This week, Christian theologians meeting in Boston donned sackcloth and ashes in a dramatic display of grief over the corruption of U.S. Christianity, and to call the country into a time of reflection and action to end oppression. It was an unusual way to end the annual joint conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL), which draws thousands of religious faculty and students every year.
Over 300 theologians, bishops, and leaders from Christian seminaries and denominations signed what they are calling the “Boston Declaration,” to protest the demise of core values in the Christian faith as prominent politicians are exposed as racists and sexual predators.
But it is not just another protest echoing the outcry against sexual abuse dominating the news in recent weeks.
It is a plea for faith leaders and believers to take a stand against the trend in contemporary American Christianity to embrace sexism, racism, white supremacy, nationalism, cutting social safety-nets, and forcing the poorest and most powerless among us into desperation. It is a protest of the Church willingly becoming accomplices to political corruption and the oppression of the weak and vulnerable in this country — in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus and the Bible.
It is the natural, even prophetic, response of spiritual and religious leaders to the rise of darker, ungodly influences in our culture. And at its core, it is a call for social justice. It is political. And it is a response to the popular wave which elevated Donald Trump and a culture of fear and anti-intellectualism to power. (See the list of specific “condemnations” below, each introduced by the words in bold, “We reject….”)
The statement takes its inspiration from the Barmen Declaration of 1934, when prominent Christian theologians like Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the subjugation and complicity of German churches under Adolf Hitler.
“Far too many Evangelical Christians have embraced the politics of exclusion, exploitation, and hatred, such that the Good News of Jesus has become a cover for a social and economic order that can only be understood as bad news for far too many,” their press release states.
But like so many “declarations” made in recent months, one can only wonder if these are just the words of angry preachers and professors, or whether they will actually wake Amercian Christians up from their apathetic slumber.
The declaration is posted below, and you may add your name at The Boston Declaration.
A PROPHETIC APPEAL TO CHRISTIANS OF THE UNITED STATES
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.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
— MARK 12:31
This is a time of heightened racist and patriarchal empire where wealth is concentrated at the top. The Living God asks us to make a decision: “Today I offer you the choice of life and good, or death and evil. …Choose life.” (Deuteronomy 31). 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.
We acknowledge the manifold and complicated ways we participate in these systems, even as we are often complicit in them. 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. We are people who are still discovering the ways we participate with death and evil, even while we continue to seek the good, to choose life again and again. This declaration is such a choice, hoping and clinging to the God of life and seeking to bear witness to that life in our present moment. 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.
Who is our God and What is the Jesus Way?
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.
The Jesus Way continues through our best, prayerful, honest, and empirical attempts to understand why and how the world has come to be in the shape it is today. This pathway calls us to act in ways that are Spirit-led and strategic in confronting evil wherever evil exists, to combat ignorance wherever ignorance has led people astray and to place our lives and our bodies on the line with whoever is being threatened, beat down, or oppressed in any way, anywhere.
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.
We acknowledge and lament the realities we see around us: broken lives, broken homes, a broken social system that incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. We lament a broken and corrupt police system, a broken economic system that prioritizes profits over people, a broken sense of national identity. We lament national boundaries that make our worries about security a pretext for destroying the lives of others, and a broken church that disrespects and marginalizes many people rather than honoring and embracing them. We rebuke the ideologies and idolatries that lie beneath the death we see in our midst and collectively hope to point to ways we might all choose life.
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.
We reject the false ideology of empire building and the myth of racial laziness and substance abuse that harms the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the US territories.
We reject the false ideology that peace is achieved through military strength and that violence is the necessary foundation for freedom, safety, or security. We stand against the manufacturing and proliferation of weapons which continue to drown the planet in the blood of millions through global war and the terrorism of domestic mass shootings.
We reject the false ideology of the corporate ruling class that services and supports the US military, dispossess and represses poor communities of color, and which erodes and blocks real empowerment of the most vulnerable of peoples and of any real people’s democracy.
We reject the false ideology of American exceptionalism and the evil of political corruption, calling for integrity in our elected officials and multilateral governance. It is this myth by which moral responsibility is suspended in the pursuit of its interests.
We reject the false ideology of white normalcy and bigotry. We reject the false identification that exclusively binds whiteness with Christianity, true humanity, and United States citizenship. We reject antisemitism, which is driving much of white Christian nationalism.
We reject the patriarchal and misogynistic legacies that subject women to continual violence, violation, and exclusion. We stand strongly against sexual abuse and harassment in the highest offices of power.
We reject violations against the Earth, especially the stripping of her resources and polluting that harms her and the creatures that inhabit her soil and seas.
We reject economic policies that are grounded in an illusion of extreme individualism and favor the accumulation of wealth for a few to the detriment of the many.
We reject Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.
We reject homophobia and transphobia and all violence against the LGBTQ community.
We reject all anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that fail to recognize the contributions of immigrants who have come from every corner of the world to strengthen the fabric of this nation—culturally, economically and spiritually.
“Choose you this day whom you will serve!”
— JOSHUA 24:15
Call to Action
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.
- Amey Victoria Adkins, Boston College
- Efrain Agosto, New York Theological Seminary
- Macky Alston, Auburn Seminary
- Gelky Alrvelo, New York Theological Seminary
- Cheryl B. Anderson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Cara Anthony, University of St. Thomas
- Ellen T. Armour, Vanderbilt Divinity School
- Sarah Azaransky, Union Theological Seminary
- Brian Bantum, Seattle Pacific University
- William Barber II, Repairers of the Breach
- Eric D. Barreto, Princeton Theological Seminary
- Angela Bauer-Levesque, Episcopal Divinity School
- Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Moses Biney, New York Theological Seminary
- Traci Blackmon, United Church of Christ
- Mary C. Boys, Union Theological Seminary
- Valerie Bridgeman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Gennifer Brooks, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Stina Busman Jost, Bethel University
- Lee H. