Spirit, which I understand to be universally present throughout creation as “the Soul of the universe” (John Wesley).
I am convinced that faith requires an open mind. People from all walks of life have been my teachers. What I have learned from biblical scholarship, varied spiritual traditions, evidence-based science, and other fields of inquiry is integrated into my work. People of many spiritual paths and secular philosophies live in ways that express the Love that undergirds creation and embody hope through their compassionate and just actions. In my organizing for peace, justice, and the regeneration of creation, I seek community and solidarity with anyone who has similar goals, especially with those most impacted by the violence and injustice of our time.
My writings point to faith that inspires action in response to the social issues of our day. I emphasize what God can do in and through us to bring about both personal and social transformation. This emphasis is a remedy for the apathy, paralysis, and despair that so many people feel when considering the multiple crises we face in our world today.
Sharon, you are an activist. What specific social action matters do you personally deal with?
My activism has always been an expression of my faith. I began campaigning against nuclear weapons in the late 1970s, soon after I had come to Christ and been baptized. The first time I was arrested for civil disobedience was at the Nevada test site following a Good Friday service there. I was the mother of young children at the time. One morning when my husband and children were out, I was listening to a cassette tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological impacts of nuclear war on Hiroshima survivors. I identified with the people she was describing and imagined my own family in that situation. Suddenly a thought struck me, and I fell to my knees: “What must God feel about what we humans are doing to each other?” To this day I believe that God is deeply grieved by the harm we inflict on our human family and the rest of creation, and by the institutions and systems we support that perpetuate such harm.
Now I am a grandmother, and the issues I address still feel personal to me, especially because our choices today disproportionately impact our young and will extend generations into the future. I continue to give priority to existential threats to creation, primarily climate change, and to identify with people who are on the receiving end of injustice and violence. I contribute what I can from a faith perspective to furthering the movement for climate justice, but this is deeply connected to my work promoting participatory democracy that can lead to systemic change. This has led me to a decades-long focus on the corporate domination of our political and global institutions, and more recently to the dangers posed by anti-democratic forces such as white Christian nationalism, amplification of “the Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, and the widespread restriction of voting rights.
I also continue to work on issues of peacemaking, racial justice, LGBTQ+ inclusion, Indigenous rights and the rights of nature, and other issues as they present themselves. Right now, I am working with a coalition in my small Northern California town to stop the reopening of an old gold mine that would almost double the carbon footprint of our area. Whatever the specific issue, I show the connections between today’s social, economic, and environmental concerns and the institutional powers that perpetuate them. I seek to awaken people to what is at stake in this historical moment and inspire them to take action that is proportional to the perils we face. To me, this means working to build a grassroots peoples’ movement that has power to bring about systemic transformation. In the words of climate activist Bill McKibben, “If we can build a movement, then we have a chance.”
You are quite concerned about Christian nationalism. What is Christian nationalism? What do you perceive are its dangers? What does a movement like this do to classic Christian symbols?
The cross is the primary symbol of Christian faith, yet people understand its meaning in different and sometimes contradictory ways. In The Cross in the Midst of Creation, I critique ancient atonement theories and the crass ways they are expressed today, the theological cruelty that uses scripture to justify harsh and unjust policies, and the teachings of Christian nationalism. These portrayals of Christianity are often deterministic, situating God at the top of worldly systems of power. They reflect the values of status, wealth, and power over others, the very values that Jesus rejected. Instead, I suggest a process of open inquiry and discernment grounded in prayer and based on biblical metaphors, including the stories of Jesus, that reflect a God who is with those who are “at the bottom” and are suffering at the hands of worldly systems of power, as Jesus did, a God of compassion, justice, inclusion, reconciliation, and peace.
Today’s Christian nationalism links patriotism, white supremacy, and domination backed by violence with claims of God’s blessing upon the United States as a chosen (Christian) nation. It assumes Christian superiority and supports Christian hegemony as good, right, and normal. From the perspective of Christian nationalism, being American and being Christian are inseparable, and only by safeguarding our “Anglo-Protestant” roots will we protect our identity and freedom as Americans. Such views lead to discrimination and sometimes fuel violence against religious and racial minorities, the nonreligious, LGBTQ+ people, and others. This is the antithesis of the gospel.
The violence of Christian nationalism was demonstrated when rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. On display were several large crosses, Bibles, and other Christian symbols that were used (alongside symbols of violent hate groups) as religious justification for violent actions in support of antidemocratic nationalism and white supremacy. Using religious symbols in these ways misleads people, misrepresents God, and fosters moral confusion. The white supremacist message of Christian nationalism is a distortion and misuse of the message of Jesus. Instead of truth it offers a lie, instead of healing it causes harm, instead of peace it brings violence, instead of love it promotes hate. It turns the good news of Jesus into bad news and brings further violence, injustice, and oppression to those who are already suffering.
In The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone offers an antidote to such distortions when he writes, “The real scandal of the gospel is this: humanity’s salvation is revealed in the cross of the condemned criminal Jesus, and humanity’s salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst.” As followers of the nonviolent and compassionate Jesus, we are called to repent, resist, and advocate for those who are being crucified on the cross of white supremacy and other forms of dominating violence today.
 James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 160.
 “Bill McKibben to Obama: Say No to Big Oil,” interview on Moyers and Company (Feb. 7, 2014).
 John Wesley, from Sermon 23, ‘3rd Discourse on the Sermon on the Mount,’ (I:11).