5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

Fifth Post in a Blog Series on the Christian Right

This series of posts on The Christian Right includes excerpts from my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World. If you Contact me with the words “free chapter,” I will send you a free chapter of the book.

The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

“Whether one is oppressed or privileged, structures and spirits like white supremacy, patriarchy, and domination are within us, embedded invisibly in our psyches. Name them and pray them out.”                                             Bill Wylie- Kellermann

The conventional wisdom, or “wisdom of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:6), is based on the values of status and hierarchy, the idolatry of money, and belief in worldly power backed up by violence. These often-unconscious values are at odds with those of Jesus; they express the opposite of his teachings and example, yet they are pervasive in our culture, including in our churches. They are promoted by the Christian Right and used to support Christian Nationalism, expressions of Christianity that are characterized by authoritarian, anti-democratic, and imperial designs.

As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to identify the “structures and spirits” of domination that are within us and to “name them and pray them out,” and we are invited to join the growing number of people who share the values of inclusion, equity, and nonviolence and who are working to build a more compassionate, just, and peaceful world. Surely this is what it means in our time to follow the one who came so that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Many Christians today are engaged in denominational efforts and participating with ecumenical, interfaith, and secular organizations in critiquing the underlying values of the current system, challenging the dominant worldview, resisting idolatrous institutions that harm people and the earth, and supporting movements for social and ecological transformation.

Once such movement is the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis, based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of the “Beloved Community,” modeled after King’s original Poor People’s Campaign. It works with leaders of the varied faith traditions and centers the stories and leadership of those who suffer most under the weight of damaging government policies: people who are poor, people of color, and others who are vulnerable to discrimination and injustice. It is an example of a diverse coalition that does the footwork to coordinate a successful campaign, including laying the spiritual foundation, honing its message, listening and sharing people’s stories, choosing songs and symbols, engaging in political advocacy, working with the press, and preparing for coordinated nonviolent direct actions. The slogan that animates this movement is “Forward together, not one step back.”

Even as the death-dealing powers continue their assaults on creation, Christ is risen and the Spirit is alive wherever compassion and justice reign: in peoples’ hearts, in social movements, in transformed people and societies. Living a resurrected life means joining in solidarity with all who seek justice, peace, and healing, especially those who are most vulnerable. By courageously following Jesus, we participate in the ongoing resurrection through actions that reflect the love that brought us into being, the love that can’t be extinguished by any empire, the love at the heart of the universe.

Those of us who choose to bear the cross of Jesus must join with those who are already giving themselves to this sacred struggle for the new world that is possible. By doing so, we demonstrate God’s love for creation and embody hope for the world.

In contrast to the conventional wisdom, the wisdom of God is anti-imperial. It reveals the futility of the wisdom of this world. Worldly status does not confer virtue. Wealth does not signify divine favor. Might does not make right. This is still a subversive message, as it was in Jesus’s time. This is still good news.

In this blog series on The Christian Right, which includes excerpts from my book The Cross in the Midst of Creation, my goal is to bring clarity to this discussion. The other blog posts in this series are:     

  1. Christian Nationalism
  2. Two Crosses: Divided Christianity
  3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous
  4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God
  5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God (This post)

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 Check out the Table of Contents of The Cross in the Midst of Creation and Contact Sharon to request a free PDF chapter of your choice, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.

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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Launch Event, June 14

Friends, finally my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation, is being released by Fortress Press. The Multi-Faith Climate Café will host a Launch Day event on June 14, the scheduled date for its release, at 11 am Pacific Time. Register here.

Because the Café focuses on faith perspectives on climate change, this conversation will center around Chapter 4, “Creation Crucified: The Passion of the Earth.” I will present some of the key themes of this chapter, including reconciliation of all creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), deep incarnation, the existential significance of our time, ecocide (“undoing creation”), the passion of the earth, why a theology of creation and a theology of the cross must go together, and new creation. I plan to present these ideas briefly so that we can enjoy an interactive discussion that will stimulate our ongoing growth in sensitivity, understanding, and motivation for action for our beloved creation (which includes our human family).

Overall, this book addresses the multiple challenges facing our world today from a progressive Christian perspective.  It explores confusion and disagreement among Christians about the meaning of the cross, the primary symbol of Christian faith. It links a theology of creation with a theology of the cross and argues that for Christians these two aspects of faith need to be integrated into the heart of the Christian gospel. The book makes the case that the crucifixion is ongoing as institutionalized powers like the ones that put Jesus to death are still at work today in the violence and injustice perpetrated against our human family and creation itself. At the same time, the resurrection is ongoing as people from varied spiritual and philosophical perspectives rise in courage and move in the direction of God’s intended world. Other themes include: a critique of Christian nationalism and the “theological cruelty” that makes it possible, a survey of biblically based views of the cross that focus on the God of love who was revealed in Jesus (not just in his death and resurrection but also in his life and teachings), what it means to live in the presence of the Risen Christ today and to follow Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a transformed world.

