A Time for Revolutionary Change

“We live in a society that has the means, but has a lost track of the end; so the means become the end.”
— Carl Braaten

In my previous blog post, I wrote about God’s call for us to be in community with one another. I cited a good amount from Robert Jensen, a contemporary Lutheran theologian. Interestingly enough, upon further reading, I found additional support from arguably Jensen’s most important theological collaborator, Carl Braaten. Braaten claims that in the failings of today, we retreat into a “personal sphere”, having lost hope for creative alternatives for a better society. He warns that this is exactly what is hoped for by those wishing to maintain the status quo. Braaten asserts that the Gospel has fallen “into a sphere of personal and private concerns, thus ignoring the social and political condition of human existence” (pg. 122).

Whereas in Jensen’s Story and Promise, we are simply urged to recognize the need for community within the context of faith, Braaten, in his article “Mission as Revolution,” insists that the Church needs a revolution! As Lutherans, we love to talk about the Reformation, yet I am in agreement with Braaten; the change we seek requires not simply a reformation, a changing IN the system, but rather, we need a revolution, “a changing OF the system in its very core” (pg. 123).

When the humble message of the Pope to “heed the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” is met with resistance, when political figures are praised for openly promoting sexism, racism, and materialism, and when the simple command from Jesus to love your neighbor seems like a radical idea, there is a need for a revolution. A revolution of our individualistic society. A revolution of our apathy for our political systems. A revolution of our hearts and minds, as we come together in community. The Church “ can never be just one of the smooth-running parts of the social system” (pg. 130). The Church needs to challenge the complacent, the corrupt, and the captive.

Braaten is not alone in his talk of a revolution. Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home addresses “the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.” Action is needed! We cannot keep abusing our environment. We need to seriously confront our dependence on fossil fuels and seek “green” alternatives. We need to answer the “cry of the earth” by first seeing ourselves as the reason the earth is crying out, then actively changing our destructive behaviors. Yes, it will take sacrifice. No, it will not be easy. We cannot simply wash our hands clean of our guilt. We must take individual responsibility, and unite for a communal response. The Church needs to be in on the discussions for change and faithfully lead the way as we break free from our chains of ecological complacency.

We need not look far or deep to see the need for a political revolution in this country. I really don’t know anyone who is happy with the electoral process, the elected leadership, or the endless fighting. Yet, instead of uniting in our frustration and rising up together in our anger, we get fed up, we shut up, and we give up. We become apathetic with our political system and simply stop partaking in it. The words of the ancient prophet Amos call from the past into our reality today, “the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time” (Amos 5:13). Our country needs the voice of the Church, not to judge, divide, or condemn, but rather to share the healing power of love revealed in our words and actions. As politicians bellow hate and fear, we need to respond with love and peace. When we are told that our differences will divide our country and our diversity will impede our success, the Church needs to embrace all God’s children and in service, remind everyone what it truly means to be the greatest.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
— John 13:34 (NRSV)

The words are simple, yet in action it can be so difficult. A revolution calls for a new reality, and this new reality requires a new command. Jesus understood this as he shared his revolutionary message with his disciples. He shares the same commandment with us today, but how do we truly love one another? We have to respect and honor each other as part of God’s creation, created in the image of God. We need to support and care for each other in times of need. We need to be willing to put the needs of the community over our own individual needs. It is in the midst of this spiritual revolution that our community will be challenged. We will question each other, but we must remain civil. We will disagree, but we must see each other as sisters and brothers. We will find that the things we wish to accomplish will be the very things that cause us frustration, dispute, and opposition. Yet, in community, we can overcome these failings with love. I know I sound like some hippie, “all we need is love.” But the truth is simple; all we need is God, and God is love. We have forgotten this truth, as a people. I am as guilty as anyone, and perhaps unsuited to demand this revolution. Yet Braaten reminds us that “the truth of the message does not ride on the purity of the preacher” (pg. 128).

We need to build revolutionary new systems: culturally, politically, socially, and spiritually. As we do away with the old systems, and begin to construct systems of equity, justice, peace, and hope, let us not forget the foundation on which we need to build. The foundation of creation has always been solid and faithful, as it was built our Creator. It is the construct of humankind that is faulty and unreliable. Systems built ON Christ have a firm foundation, yet we need to also remember that systems built IN Christ can withstand the storms of life. A revolution, in God's name, on Christ our Rock, through the Spirit!

  • Braaten, Carl and Jensen, Robert. The Futurist Option. (Newman Press, 1970).