Radvent Day 1, Morning – Liberate the Oppressed

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

“The problem of mammon cannot be reduced to a matter of the heart. The issue is not how each individual approaches wealth, property, and desires, but is with how wealth qua wealth separates a person from God and from participation within God’s political economy.”
Hollis Phelps, Jesus and the Politics of Mammon

And I try
Oh my God, do I try
I try all the time
In this institution

And I pray
Oh my God, do I pray
I pray every single day
For revolution.
“What’s up?” by Four Non-blondes

*  *  *

What does it mean to love Jeff Bezos?

It certainly goes against my instinct, and probably yours. It’s so easy to superimpose his smirking face onto the powers of evil that drench this existence, especially when we see the suffering that he is directly responsible for. For someone to have the means to completely end poverty in the world say, “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel; that is basically it,” it would be pretty logical to conclude that God has turned their soul over to self-annihilation.

It becomes easy to hate. That’s my tendency, at least. The possessed eyes of an officer as he shoves me with his bike. The uncaring judges who order my siblings locked in cages. The privateers of equity who dismantle and destroy neighborhoods. The Commanders in Chief who judge life as collateral damage. The faces of those who actively choose to oppress our fellow image bearers. I feel my blood pressure rise as I recall these scenarios from memory.

But they are image bearers, too, and maybe the church should have something to say here beyond even a trauma-informed response. Our instinct is to say, “What is wrong with that Person that they behave like that?” Trauma theory suggests we ask, “What happened to that Person to make them behave like that?” I think an even bigger question is required: “What are the superstructures in place that have allowed and encouraged that Person to behave like that?”

The Accuser has legions at his beck-and-call, and Mammon leads bloodless hordes these days. While the world is suffocated by powerful institutions and ideologies, we as humanity have chosen to describe success in monetary terms, to shape the entirety of our lives around the necessity of it, the pursuit of it, the lust for it, the hoarding of it, and the power it grants. Our systems have made bad things seem good, and even Christians are all in. Our financial systems encourage greed, our justice systems encourage punishment, our political systems encourage power concentration, our immigration systems encourage dehumanization and exclusion. The worst part is that the Church – God’s prophets and witnesses on earth – have allowed General Mammon to shape the battlefield.

So what does love look like for the human soldiers in the service of the evil one? I think it means we have to liberate them from the oppressive structures that are devouring them and return to them their full humanity as an image bearer of God. 

It looks a lot like creating new systems that value and encourage the good things like cooperation and altruism. It looks like creating an economic system that discourages greed and encourages mutuality. It looks like a system where everybody on the block is eating until they’re full, and nobody has to choose between stealing and starving. It means a real justice system, not a legal system: a flourishing system of mutual accountability, harm reduction, and reparation, based in the value of human flourishing rather than in the protection of capital and property embodied in slave patrols and social control. Let’s build an immigration system that appreciates and takes responsibility for the push (as well as the pull) factors and maybe even lives up to that promise stamped on the base of Lady Liberty, that poetic homage to the Mother of Exiles. 

The church should be front and center, loudly leading those discussions, organizing and wielding the power of a people, shaped by God and not always of this earth, to love all of our neighbors. How do we liberate the oppressed and love our enemies? We fight like hell to save them from their own self destruction.

Ben Swihart is a writer, organizer and occasional church consultant who lives in Chicagoland. He likes hanging out with his wife while chasing their toddler and dog around. Follow him on Twitter @BenSwihart.

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