Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Prison Industrial Complex

prisons, cultural lag, and the church

Early definitions of cultural lag focused specifically on industry and society. In Marxian terms it refers to how the substructure (production, relations to production,etc) advances in its use of technology, while the superstructure (philosophy, art, religion, family) falls behind this advancement. A simple example in today’s world would be who can purchase certain products, such as an iPad, which costs $500. Much of the general public cannot purchase such a commodity, but if in 15 years our society finds it to be necessary, then it will be affordable.

Hence cultural lag.

New definitions have been constructed, one of the famous theorist who worked on this theory was William Ogburn. He wrote,

“A cultural lag occurs when one of two parts of culture which are correlated changes before or in greater degree than the other part does, thereby causing less adjustment between the two parts that existed previously” (1957).

Ogburn broadened the original Marxian definition which only was concerned with economics and broaden it to any two parts of culture. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann hit the nail on the head, with concern to culture in the US, when he wrote,”Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now”(1).* We create ourselves through purchasing, it is what gives us hope and gives us a short attention span. These consequences include one to not be concerned with community, long-term friendships, investing in the future of the Earth, cooking food, etc. Even more so, one no longer needs to be concerned with social issues: racism, sexism, mistreatment of the LGBTQI+ community, colonialism, and other injustices in our world. This drags us down a road of Tolerance, which accepts everyone, but still allows hate without confrontation. Thus, many of the institutions focus on this tolerance and have no concern for anything else other than money. Unfortunately, these kinds of ideas have bled into the church.

One churched person, who happens to also be a theologian, has kept the social injustices that penetrate US at the forefront of their theology. This person is none other than black liberation theologian James Cone.

God of the Oppressed, which James Cone wrote, hit the bookshelves in the late 1960’s. It sought to systemically summarize and demonstrate Black Liberation theology. This was a tough experiment during that era. Blatant racism occurred openly in our institutions, not that it still does not happen today, but that it was more in your face about it. One section of his book I found particularly interesting was how he placed certain white prominent theologians during slavery times in the US into different categories with their approach to the social ill of slavery.

First, there are those who ignored slavery all together. These theologians constructed theologies separate from anything social or political. For Cone, these are the worst kind of theologians since they do not understand that knowledge is historically situated in a particular place and time.

Second, there were white theologians who taught that slavery was a good and godly act. Several theologians like George Whitfield used Scriptural passages to keep slaves in their “rightful place,” as an owner person.

Lastly, there were theologians who were part of the abolitionist movements. They actively promoted that those who were enslaved to be released. (One problem that Cone has with these theologians is that they were still constructing theology from a prestigious point of view, e.g. slaves should be be free because it would be better for society, instead of from the point of view of those who are enslaved are people and deserve the right to be free. I certainly agree with Cone on this position.)

These kinds of theologians still haunt us today. We have those who are oblivious to social structures to the point of distrust and have a theology that they believe to apply to all, thus a kind of white-orthodoxy. Then there are those who lift up institutions like the State, believing that they are absolutely God-given, this probably could only be applied to those who live in the US. Then there are those who want more out of social institutions, pushing them to move beyond themselves. Yet, at the same time believe that justice does not equate to Law.

Modernizing Conian thoughts about the cultural lag in the church, I have been thinking what the modern church ignored in relation with social issues. The first thing that came to my mind was the the prison-industrial complex. First, I have never heard these words in church. The only prison ministries that they do in church in the areas that I know of are ones that they are concerned with the spiritual lives of the prisoners. I never hear people ask why so many people are in prison or that it is so hard for people to get a job once they come out of prison. This aspect is totally ignored by the church, or at least many of the churches that I have attended.

Paul Krugman, a classic liberal commentator, wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times that concerned the prison-industrial complex. It was well written attempt to simplify the complexity of economics that concern this issue. The problem with this article is that there is nothing written against those who are unjustly placed in prison, as are many of our African-American sisters and brothers. This certainly falls under the Conian critique.

The church has been in a cultural lag for most of modernity. It was not always this way. From the beginning, it was a source of the prophetic. In many respects, we have lost that prophetic voice and thus are not inventors and critics of important aspects of culture, but allow culture to be and condemn only immoral individualistic ethical decisions. We need voices from the church who are concerned about  people who are being treated unjustly, especially those in prison.

The church must educate, organize, and act for justice for all people!

Here are some statistics from ProPublica about For-Profit Prisons in the US.

* Prophetic Imagination published for the second time in 2001.

