Age of Anger: Hands of Tenderness Guayasamin, Oswaldo
I believe in redemption. I believe that the Holy Spirit strengthening and guiding us to patiently and consistently beam reflections of Christ’s love for us has the capacity to light up the world’s darkest places and let God’s kingdom break in- on earth as it is in heaven. I believe sometimes it’s not us people just us that need to be redeemed, but the Christian Church as well.
Unfortunately, powerful people operating within and as direct agents of the institutional Church are many of history’s most notorious examples of how imperialism, hypocrisy, and arrogance can infect our world with really really ugly sin -sin that destroys.
I recently joined a street theater group. We started out clowning trying to raise social consciousness on the beach and in the parks in an anti-littering campaign. However, the Argentina Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice is approaching March 24th and we decided to perform something less clown-ish. I was all in. Social justice + creative expression = a very enthusiastic me.
Since I have been traveling quite a bit, I missed quite a few practices and just got clued in on the progress my street theater friends have made. The performance is an excerpt from a speech made by Jorge Rafael Videla, a senior commander in the Argentine army, who ‘justifies’ the government’s actions at this time by referring to Christianity.
Videla was known to flaunt his ‘Christian faith’ while dictating the torture and disappearance of thousands of civilians. Several high-level church officials publicly and actively collaborated with the military dictatorship. Christian Von Wernich is only just one such example. He was a priest serving as chaplain of the Buenos Aires Province Police and on October 9, 2007 was found guilty of complicity in 7 homicides, 42 kidnappings, and 32 instances of torture. (Nice name man – a double whammy of sick hypocrisy.)
Many others agents of the Church were guilty of passively standing by and not interceding despite knowledge of what was happening. However, the particular passage my friends chose, to me, sounds like a stinging indictment of Christianity as a general overarching term. It does not differentiate between Christianity as a particular human-made institution failing miserably at God’s calling at this point in time and Christianity as a faith.
To me, it feels like an incomplete perspective. It doesn’t take into account the priests and people of faith tortured and killed right alongside other detainees for speaking out against the abuses. It doesn’t take into account Jesus.
We talked about how I thought this excerpt was powerful, that I realize that this is what this man really did say, but that I will not be a part of a presentation that only offers this perspective of Christianity. (We are still friends.)
I am not advocating for the Church’s complicity in human rights abuses to be ignored. These events should be talked about. We should study them. We should learn from them. The Crusades, the Spanish inquisition, the genocide and enslavement of indigenous people, the African slave trade, Native-American children taken from their families and then subjected to sexual and physical abuse in boarding schools, and numerous wars all have one glaring common denominator. They are events that have all at one point in time been ‘justified’ by perpetrators (and the silent majorities) under the guise of Christianity.
One woman in our acting group mentioned how she is terrified of nuns, she gets goose bumps when she sees them because they wrecked her childhood. Another friend mentioned how as a participant in a gay marriage demonstration she saw other participants violently pushed down on the cement and yelled at by counter protesters claiming to represent the Church.
All that stuff did happen. It did. But it did not happen as a result of Christian faith. It happened because Christian doctrine got hijacked and manipulated by hypocrisy, self-righteousness, imperialism, and personal lust for power. We should cry out in lamentation that our faith has been so badly represented. We should make sure other people know that we don’t think these things are okay nor are they accurate examples of faith in Christ. We should recognize and help the world recognize that the church (lower case c –because we are humble like that haha) is not an institution; it is a living, breathing, body of (imperfect) witnesses. It is us.
How do we make the Church, the institution, more Christ-like?
We need to stand up against social injustices.
We need to recognize and apologize for past and present mistakes committed in Christ’s name.
We need to remember to be humble.
We need to remember to love.
We need to remember that Christ is our foundation.
We need to pray.
We need to be redeemed.
And we need to remember to give thanks for all the beautiful ways God has worked in this world through the church. We need to remember how Christ transforms, heals, and sanctifies us, how he resurrects us from our sin, and how the Holy Spirit has compelled movers and shakers within the church to call out, push back, and work to reform the church and the world at large in big and small ways. People like Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Shane Claiborne, Pope Francis, friends, family, your neighbour down the street … and you?