Jeremiah is addressing a group of people who have been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. They are in a strange land, surround by a different culture, and they have lost everything that is important to them. It will be 70 years before they return home – that’s a generation, maybe two. The prophet gives them some advice on how to cope with this earth-shattering event: build houses, grow gardens, get married, have children. Don’t listen to false prophets and diviners.
God is telling the children of Israel to not lose hope. They are being told to remember who they are and to set solid foundations that will provide a future for their offspring. In the midst of chaos and confusion, they’re also reminded to listen harder for the voice of God and to watch out for false prophets. There will be many who claim to speak for God, somehow they must choose wisely.
There is no denying that there are many different voices claiming to speak for God in our world today. In our own country there are conflicting claims about the call of Christ. Politicians, preachers, leaders, and cable news talking heads all claim the label Christian even when the messages they relay are vastly different.
This past Monday at the at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature meeting here in Boston, a group of 100 progressive Christian theologians and leaders launched the Boston Declaration, a statement meant to set the foundation for the voice of progressive Christianity and to provide for the future of our faith and of our country.
As followers of Jesus, the Jewish prophet for justice whose life reminds us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) we hear the cries of women and men speaking out about sexual abuse at the hands of leaders in power and we are outraged. We are outraged by the current trends in Evangelicalism and other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression. Confessing racism as the United States’ original and ongoing sin, we commit ourselves to following Jesus on the road of costly discipleship to seek shalom justice for the least, the lost, and the left out. We declare that following Jesus today means fighting poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression from the deepest wells of our faith.
At a time when the voices claiming to be Christian have vastly different theologies, the Boston Declaration sets out the belief that following Jesus means choosing a way of life in all that we do:
Following Jesus today means choosing life, joining the Spirit-led struggle to fight the death-dealing powers of sin wherever they erupt. Whenever one of God’s children is being oppressed, we will fight with them for liberation with the power of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. And yet, we live in a moment when death and evil seem to reign supreme in the United States, when those with the power of a uniform or the president’s pen or a position of authority or fame or economic tricks of capitalization and interest or sheer brute force… again and again choose death rather than life. In a moment when too many who confess Christ advocate evil, we believe followers of the Jesus Way are called to renounce, denounce, and resist these death-dealing powers which organize and oppress our world, not to embrace or promulgate them.
The statement is modeled on the Barmen Declaration of 1934 when Christian theologians like Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the German subjugation of all churches under Adolf Hitler. It admits that there are ways that the Christian church has fallen short:
We confess that the Church, in a variety of forms, has too often failed to follow the way of Jesus and perform the good news. … Acknowledging our own failures and embracing an appropriate sense of humility should not, however, silence us. While we do not have ready-made answers for all the problems we face, we know something about the pathway we must follow if we are to find those answers, and this is the pathway of Jesus.
The Declaration seeks to follow the path of Jesus, standing up for all people:
We believe in a God who holds all difference within God’s own life and in whom there is no one or no people who are distant from God’s justice, merciful love, and presence (Micah 6:8; Acts 10:34-35). We affirm the beauty and humanity of all people in their manifold difference–race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion–as reflecting God’s image through lives of love and hope.
We believe the Jesus Way calls us to the possibility of living in a world where all can love and be loved, and live into joy.
It offers a series of laments, such as:
As followers of Jesus who is our Sabbath, who preached and lived Shalom, and who offers the gift of jubilee to the world, we mourn the coarseness of our politics, the loss of compassion for those in need, the disrespect we routinely show each other, and the thoughtlessness with which we use and abuse our planet. We especially mourn the way in which the name of Jesus has been used to support and encourage actions and attitudes that demean others and threaten the community of creation.
It calls the church to action:
As followers of Jesus, it is vital that we take action when our government seeks to continuously harm life made in God’s image by cutting social safety-nets and forcing the poorest and most powerless among us to spiral into an abyss of desperation. Action on the part of the church is warranted at a time when women, people of color, and various ethnicities, individual religions, immigrants and distinct sexualities are targeted for slander and violence from the highest offices of government. We cannot sit idly by and allow the people and the earth to be accosted with series after series of unjust policies that allow the interest of corporate profits to expunge the future for coming generations of humans and other living species.
The Boston Declaration attempts to speak for and to American Christians who may feel exiled today. It reminds us to not lose hope, to build houses, plant gardens, marry and raise children so that we can create a better future. It seeks to reclaim Christ’s voice away from false preachers and prophets. You can read the entire declaration at TheBostonDeclaration.com. I encourage you to read it on your own. Contemplate what’s written there, and what’s missing. How does it speak to your understanding of God and what it means for you to follow Christ? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’ll end now with the closing Call to Action from the declaration.
Today, we as Christian followers of the Jesus Way, call on the people of the United States who call themselves by the name of Jesus, to reject all political and social movements that do not lead to life.
May we live in this world continually welcoming the stranger and “treating the foreigner with love, for we were once foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Likewise, we resist the continued subjugation of the Indigenous people of our land and call for new relationships to be formed, and better policies to be forged, as we learn to become good guests to honored hosts.
May we bear witness to the hues of difference in God’s life – a God who is neither male nor female and who embraces all people regardless of their identity.
May we not fear the loss of power or certainty when confronted by our very real weakness. May we discover the gift of being creatures not as something to be overcome, but embraced, discovering the fullness of our humanity in the flourishing of all women.
May we embrace a future where the legacies of white supremacy are dismantled. We refuse to dehumanize any individual, reducing their identity to singular markers and possibilities. May we work toward a radical openness for every individual as we fight together for a better today and tomorrow.
May we build not to kill but to enliven. Let us garner all of our economic power to fight desperately for one another’s health, for full stomachs, for equal access to buildings and teachers where we might discover the fullness of our gifts and skills. May our power not be oriented toward empire but towards mutual community.
May we witness to a beloved community where we seek to be with one another as Jesus is with us. May love and mutuality be the marks of our lives together, our community building, our budgets, and our public policies.
May we work together to care for the community of creation, fighting against the influence of the pursuit of petrochemicals and all other earth diminishing, non-renewable and polluting practices that exploit Indigenous and poor peoples, poison our waters and contribute to the extinction of species. We speak for the earth herself and all her creatures, human and non-human, for the preservation of life over monetary gain.
May we stand in solidarity against anti-semitism and the use of any language and actions that threaten the lives of our Jewish sisters and brothers while standing with the plight for human rights with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
May we stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers and all immigrants, fighting against Islamophobia and xenophobia. We denounce any legislation that discriminates against people on the basis of their religion, race or ethnic identity.
We welcome and seek the wisdom of all people of all faiths and those who confess no faith, believing that God’s faithfulness breaks into the world in many ways and through many people.
May we continue to stand with anyone who calls for justice, mercy, and love in this world.