Guest Post: Mark Davies

Fighting Theocracy

With reproductive justice under attack, “don’t say gay” laws gaining traction, and a warped view of religious freedom threatening civil rights; the real possibility of theocracy is at our doorstep, and the Supreme Court of the United States can no longer be counted on to stop it. It is critical that we understand what gives rise to theocratic movements and what can be done to stop the increasing influence of theocratic visions and practices within our society.

Persons who want a theocracy are looking for a way to create a facade of divine support for oppressing anyone they deem the “other.” People who promote theocracy do so in order to create a society of people who tend to look like them, believe like them, and worship like them. The spirit of theocracy is the antithesis of a pluralistic democratic society. Every movement towards theocracy is simultaneously a movement away from democracy.

Autocrats count on religious fervor to justify the weakening of democratic institutions and processes in exchange for advances to the cause of a particular religious vision for society. Ironically, theocrats who argue that society ought to be ruled directly by God are almost always willing to make a deal with the devil of autocracy to further what they mistakenly believe are divine causes. They move quickly to the practice of using any means necessary to bring about their desired results. These means include weakening democratic institutions and processes to accomplish the results they are looking for.

Theocracy is a tool of autocrats to provide the appearance of divine justification for their destruction of democratic institutions and processes for the maintenance and expansion of their power. Most of the major autocratic movements of our time appeal to some form of theocratic vision to manipulate the masses to support them. Putin, Trump, Orbán, Erdoğan, Modi, and even Xi Jinping all appeal to elements of divine authority/religious authority to justify their autocratic forms of governing. Putin of Russia, Trump, and Orbán of Hungary all appeal to forms of Christian Nationalism, Erdogan of Turkey appeals to Islamic nationalism, Modi of India taps into Hindu Nationalism, and Xi Jinping of China functions as the equivalent of a divine representation of the religion of the state. Each leader has used a kind of theocratic vision to expand or attempt to expand their autocratic hold on power. It is not surprising that these leaders take on a type of divine status in the eyes of the citizens who support them.

Autocracy and its use of religious fervor for the establishment of theocracy are deeply intertwined with the desire to maintain and strengthen patriarchy. Theocratic autocracies are always and everywhere horrific for the role and status of women in society.

Theocratic autocracies are inherently anti-democratic, anti-Women, anti-any religion other than the one supported by the state, and anti-LGBTQIA+. They also typically show very little concern for the well being of the natural environment. To put it succinctly, theocracies are a nightmare for both people and the planet, and they actually have very little or nothing to do with God or authentic religious expression.

Here In the United States, our typical theocratic brand is Christian fundamentalist extremism, which is being used by people like Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon, Franklin Graham, and many others to tear apart the very social fabric of our country in an attempt to create some kind of theocratic Christian state; and it seems this movement will justify almost anything to pursue its causes, including a violent attack on our nation’s Capitol in an attempt to overthrow a duly elected government. In its embrace of authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and practices; it resembles something more and more like a fascist movement than a religion of love and justice. If this is left unchecked, we will experience continued and increasing violence and injustice, much of which will be done in the name of religion.

Our current situation is tragic on many levels, but one of the saddest things for me is that in the name of Christianity, fundamentalist extremism is taking people farther and farther from the loving and just ways of Jesus in this world and is dividing us through fear and hate rather than uniting us in Beloved Community. Religion is being used to imprison and manipulate rather than renew the human spirit to care for people and the planet, and I believe that would make Jesus weep.

What then can be done to stop the increasing influence of theocratic visions and practices within our society? The only way to stop theocracy is for us to be as persistent in protecting and preserving the institutions of democracy as the theocrats are in weakening and destroying them (at every level – from the school board to the Supreme Court and from the city council to the presidency). It is also the responsibility of every religious leader and every person who believes in genuine religious freedom and a pluralistic democracy to speak out against the dangers of theocracy. This is no time for apathy. It is the time for vigorous action to protect democracy for sake of beloved and diverse community.

Love, In a Nutshell

This picture, “Love, in a Nutshell,” goes with the words below that my clergy colleague Elizabeth Brick wrote in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

Abortion is an issue that I have deep feelings about, due to my faith and to my own personal experience. I’m not going to write in-depth about these things today. What is important right now is to make clear that I stand as pro-choice because everyone has the right to make their own personal decisions, as I have had. It’s not my business.

