Posted by: Dan | May 8, 2006

The Poor Church

The best way to evangelize the poor consists in allowing the poor themselves to become the church and help the whole church to become a truly poor church and a church of the poor.
~ Leonardo & Clodovis Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology

This suggestion, made by two Latin American liberation theologians, is correct but it only makes sense if we recover the radical nature of Jesus' proclamation of forgiveness. The Western Church will always have problems including the poor — and being a Church of the poor — as long as it requires that repentance and conversion precede the proclamation of forgiveness. The Western Church is all too compromised by the monopolies it tries to maintain. These monopolies consist of a monopoly of wealth, and a monopoly of “goodness”. Thus many Western Christians are able to be wealthy because they choose to allow others to remain poor, and they are able to affirm themselves as “good” because they choose to make the sins of others more grievous than their own sins. Therefore, this leads many Western Christians to claim one more monopoly — a monopoly on God. Those who are rich, and who are “good” must surely have God on their side.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The Christian God does take sides and, to our great discomfort, this God sides with the poor and the oppressed. One cannot read the Bible with any amount of seriousness and not walk away with the realisation that God consistently sides with the oppressed and against the oppressors. Thus, in the Old Testament, God is the God who brings about an Exodus, liberating slaves and bringing them to a new land. In the Gospels, God is revealed in Jesus' radical solidarity with those on the margins of society. And in the Acts, God is the God of a Church that holds all things in common so that there would be no poor people within the community.

It is this God, in Jesus, who goes to the poor, the social outcasts, and the most blatant sinners (at least as understood by social standards — in Jesus' day these were the prostitutes and tax-collectors), and offers a message of radical forgiveness. Jesus came and told these people that they already were forgiven and so they were free to follow him in new life.

And this is the message the the Church must recover for the poor today. You, who suffer the greatest degree of exile, oppression, and godforsakenness, have been forgiven. You are beloved by God. Come journey with us. We desperately need you to journey with us if we are to know how to live faithfully as followers of Jesus. We need you to teach us how to be a poor Church. We need you to teach us how we have been compromised by our wealth, and by our self-serving notions of goodness. Please, teach us to be poor that we too may be blessed and inherit the kingdom of God.

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