To be a Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that good can overcome evil. In this day and time there are so many negative messages in the news: the Boston bombing, young women being held captive for years in a private home, the closing of US embassies around the world due to terrorist threats, young men of color being shot down in the streets…. To be a Christian, to be a person of faith, is to believe that there is a just and good presence that has, can, and will overcome evil.
One of my favorite theologians, Jon Sobrino, speaks about the crucified people. Sobrino teaches at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, where in 1989 a government death squad entered the Jesuit faculty living quarters in the middle of the night, pulled everyone out of their beds (6 Jesuits, 1 female housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter) and slaughtered them in the University square. These brutal deaths were to be a message to the people of El Salvador that evil was in control. Except that the extremity of the event caused the message to backfire. As a result, the US ceased to support the government armies of El Salvador and the United Nations called for a cease-fire. In essence, this horrific event led to the end of a brutal civil war.
Jon Sobrino, away on a lecture tour, escaped death that night, but has been writing about it ever since. In his liberation theology we hear the call to search our souls for our own part in creating and sustaining the brutality of the cross. When asked at the Presidential lecture of Santa Clara University in 2009 how he would define ‘Liberation Theology’ his immediate response was this: “first we must ask, liberation from what…?” and then he answered his own question, “liberation from ourselves!” He went on to ask the audience, “how have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” This was not a general question, but specifically addressed to those of us privileged enough to be in the audience. “How have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” He concluded by saying, “we must work at taking people down from the cross, and if we are not working at taking people down from the cross, then we are part of the problem.”
Liberation theology brought to the world the challenge of theopraxis. No longer content with the discussion of philosophical systematic ideas about God and the work of God in the universe, liberation theology has challenged the world to put legs to faith. Latin American theologians and the theologians of Black Theology of Liberation in the US have pounded away for decades now crying out for boots on the ground theopraxis that essentially takes people down from the cross. Our global 20th century liberation theologians, of which there are many—far too many to begin naming them in this short blog—have shown us the way….
To be Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that God has, can, and will overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that resources are present to overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that God reigns and people count. We need the faith to believe that our efforts can and will make a difference. We need to get our boots out, dust them off and get to work!
LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD
Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament
American Baptist Seminary of the West
One thought on “Boots on the Ground Theopraxis”
I concur. To be a Christian is to be an optimist, and I hope people find that in me. I pray that my life is a life that climbs up and reaches to people and pulls them off the cross, gently. But my life has changed in ways I never would have imagined after finding myself walking with Christians in the Middle East. Christian in Iraq, in Syria, In Lebanon whose lives have borne witness to Jesus for two thousand years in the land he walked in. They have modeled this optimism for me in ways I could not have imagined.
The church in Iraq is grateful that the U.S. has intervened with airstrikes to push back ISIS. The church in Syria is grateful that we have not bombed them to take out Bashar al Asaad. Amazing, isn’t it? Neither church – our brothers and sisters in Christ – wants our boots on the ground. They want our support in ways that won’t hurt them more than they have already been hurt. They are optimistic that the better angels of our nature will help them to survive and continue to try to take people off the cross of extremism.
I don’t know the answer to this. I just want to stand with them so I can continue to learn from a faithful people living this faith in real time, in real places that are dark.
I don’t believe in violence. But I don’t know a gentle way to get people off the cross who want to crucify others or behead them to instill fear.
I continue to come to the foot of the cross and pray for the answers.