So You Say You Want a Revolution?

Several years ago I was invited to give a workshop at a college retreat where the main speaker used the word “revolution” in his series of talks. Every talk he gave was about making a personal decision for Christ and how Jesus could change your life personally, but he consistently framed it as being “revolutionary.” At breakfast on Sunday morning I finally had a chance to talk personally with him and so I asked him what he meant by the word, “revolution” when he failed to ever mention any impact that following Jesus has on the political, economic, or social realms. He was clearly uncomfortable with the question and I think was defensive. He only said that he didn’t think there was enough emphasis on personal transformation so that was his focus.

The truth is that I didn’t mind his focus on personal holiness, though I have personally heard enough individualistic, navel-gazing, therapeutically-oriented gospel messages to last me a lifetime. But I was greatly irritated that he framed his messages as “revolutionary” when there was absolutely nothing that touched on economic or political engagement. I suppose he wanted an invisible revolution.

In his excellent book, Disruptive Religion, by Christian Smith, Smith writes that, “religion can serve not only to legitimate and preserve, but also to challenge and overturn social, political, and economic systems. Religion can help to keep everything in its place. But it can also turn the world upside-down.” (1996:1, italics his) I do not want to discount the preservationist role that religion can and does play. That is necessary, especially in places in the world where there has been great trauma like wars or human rights violations. Religion can provide healing and restoration and societal harmony.

But where there is a lack of peace and justice, where there is a refusal to honestly admit the presence of injustice and our culpability in its presence, where there is mistreatment of the poor, an unjust distribution of resources favoring the affluent elites, the abuse of power by affluent elites, and continued oppression of people due to a conspiracy of indifference, Christianity in particular is meant to be an agent of revolution rather than a chaplain of complacency. Not a kind of revolution that changes our hearts and leaves oppressive social, political, economic, or even repressive ecclesial structures intact. That ain’t revolution. Instead, we are called to manifest a revolution where love and empathy replace racist and xenophobic hatred, where the modeled community of shared resources challenges the systems of competition and greed, where the dignity and respect of the most vulnerable are given greater preference than the make-believe sufferings of the isolated affluent, and where restoration replaces retribution.

The Kingdom of God is a revolution. And I say let it come. God knows, it is time.

One of the most beautiful images in all of Scripture is found in Micah 4:1-4. It is the picture of nations streaming to the mountain of the house of the Lord so that their conflicts – some of them having been passed down for generations – could be decided by God. God establishes peace while the nations then do the work of beating their weapons for warfare into instruments that provide for the welfare of all people. All war will cease and in the end, “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

This is the Kingdom of God and to make this real for all people, it will take nothing less than a revolution; a revolution not restricted to our individual hearts. This is why a group of us have come together to start Fig Tree Revolution. We dream of a world where all people shall have access to the resources they need, where there will be no poverty, no war, no oppression, and no marginalization. But we are not content to dream. We want to make this dream a reality. And we need one another to do it. We need you to do this with us.

Fig Tree Revolution is a network of progressive thinkers, dreamers, innovators, organizers, and leaders, who are committed to raising up new leaders, dreaming new dreams, creating new connections, and ultimately changing the world. This is a revolution. There is no rigid doctrinal adherence for those of us who have joined together; no doctrinal litmus test. All are welcomed to join the Fig Tree Revolution and ALL means ALL. We abhor the repression that is now associated with those in the church who demand absolute agreement to their culturally skewed interpretation of Jesus’ life and teachings. They call their messages “Good News,” but they are in fact a form of Christianity that is individually therapeutic and political, socially, and economically nonexistent or worse, nativistic and self-consumed. This is the form of godliness without the power of God. It makes them feel good, it allows injustice to continue unabated, and it represses those who refuse to conform. No, that is not “good news.” That is repression.

Revolutions also will not happen because they have been institutionally mandated or scheduled by denominational elites from on high, no matter how often they quote revolutionary verbiage or put “liberals” into high-ranking institutional positions. Throughout history the church as an institution has been antithetical to the movement of the Spirit and the movement of God’s people into radical justice and mission. If we opt for revolution we inherently move away from the institution.

Ironically, whether it is the evangelical individualists or the liberal institutionalists, both are essentially preservationist of the current social, political, and economic status quo.

Having been formed by the United Methodist Church, far too many of us have been fooled for years into thinking we have two “sides” to choose between and I believe both sides are bankrupt. Instead, we must choose to dream new dreams, create new connections, and raise up new leaders. We need the Kingdom of God. We need a revolution.

After a decade of working for the institutional church there is one unalterable truth that I have am absolutely convinced of: the locus of God’s work of change and transformation in the world occurs not in institutional bureaucracies but rather, in and through bands of believers in local contexts who share the same vision and the same passion. This is what Fig Tree Revolution is about. We share the same passion but we will not always agree on all things. But conformity is not our goal. Seeing the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth is. I am excited to be in partnership with the leaders on this site and all of you as well. I invite you to join us. We are called to work together, to cheer on each other, to mourn with each other and to share our burdens collectively. We will do that as we build a more just world, and an inclusive and justice-oriented church.

So, as we begin this journey I want to say openly and unashamedly; I want nothing less than a political, social, economic, and yes, spiritual revolution. A revolution that reflects the promises of Micah and the ministry and teachings of Jesus who, in addition to being Lord and Savior, was and is also a holy insurrectionist. The Kingdom of God is a revolution. We pray for the Kingdom of God to come every Sunday, but we must know that we are praying for revolution.

The Kingdom of God is a revolution and we either are revolutionaries – overturning the systems of oppression wherever they reside (including inside the systems of the church) – or we are chaplains of the status quo.

So, you say you wanna revolution? Yeah, me too.

 

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