Scholarly Studies

Chip Berlet

Research, Writing, Consulting, & Training for
Nonprofits & Groups Working for Human Rights

Investigative Journalism

 
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Empire Christianity vs. Liberation Christianity

by Ruby Sales
Founder and Director of SpiritHouse

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I want to respond to the question where we go from here when far too many Black people are in the theological and christological grip of white right wing Christians. Chip Berlet, author and political analyst, calls this group the theocrats. He tells us that "Theocrats support a form of government where the actions of leaders are seen as sanctioned by God- where the leaders claim that they are carrying out God's will. "

Berlet goes on to tell us that theocrats promotes a brand of Christianity that proclaims that "people are basically sinful and must be restrained by harsh punitive laws. Social problems are caused by satanic conspiracies aided and abetted by liberals, homosexual, feminist and secular humanist. These forces must be exposed and neutralized."

 

 

John Lewis and Ruby Sales in 2012 at the presentation of the Third Life and Liberty Award by the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society. (photo credit David Wolowitz)

 

As we move forward in this reflection, it is critical that we make a distinction between Empire Christianity and Liberation Christianity. Empire Christianity beats in the veins and hearts of theocrats and their Reconstructionist allies.

Liberation Christianity begins with the assertion that God is on the side of the oppressed rather than the side of the Empire. This is the good news of the radical Jew Jesus who challenged the Roman Empire and its Jewish gatekeepers. Jesus made clear the radical nature of his mission: (1) to bring sight to the blind, i.e. to bring a new consciousness that freed his community and others from the false consciousness of identifying with the goals of the Roman Empire. (2) to feed the hungry, i.e. a systemic redistribution of resources that is not charity, but systemic economic justice. ( 3) to set the prisoners free, i.e. a recognition that the Empire uses law and order as tools of oppression and domination.

This message of liberation galvanized the southern freedom movement, South African liberation movement and liberation movements around the world. It is a dynamic message that changes the status quo and rearranges our relationship with God and others. It is a justice message of nonviolence. It is a message that reminds us that we are not entrapped by history; we have the collective power to free ourselves from the bonds of a tyrannical state. It reminds us that we have the power to make a new history and a new world. The view of our collective power challenges the notion that history begins and ends with the Empire.

George Bush and his conservative allies believe the opposite. Their God is the keeper of the status quo. Theirs is a cynical status quo view of God that allows them to be "on the wrong side of history and issues." The Empire religion espoused by George Bush and his white Christian Conservative allies is headed by a white supremacist patriarchal upper class God who stood on the side of enslavement and the genocide of native peoples throughout the globe, including North and South America.

This is the message of conservative right wing Christians. Like their forefathers, they believe that God is on their side and gives them the theological authority to build an oppressive white supremacist patriarchal world. They misuse scripture to justify this, and they hide their intentions behind self- centered and pious God talk that under girds and propels exclusion and domination whether it is about the inferiority of women, black people or lesbians and gays.

Nor is their Jesus the Jesus who wept over the oppression and suffering of his people. Or the Jesus who was executed by the Roman Empire for proclaiming that God and not the Empire owns the world or the people in it. This Jesus who acted in history for those people whom the Empire minimized moved generations of enslaved Black people to assert, in the face of an Empire that said "they were property without any civil or spiritual rights, " I have a right to the tree of life.

What Black Christian conservatives must understand is that the God of the Empire can never be our God. Nor can their Jesus be our Jesus. The Empire Jesus is their emissary and the messenger of war and oppression. For them, Jesus is not as the Black old folk understood, a poor little shepherd boy, outcast and belonging to a people whose backs were "up against the wall."

 

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Democracy is a process,
not a specific set of institutions

Democracy is a process that assumes
the majority of people, over time,
given enough accurate information,
and the ability to participate
in a free and open public debate,
reach constructive decisions
that benefit the whole of society, and
preserve liberty,
protect our freedoms,
extend equality, and
defend democracy.

 


Democracy is a process,
not a specific set of institutions

Democracy is a process that assumes
the majority of people, over time,
given enough accurate information,
the ability to participate
in a free and open public debate,
and can vote without intimidation,
reach constructive decisions
that benefit the whole of society, and
preserve liberty,
protect our freedoms,
extend equality, and
defend democracy.


-Chip Berlet

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