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In the face of today's growing inequities, devastations, and polarizations.

Written By Karen L. Bloomquist 15/10/2015
The upcoming 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation is an opportunity to make more public certain distinctively Lutheran emphases, especially in relation to crises now. In Luther’s time in Germany, the Papacy was the most powerful institution ruling over people’s lives, with closely intertwined religious, social, cultural, and political aspects. Under this system, no one could do enough so as to be certain of his/her salvation. Luther came to view this institutional power of domination as a theological matter which threatened salvation itself. He broke open this system of domination, by proposing a much different relationship with God. Luther responded both to people’s fears or captivity and touched the church's nerve center: its financial support and its divine legitimacy.

The point here is that the Reformation Luther initiated was systemic or structural from the beginning. Justification cannot be reduced to being only a subjective, privatized matter, but needs to be closely connected with the more public pursuit of justice. Much as Luther spoke to the crises of his day on the basis of what he read in Scripture, so must we today in the spirit of “radicalizing” (going to the root of) what the Reformation was about. This is what the global Radicalizing Reformation project seeks to do.

“The rampant destruction of human and non-human life in a world ruled by the totalitarian dictatorship of money and greed, market and exploitation requires a radical re-orientation towards the biblical message, which also marked the beginning of the Reformation....Our churches, congregations, and individual Christians have often become complacent and complicit with the established status quo and have lost their critical-prophetic power to protest, resist, and change what is occurring. God’s justification by grace has been detached from social justice and thus serves as “useless salt” (Mt 5:13). Because the Reformation legacy has gone astray, we must at the same time return to some of Luther’s thought and legacy, as well as standing decidedly against other things he said and did, if this is to become a kairotic time of transformation today.” (preface to the 94 theses)

In other words, if justification remains confined to a personal dimension apart from the wider societal, creation-wide implications, then injustices will continue to have free reign, distorting our most basic relationships: with God, ourselves, one another and the rest of creation. Exposing what is operating today is not only a matter of denouncing and extricating ourselves from it. We who benefit from “the way things are” -- are too enmeshed in the complexities of this web for a straightforward denunciation of this idolatry to be authentic or persuasive. We are “in and of” that which we are called to critique.

How then might this become a kairos for embodying a bolder public witness to how aspects of the legacy coming from the 1517 Reformation can make critical and provocative differences in how we engage with pivotal societal challenges today? How might this provide a much different framework, set of assumptions and values, and fundamental shifts in what has brought about these crises today?

The 94 theses [identified here by #] and related articles in five books published in the global Radicalizing Reformation project are especially insightful, and well as many other written resources and organizing efforts around the world. From a North American perspective, the following are public crises that especially need to be engaged.

1. CREATION in CRISIS: As the worst drought in California history continues, and dramatic changes in the climate occur not only here but throughout the country and world, the manifold crises in creation cannot be ignored. People of faith must join with scientific and other activist groups in pursuing what is occurring.

Following Luther, we pursue these and other strategies out of an expansive sense that all of creation is the abode of God, who is in, with and under all that is created. This is in stark contrast to a sense that creation is a means to the end of unfettered human expansion and profit. God graciously “labors” for the sake of the redemption of all of creation (Romans 8). Sin is the refusal to accept the limits and responsibility of the place of humans in the whole of creation.

However, transforming these matters systematically cannot be done apart from attending to how the reigning economic assumptions and paradigm worsen climate change and the other challenges to God's creation. “today the forces of economic growth, monetary expansion, and privatization threaten planetary death” (#22).

2. ECONOMIC DISPARITIES: Probably nowhere in the U.S. are the economic disparities between the rich and the poor greater than in the Bay Area of California.

“The Bible establishes a political economy of 'enough for all' based on the sharing of what is given for the common good of all (Exodus 16). The reformers were unanimous in believing that the economy should serve the common good and the specific needs of the neighbor. In our time, we ... call for forms of economic life that build on God’s gifts, protect the commons, and produce and distribute goods and services in ways that are both democratic and ecologically sensitive.” (#16)

In the 16th century, the financial practice of using money to make ever more money was rather new. Luther was blatant in condemning how the “laws” of the market were endangering especially the poor. When any economic system and its effects are accepted without question –when it becomes a 'god-like' power reigning over people, communities and creation –then we face a central issue of faith.

Today when these forces and systems have become far more powerful, pervasive and blatant -- in their damaging effects on our neighbors, communities, and world –we must be saying and doing far more. Christians standing in Luther's legacy, are called publicly to reject unequivocally the destructive elements of the growing profit economy, and develop constructive alternatives to such.

3. POLARIZATION: What especially immobilizes politics today, particularly in the US, are heightened polarities of many kinds. Systemic patterns of domination, colonialization, and racism became entrenched, which the current “Black Lives Matter” movement in the U.S., as well a host of contemporary movements throughout the world have continually exposed. Polarization has too often led to systemic and vicious outbreaks of violence.

“For Paul, the justice of God implies ...that “in Christ” the polarities and hierarchies of this “present evil world order” (Gal 1:4) have been overcome. “We” are not what segregates us from the “others” but what interconnects us with them. The human divisions of nation, religion, gender, and class, which constitute the “self” as enemy and rival of the “other,” are removed in baptism “like old garments.” A new praxis of becoming “one” through mutuality and solidarity creates a new form of being human – and a new world (Gal 6:2.15). ... God's justice, the justification of the human being, and human justice are all inseparably connected.” (#59)

In our time, we must insist that solidarity across such boundaries is at the heart of the Gospel. It is from such a stance of solidarity, rather than from entrenched, often vicious political polarization that more effective address of today's crises of climate change, economic inequality and terrorism can occur.

What public difference might this make today.....in the face of today's growing inequities, devastations, and polarizations?  Let's hear from you!