The lawmakers in states making rigid anti-abortion laws certainly don’t have the general wellbeing in mind, or the wellbeing of children, as is made clear by high levels of child poverty and lack of universal health care and refusal to take meaningful action on gun violence. I can see that the end of Roe vs. Wade will have terrible consequences and will continue to bring desperation and misery. I remember those days and will stand with the others in support of freedom of choice.

Here are the words that go with this picture, words to which I commit:

“I will drive you to your medical procedure, no matter what it is, and I will care for you afterward if you need, because this is what love looks like.

“I will legally solemnize your relationship if you seek to be married, no matter your gender or gender identity, because I have been granted this beautiful, legal privilege by the state, by virtue of my ordination.

“I will support you in your decision-making, your grief-processing, and your anger-managing, because it is the very least we can do for each other in these days of discrimination, fear, and strife.

“I will be there for you, as you have been here for me, as together we will be there for others, because this is what healthy community looks like.

“This is how we continue to create, grow, and nurture a world of mutuality, compassion, and joy not just for ourselves, but also for those who follow behind us.”

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Online Book Launch Event

This online Launch Day Event celebrating the release of my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation, was hosted by Richenda Fairhurst on June 14 as part of the Multifaith Climate Cafe. This event focuses primarily on Chapter 4, “Creation Crucified: The Passion of the Earth.”  The host, Richenda Fairhurst, wrote an article and created video excerpts of our discussion, which begins as follows:

The Cross in the Midst of Creation is Rev. Delgado’s third book, following Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, now in a Second Edition, and Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice. The books comprise a trilogy twenty years in the making. The first book rose from faith-based activism, the second expanded into an overview of climate change based on John Wesley’s (Methodism’s primary founder and theologian) teachings on Social Holiness. With this latest book, Rev. Delgado moves into the very core of Christianity, the theology of the cross.

The story of the cross is at the center this new book, and of Christian faith and belief. From the beginning, there were many Christianities, many claiming to be the ‘only’ true faith. These many traditions reflect a garden of thought, love, and faithful expression. But there are also times when interpretations gain hold in ways that are violent and destructive. Theologies of empire, starting with Emperor Constantine, have historically taken us on paths of destruction. And today, as we see life destroyed where it should be flourishing, Rev. Delgado wants to call us back to the cross to try again to understand the deep revelation rising for this moment.

Rev. Delgado spoke about her love for creation as an essential reason for writing this book. But she also writes with a sense of grief and urgency. “I think, the final thing that got me to write [The Cross in the Midst of Creation] was the way that [the theology of the cross] was being distorted—the way the story of the cross is being misused.” It is deeply troubling to Rev. Delgado that “it’s been used in that way to promote the very values that Jesus rejected, the values of status, wealth, and worldly power—the opposite values of Jesus.”

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Anthropocentrism and Deep Incarnation

“The Spirit in me greets the Spirit in you, Halleluiah. God’s in us and we’re in God, Halleluiah.” — Hymn by Jim and Jeanne Strathdee

This post is an excerpt from “Creation Crucified: The Passion of the Earth,” which is Chapter 4 of my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation. This book makes the case that the crucifixion is ongoing as powers similar to the ones that crucified Jesus are at work today harming human lives and destroying creation, and that the resurrection is ongoing as people of every faith and philosophical conviction rise in courage in the struggle for a transformed world. The Multifaith Climate Cafe is hosting a Book Launch Event on Tuesday, June 14, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, during which time I will speak about this chapter.

Western civilization, including Western Christianity, has been built upon an anthropocentric worldview that has enabled the plundering and despoiling of God’s world. An example for today comes from megachurch conservative pastor and bestselling author John McArthur. In a sermon refuting global warming and supporting the idea of stewardship for the purpose of extracting everything we can for use by human beings, he said, “God intended us to use this planet, to fill this planet for the benefit of man. Never was it intended to be a permanent planet. It is a disposable planet. Christians ought to know that.” 1

If we see the natural world as intended simply for human use and consumption, we lose sight of the interrelationships with the rest of creation that make us human and deny the spirit of God within us and within all. By discarding our privileged and outdated anthropocentric perspective, we may recognize creation’s intrinsic value and the presence of God in all parts of creation. One way of expressing this is through the concept of deep incarnation.

Many Scriptures point to the reality of an inner dimension of nature in which all creatures participate. Psalm 19:1 proclaims, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” Job said, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job 12:7– 9). Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt 10:29). These passages point to a God who is intimately present throughout creation, not solely to human beings, but to other-than-human beings as well.

