Monday, March 10, 2014

Liberating The Oppressed

Over the past fortnight I watched two very powerful movies depicting unthinkable violence and oppression from opposite sides of the globe, evoking two opposing responses from leaders in the church to end the conflict.

The first film, Machine Gun Preacher (2011), tells the story of Sam Childers, a transformed ex-biker gang member and former drug dealer who responded to a calling to rescue kidnapped and orphaned children in war-torn Sudan.  Outraged by the horrors of Sudan where children are forced to become child soldiers, Sam Childers took up arms to join the fight against the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) militia group and opened an orphanage to care for the children he helped to liberate.

The second film, Romero (1989), tells the story of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador who could no longer look upon the suffering of the Salvadoran people who were being oppressed by the aristocracy and murdered by the government.  He spoke out against the violence and started a revolution without guns to fight for peace and justice in his country.  He called for love not violence, freedom not repression, pleading with both church and state to end the blood shed and free his people.

Two confronting stories about two men who fought in the name of Jesus Christ to liberate vulnerable people from tyranny.  One man resorting to violence, the other raising his voice.  Both refusing to turn their backs on people who could not defend themselves.

These films, based on true stories, raise challenging questions about the ethics and application of liberation theology which has been described as "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society...and Christianity through the eyes of the poor."  Is it right to fight for justice through any means?  Does the ends justify the means?

While these questions are complex and challenging, I default to the example set by the One whose name is often used to justify the struggle - Jesus Christ!

In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Jesus mission was clear, but His methods defied the expectations of those wanting to overthrow an oppressive government.  He preached to the crowd, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44); He taught the religious, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17); He rebuked His followers and accusers, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?" (Mark 14:48); He referred to a higher authority when questioned by the officials, "But I say to all of you:  In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:64); He sought forgiveness for those who executed Him, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34).

Jesus chose to serve not to be served - "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28)

Jesus did not find power in position - "...Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus brought salvation through sacrifice - "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." (Galatians 1:3-4)

In a world where the struggle for justice and liberation continues, only by submitting to the message, mission and methods of Jesus Christ can real salvation be found from and for those who would oppress God's children. 

Published in June/July 2014 edition of JAC:  Journal of Aggressive Christianity

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