Guide Jesus for Revolutionaries: An Introduction to Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

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We say that the vital impulses manifest in love of homeland, of tradition and of the group must be affirmed. Even when corrupted by sin they retain the force of authentic humanity. But they all become at some point questionable in the light of the ultimate obedience in the spirit of agape. An ethic grounded in the love of God manifest in Christ must live in an ambiguous and difficult relationship to every concrete form of group loyalty.

This most certainly includes the forms of life in the Church, the community founded on agape. No serious participant in the ecumenical movement can mistake the judging and purging power of agape as it moves within the centuries-old forms and symbols which have guided Christian devotion and have become infused with the very human loves of the familiar and the satisfying. In this clash of group loyalties the search for an ethical way which expresses agape has often taken either the way of humanitarianism or the way of protest.

We need to examine both.

Toward an Adventist Theology of Social Justice

The brotherhood of man has often been affirmed as a humanistic ideal apart from a specifically Christian rootage. There is a concern for the needs of humanity, and a sentiment of benevolence toward every man just because we share a common human lot. This concern was given philosophic expression in the stoic sense of humanity as a universal community bound by the divine law to which the moral man can give his rational allegiance.

It has informed the American democratic ideal. The inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence are held to be endowments from the Creator. There are superficial and profound types of humanistic universalism. From a theological point of view we may see in every Western humanitarianism an element of ethical commitment which has been given substance to the universalistic attitude.

We may regard that commitment as in part a deposit left by the biblical heritage in the humanistic philosophies; but we cannot deny that a form of universal human benevolence has appeared in both Western and Eastern traditions. It exhibits a concern for every man as a companion in the great community, and it leads to ethical sensitivity and self-sacrificing devotion.

Select Theses of the Past Ten Years

Is such humanitarian love an authentic, though truncated version of Christian love? The identification of love of neighbour with humanitarianism has been vigorously criticized by some theologians. The Bible, it is said, does not call us to recognize a universal idealism as the basis of dealing with men.

Only in this history do we discover who our neighbour really is, and therefore only here do we know the real meaning of the command to love. But we may yet regard humanitarianism as a form of human love which, though it cannot be identified with agape, reflects human values which agape incorporates and fulfils It is true that the Bible does not speak of a general fraternity of humanity which we recognize just because we are human.

The Bible sees humanity in the concrete history of peoples and nations where the neighbour is present, sometimes as enemy, or as stranger, and always as one who bears the image of God. Yet the universalistic note in the Gospel is unmistakable. The Noachian laws, promulgated before the flood, have formed a basis for a Jewish version of natural law. The prophets assert the demand of God for just, humane behaviour toward all peoples, not just the Jews.

There are obligations to the stranger, to the hurt and the oppressed, without regard to race or religion. The parables of Jesus reiterate the demand to serve every man in need — the hurt, the hungry, and the enemy. These are not merely abstract commands, they are made in the name of God, not of any particular national tradition. God sends his rain on the just and unjust, so man ought to be merciful Matthew 5: Paul interprets the history of Jesus as the fulfillment of the history of Adam who represents everyman.

Jesus restores to all humanity the imaging of its divine origin. If we cannot say that a disposition of benevolence toward other human beings, or a concern for humanity as a whole, is necessarily an expression of love as agape, neither can we say that agape is not present. The New Testament is quite explicit about this. That does not mean that every act of feeding the hungry is an adequate service of Christ. It might reflect a paternalistic, arrogant, self-centred spirit. Love which leads to human concern and mutuality is, so far as any objective test can go, that which expresses the mind of Christ.

What the Gospel does reject is the tendency to impersonality in humanitarianism. Humanitarian sentiment need not be abstract, impersonal, and unrealistic about what men need.

Justice

But they forget two important facts. First, there are elements of universal predicament and need in human life, and it is only through sin or a pathological condition that we forget this. The plea to remember that the other is a human being with feelings, hopes, pain, joy, may on occasion be ineffectual but it is never irrelevant, and it has its place in any ethic.

jesus for revolutionaries an introduction to race social justice and christianity Manual

The second consideration is that in the twentieth century as never before there is one world and one common human plight. The inter-relatedness of mankind is both a grim and a hopeful fact. Failure to control population, the possibility of the possession of atomic weapons by dozens of nations, the issues of race and colour which affect every society and every civilization, disclose the human condition shared by all.

One of the authentic forms of humanitarian love appears in the response to this common plight. It is found in those who seek to deal objectively and dispassionately with the meeting of different cultures. It is expressed in the lives of a few persons, such as Albert Schweitzer or Jane Addams, who became spokesmen for mankind, not because they made this claim, but because they articulated a humane and universal spirit. Eugene V. Debs, one of the minor prophets of American democratic ethics, had this insight:.

So long as there is a lower class, I am in it; While there is a criminal element, I am of it; While there is a soul in jail, I am not free. There is a sense in which humanitarian love serves as a corrective to expressions of agape when we are tempted to claim superiority of ethical wisdom.

In Taiwan in , the following statement was made by some interpreters of Chinese culture:. It is true that Westerners often have what Orientals do not have to such a degree: loyalty to ideals, a spirit of social service and enthusiasm and love toward others. But the highest feelings between human beings do not consist of enthusiasm and love only. An ultimate solution can only come from removing the roots of the will power and of the possessive urge. To do this, love must be truly fused with respect. It means that I must equal my respect toward others to my veneration of God.


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There is no room here for any reflection on the fact that I myself believe in God and that I know His love, but that the other does not. Such an attitude places the other person on a lower level, and then my respect towards others remains unfulfilled. True respect must be unconditional and absolute.

Then, human love, expressed in. Thus the deepest human love is transformed into the feeling of commiseration and humanity. The danger of the prideful assumption of superior ethical knowledge is rightly exposed here. Identification with the other means respect for him and his truth, even when we believe ours is more profound. Agape can incorporate humanitarianism, but it transcends humanitarianism. The reason lies in the history of sin and grace.

Agape is identification with the neighbour and meeting his needs, but it is identification at the level of confession of our betrayal of the divine image, and hope for the possibility of renewal through the grace of suffering love. Agape is known in the history of the incarnation and the atonement. Therefore, while it recognizes human sympathy, fellow-feeling and identification, it has a new basis for identification with the other.