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Christainity, Liberation Theology, Spiritual

the compassion of the christ: taking christian theology seriously for the sake of society

In God of the Oppressed, Dr. James H. Cone shares a story about a white preacher in the South who encouraged his black congregants in his sermon to follow the new Jim Crow laws through an eschatological narrative. The white preacher declared that in the middle of Heaven there will be a partition separating blacks from whites, just like the water fountains, movie theaters, etc. The response from the congregants to the preacher came from the usher who prayed over the offering plate before the collection. This brave man prayed how thankful he is that his black sisters and brothers are a shoutin’ people and if there is a partition in Heaven that they will shout it down until it falls. And further he prayed if the white people in Heaven do not like it, they can go somewhere else (19,20).

This story draws near to my heart nowadays. Not much has changed since this story took place during the 18th century. Instead of having overtly institutionalised racism with slavery and Jim Crow laws; we have a tolerant racism that gives way for the prison industrial complex and allows for people to murder young people of color out of fear and without any immediate repercussions.* Currently, Neo-Nazis are preparing for a race riot in Florida, so that the whites are protected.

Who says we live in a post-racial society? Not I.

The way we practice theology reflects our lives. For example, Flannery O’Connor was known for her Catholic faith, short stories, and grotesque characters. She spent her life in the South and considered herself a Thomist. Her short stories were infused with messages of faith and forgiveness. At the end of her famous short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the protagonist grandmother tells the antagonist, Misfit, that Jesus forgives:

“If you would pray,” the old lady said, “Jesus would help you.”

“That’s right,” The Misfit said.

“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked trembling with delight suddenly.

“I don’t want no help,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.”

The Misfit doesn’t and the story ends on a sour note. My point here is that O’Connor’s story portrays the Catholic life. Yet, her faith has little to do with her inherent racism. Sure, she had stories about people of color in the South, but they were not always cast in the best light i.e. “The Artificial N*****”.

The other week, I read many of O’Connor’s letters compiled in a book titled “The Habit of Being.” Flannery wrote a letter on April 14th to Richard Stern, a few months before her death. It reads, “It ain’t much, but I am able to take nourishment and participate in a few Klan rallies” (573). What?!? Flannery O’Connor was associated with the KKK, one of the most racist groups in the U.S. Yes, she was. How did this happen? How can a Christian dedicated to following Jesus fall into the trap of hating Black people who have been oppressed in our society since white people stole them from Africa? Thus, my point is: I believe theology, whether it is Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. affects the way we “live and move and have our being.”

Dr. Cone makes the distinction in how christology is taught and preached in the Black church compared to the white church. Once again in God of the Oppressed, Dr. Cone writes

“White preachers and theologians often defined Jesus Christ as a spiritual Savior, the deliver of people from sin and guilt, black preachers were unquestionably historical. They viewed God as the Liberator in history. That was why the black Church was involved in the abolitionist movement in the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement in the twentieth” (51).

O’Connor did not have a theology “from below,” but “from above.” God has eternal Ideals and abides in an ahistorical place. Thus, one can conclude that God is not so much concerned with our contextual existence, but that we must live up to God’s expectations. It was easy for O’Connor to do, since she was born in a well-to-do white family in the South and was able to practice Catholicism to almost its full extent, according to bourgeois religion.

I reject “from above” theology, situated in a privileged position. Instead, I try to form a “from below” theology, that many oppressed groups from the centuries have developed. This could be defined that God is here with and for us. God is involved in history and seeks to redeem all of history.

In the Christian tradition, God sent Christ to teach, have compassion (to suffer with), die on a cross, and resurrect, thus beginning the redemption of the world. God still suffers with us as God’s Spirit who shows “mercy, justice, and the knowledge of God” (God the Spirit**). If God is with us declaring justice, then to actively participate and ignore systematic racism is contradictory. And until we recognise that our liberation is latticed with the liberation of others, we can not have a better theology nor a better society.

If Jesus’ death and resurrection represent anything, it is that God is on the side of the oppressed. Yet God desires to redeem both, oppressor and oppressed. If we could help this process along, it would to be intentional in how we live with others. The famous Peruvian liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez wrote, “Neighbor is not one whom I find in my path, but rather one in whose path I place myself, one whom I approach and actively seek.” May we be a people who with God’s Spirit actively seek to be neighborly to all.

*Here I am expressing that justice does not equate to law and vice versa. We have a corrupt system that at times all can see, in the case of Trayvon Martin, it is apparent. Yet the contradiction immerses with Malcolm X, and without his time in jail to reflect and accept the belief system of the Nation of Islam, he would not have made a radical stand against the racial injustices that permeate in our society.

**I just finished this text for a class and found it to be the best systematic theology for God’s Spirit. Michael Welker, the writer, uses a framework of liberation theology and shows how God’s Spirit is a “force field of change and hope.”

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