Several other book launch events will follow the one on June 14, as well as book studies and action opportunities. To stay connected, follow me on Facebook or sign up to follow my blog. You can contact me here to order signed or bulk copies of my books, to ask me a question, or to just say “hi.”

Light in the Darkness of Climate Change

Sermon preached on August 16, 2021 at Nevada City United Methodist Church (sermon begins 30.44 minutes in)

Humanity is facing a code red alert because of how much and how fast the planet is heating up, and most of the warming is unequivocally the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the message from the latest scientific report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All over the world, extreme weather-related disasters are shattering all records. Here it has been heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.

The recent fires have been traumatic for our community. They started during Pastor Gail’s first month here! She had been preaching a four-part sermon series on the mission of Nevada City United Methodist Church, “the light at the top of Broad Street.” She hadn’t even fully unpacked when the sky filled with smoke and evacuations began. Initiation into our community by fire! That’s when Pastor Gail invited me to preach today about climate change.

Hold this image in your mind: our church at night, in the dark of winter, during Victorian Christmas, with all the lights shining. Solar panels on the roof now power those lights. The mortgage was paid off recently and our energy bills are much reduced. It’s a beautiful image—a solar-powered beacon at the top of Broad Street. It’s a sign of our church’s willingness to act on climate and a witness to the God of Love who cares for all creation. It’s a way to let our light shine so that others may our good works and give glory to God. We care. God cares. 

One of the most important things we can do as a church in this time of climate change is to help change the values and metaphors and assumptions of the dominant culture. That’s what Jesus did. This passage comes right after Jesus’s teachings on wealth. He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” but rather, “in heaven.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” or “You can’t serve both God and money.”  

“Therefore, he says, “do not worry” or (in some versions) “do not be anxious” about food or drink or clothes or tomorrow or even your own life. Rather, live simply, trusting God. This has been called “the most radiant passage on Christian simplicity in the Bible.” It is an antidote to our culture of instant gratification, overconsumption, overuse and misuse of the gifts of the earth.

Jesus instructs his followers to consider how God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Sadly, such reflections on creation can bring us face to face with our deep anxiety about the worrisome loss of species and humanity’s impact on the planet. We experience not only the glory of creation but also its pain.  But as we move out of denial and face our feelings, we allow space for the Holy Spirit to intercede for us and for all creation, with sighs too deep for words. And we find a deeper peace, the peace of Christ that passes understanding.

In Matthew 10 Jesus assures us that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground outside of God’s care,” and says, “even the hairs of our head are all numbered.” God’s loving care extends to us and to all parts of creation. We are creatures, part of God’s creation, dependent on God for life and breath and all things, and interdependent with the whole community of life. In John Wesley’s words, “God is the soul of the universe.”

This passage will inform us as we consider how our church can respond to climate change, in addition to solar panels. We’ll look at relief, resilience, and mitigation.

First, relief. When fires threaten and smoke fills the skies, we can offer immediate relief to people who are impacted by climate related disasters.  Our church is good at giving to those who are in need… through our Christmas and Thanksgiving outreach, our regular work with Hospitality House, our organized support for Interfaith Food Ministry, and in many other ways.

During the recent fires and even now in the aftermath, our whole community responded with generosity, raising money, offering food and clothes and shelter for evacuees, even space for people who lost homes. Many of us helped out. 

One thing we could do as a church is to organize in advance disasters. We could support members of our church and community in becoming fire safe and fire ready. We could even offer our church as a resource and become a hub in the community’s disaster response network.

Second, resilience. Immediate disaster relief is not enough.  How can we be a light at the top of Broad Street when the smoke settles? One way is by joining with other groups and individuals to help build a resilient community that can adapt to future changes that we know are coming.

Building a resilient community would include working for food security by supporting local small farms and local businesses. It would mean holding local officials accountable in protecting our soil, air quality, and water and in conserving energy and moving to renewable power. Building a resilient community would also mean fostering just relations for all of God’s people. Our work on behalf of racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion can’t be ignored. No one can be left behind. All these things will be important in adapting as a community as the climate warms. 

Third, mitigation. In climate change lingo, this means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Even as the smoke clears, the impacts of climate change will continue. Scientists make clear that the magnitude of the problem is beyond the scope of any individual solutions. We need bold policies to reduce emissions now.

Working toward mitigation means advocating for an immediate transition away from fossil fuels to just and sustainably sourced forms of renewable power, advocating for policies that would keep fossil fuels in the ground without harming the poor. But this advocacy can only be successful if we join others in building a movement for climate justice that is strong enough to pressure the powers that be to make it happen.  Fortunately, there is such a movement… it is strong, it’s growing, and it is global, on every continent. Its slogan is “another world is possible.”

None of this sounds easy.  So let’s turn again today’s passage from Matthew six. Note that Jesus is not just saying “don’t worry, be happy,” as the song goes, or “relax and take it easy, and leave everything up to God.” Not at all. Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

But just what does this mean? The proclamation of the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) was central to Jesus’s ministry. He talked about it in different ways. It’s like a small seed that grows into a big tree. It’s like a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price that is worth everything we have. He talked about it as a present reality: “The kingdom of God is within you” and “The kingdom of God is among you.” At the same time, he talked about the coming of the kingdom of God, and he called people to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Jesus is talking about a reality that is already present, but not yet fully revealed. He tells his followers to strive for God’s kingdom and teaches us to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These are two ways of praying for the same thing. For when God’s will is done on earth, God’s kingdom is revealed.

