In "Jesus Nation: Sweaty Solidarity Forever," Jeff Sharlet decries the lack of a serious religious movement on the political left. He is unsatisfied with the smiling face of Jim Wallis on television providing "balance" to spokesmen of the religious right.
Do I care about the religious left? Not particularly, no more than I care about the religious right. Still, I was intrigued with at least one premise of the article. In dealing with the social ills, "help" is insufficient.
Sharlet offers a quote from black theologian, James Cone: "authentic love is not 'help'--not giving Christmas baskets--but working for political, social, and economic justice, which always means a redistribution of power. It is a kind of power which enables [the oppressed] to fight their own battles and thus keep their dignity."
I haven't been a fan of Cone since I discovered I fit his description of a "Christo-fascist"--someone who places Jesus Christ at the center of faith. (On the other hand, I have wore the label as a badge of honor. It certainly gets the attention of others.) Moreover, I am deeply suspicious of calls for "redistribution of power." Political leftists have a poor track record. Nonetheless, there is a deeper truth here at which Cone hints. The kingdom of God is more than charity. The kingdom of God is about transformed lives.
Every person who comes into my church seeking assistance needs more than a few bucks. Perhaps, the deeper problems are addiction, destructive relationships or simply poor money management. I tell each one that they need the support of a God and a community that loves them. Unlike Cone, I think there is a place for "Christmas baskets." Still, faithfulness demands that we walk with those in need. More than a hand-out, they need Jesus Christ and his Church. In the words of the article, they need "solidarity" not "help."
I think this lesson taken from a radical like Cone, needs to reverberate in our denomination, locally and nationally. The PCUSA has a ton of opinions on social issues. Most of those opinions are expressed by lobbying the government to change laws and policies. Unfortunately, government policies are unable to provide the "solidarity" that the poor desparately need. Rather than making ourselves feel good through lobbying or throwing money, we need to come alongside the poor and the oppressed.
A few years ago, the PCUSA boycotted Taco Bell. We paid someone half a salary to help organize picket lines. We were concerned about migrant tomato pickers. We could have sent missionaries, lawyers, and teachers to the migrant workers. We could have helped them break the cycles of poverty or navigate the difficulties of immigration law. Instead we settled for one cent higher price per bushel of tomatoes. With inflation, that benefit will soon disappear, but the poverty will remain. "Help" is always easier than "solidarity."