Understanding God as immanent within creation is not the same as pantheism, for it also acknowledges the transcendent aspect of God. The spirit of God is deeply present throughout creation but is not confined within creation. In fact, it’s just the opposite, for “in [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This way of understanding the relationship between God and the physical universe has been called panentheism, which is differentiated from pantheism as follows: “In panentheism, the universal spirit is present everywhere, which at the same time ‘transcends’ all things created. While pantheism asserts that ‘all is God,’ panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe.” The Strathdee hymn quoted above that proclaims “God’s in us and we’re in God, Halleluiah” applies not only to us but to all parts of creation. This is a view of God as all in all, as Ground of Being, Ultimate Reality, Unfathomable Love, not exclusive to any religion. John Wesley referred to this “omnipresent” God as “the Soul of the universe.”2

The astounding claim of Christianity is that this God, who both transcends and is immanent within creation, was made known to us in a unique way in Jesus. “God was in Christ,” living a Spirit- infused life, suffering and dying at the hands of the powers, raised to new life by God. The Gospel of John refers to the concept of incarnation when it announces, “The Word became flesh [sarx in Greek] and lived among us” (John 1:14). This emphasizes the coming of God to us in human form in a way that we humans can comprehend. The revelation of Jesus Christ created a paradigm shift in our understanding of divine- human relationships by revealing the all- encompassing love and eternal presence of Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23).

The concept of deep incarnation expands on this understanding to encompass all creation as the dwelling place of God. Elizabeth A. Johnson explains, “Deep incarnation understands John’s gospel to be saying that the sarx [flesh] that the Word of God became not only weds Jesus Christ to other human beings in the human species; it also reaches beyond us to join the incarnate one to the whole evolving biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they are composed.”3 This idea corrects the misunderstanding that human beings are isolated individuals and reconnects us to the network of interrelationships that make us human. Not even Jesus was separate from the web of relationships that constitute human and all other life on planet earth, the very web that is being undone today.

The Word became not only human flesh but all flesh and dwelt not only among human beings but among all parts of creation not just since the time of Jesus of Nazareth but eternally, throughout all time and space. This expanded view reveals the presence of the universal Spirit in the depths of matter, the love that exists at the heart of the universe, the divine presence in all creation, and the love of God that even death cannot conquer. This idea that God is made flesh in myriad forms affirms the intrinsic value of creation as a dwelling place for God.

  1. Paul Braterman, “God Intended It as a Disposable Planet: Meet the US Pastor Preaching Climate Change Denial,” The Conversation, October 12, 2020, https:// theconversation .com/ god -intended -it -as -a -disposable -planet -meet -the -us -pastor -preaching -climate -change -denial -147712.
  2. Wesley, Sermon 23, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon,” 1:516– 17.
  3. Elizabeth A. Johnson, Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2018), 186.

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My New Books Have Arrived!

 

Hi Friends,

My new books are finally here: 100 copies of The Cross in the Midst of Creation. The official launch day is June 14, but I ordered these from Fortress, and they were delivered early.  Hooray!

Although I signed the contract for this book in May of 2020, it has been in the works for years. In 2017 I published a Lenten blog series, A Lenten Call to Resist, with posts that included summaries of several of its primary themes. From then on, even as I was publishing and giving presentations on my other books, I returned to this writing project as my spiritual focus and discipline each year during the season of Lent.

But my passion for the topics in this book go back much farther than that. The scriptural foundation for this work, the first two chapters of First Corinthians, is also the foundation of my spiritual journey and my life. These are the passages that triggered in me a spiritual experience that propelled me directly into preparations in the United Methodist Church for ordained ministry, with a specialized focus on peace, justice, and the healing of creation. These passages motivate me to continue seeking “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden” (1 Cor 2:7) and to challenge the “wisdom of this age” and “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6) as Jesus did in his day, although it led them to crucify him (1 Cor 2:8). If you read this book, you will see how these themes are integral to a participatory view of the gospel that leads to both personal and social transformation.

If you wonder whether you want to read this book, read a short summary here. Also, check out several initial endorsers here. They include climate activist Bill McKibben, theologians Catherine Keller and Ched Meyers, Sojourners Editor Rose Marie Berger, and many others. If you read it and think others would find the book valuable, please help me get the word out:

  1. Write a two or three sentence review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites.
  2. Recommend it on your social media platforms.
  3. Request the book at your local library or local bookstore.
  4. Recommend the book to three people you know who would appreciate the message.

I will post info about upcoming book launch events. Thank you for your ongoing support.

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