Biblical scholars and theologians refer to it in different ways, as “God’s intended world” or “God’s dream, ” or God’s Domination-Free order. It’s been called “Love’s Domain,” or “Love’s Rule,” because “the Kingdom of God is where the God who is Love rules.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s term “The Beloved Community” is another way of talking about the compassionate and inclusive community that Jesus proclaimed and created when he walked on earth. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann refers to this understanding when he says that Christian hope is “hope that the world can be different.” Or in secular terms, “Another world is possible.”  

We are called to pray and strive for the coming of God’s reign here on earth, even in the midst of climate change. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. As the light at the top of Broad Street, we point not to ourselves but beyond ourselves to Jesus, doing our small part to be faithful in a time of climate change. Our mission is to be a faith community that prays for and strives for vision of the world as God intends for it to be, for God’s reign of compassion and justice for all creation, for God’s will, God’s dream, Love’s domain. And we reflect that vision as best we can to our community and world.

So don’t worry. Turn your worry into prayer. God’s got us. We’ve got each other. 

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Seasonal Thoughts on Climate Justice

Progressive Christian Social Action

Seasonal Thoughts on Climate Justice

This post was published as A Seasonal Reflection on Climate Justice in the Grass Valley Union on December 19, 2020.

During this season, Christmas carols feature angels singing “peace on earth, goodwill to men” (meaning all) and choruses proclaiming, “Let heaven and nature sing.” These words express the universality of the divine intention for good, the hopeful spirit of the season, and humanity’s yearning for peace, goodwill, and the abundance of life on earth.

As part of the Union’s regular series on climate change, my article is appearing when people of the world’s many spiritual traditions celebrate hope as light breaks through the winter darkness and days begin to lengthen. These varied traditions offer comfort and renewal, even as we face an overwhelming surge of pandemic-related tragedies and needs. With so many other concerns, it’s hard to think about climate change, but rising global temperatures and intensifying weather-related disasters do not pause for the coronavirus and will bring ever-increasing harm if we ignore them. Climate change is violence against people and against the natural world. Our challenge is to achieve climate justice: justice for our human family, especially those most impacted and threatened by our changing climate, intergenerational justice for children and future generations, and justice for the earth that sustains us all.

It will take people of all religious, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives, working together, to bring about a world of climate justice. Yet instead of the unity we need to address today’s challenges, there is an extreme political and social divide. How can we effectively address climate change in this “climate” of division? Perhaps this season of goodwill can inspire us to reach out beyond the boundaries that separate us and build bridges that unite.

Especially concerning to me are divisions within my own faith tradition, Christianity. But the Christmas story foretells the good news of the compassionate, wise, inclusive, egalitarian, nonviolent Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged the Powers that be and was executed for doing so, and whose Spirit still animates those who seek to follow him. Even today, many pray and work for God’s compassionate will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” that is, for a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life. For some, this includes a yearning for climate justice.

Many people look to the New Year and to the Biden Administration for strong climate action. Some hope to gain bipartisan Congressional support by proposing modest initiatives. But a modest approach would not ensure that the United States does its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a scale that would help limit global temperatures to 1.5℃ (2.7℉) above pre-industrial temperatures, the internationally agreed-upon upper limit to prevent runaway climate change.

The only proposed legislation so far that would set annual, science-based emissions reduction targets while also addressing systemic injustice is the Green New Deal. Highlights include guaranteed living-wage jobs and a “just transition” for both workers and frontline communities. As the world has acknowledged since 1992, when the foundational climate treaty was signed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (which I attended in Rio de Janeiro as part of the United Methodist delegation), the only way to effectively address climate change is to also tackle issues of social, economic, and environmental justice. This would increase goodwill among nations and reduce the violence of climate change.

President-elect Joe Biden has his work cut out for him. Restoring agencies, programs, and competent staff will be a huge task. Restoring international relations is another challenge. Biden is right in saying that rejoining the Paris Climate Accords is important but not enough. Building a world of climate justice will require a strong, diverse, and well-organized global movement that can exert power to demand justice for both people and the earth. Only “people power” will be able to move public officials here and elsewhere to take the strong and coordinated actions necessary to protect those most vulnerable to the ravages of pandemic, poverty, injustices, and climate change and to create a world of inclusion, equity, ecological healing, and peace. Fortunately, this movement for global justice is well underway; it is strong and growing. Its slogan is “Another world is possible.”

During this season, our songs, prayers, decorations, candle-lighting, charitable giving, feasting, exchanging gifts, and other rituals demonstrate and point to hope for the world. As we celebrate the dawning of light, may our varied spiritual traditions inspire us to join together in unity, not just to address climate change as an isolated issue but to work for climate justice and a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life.

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Her other blog postings about climate change can be found here.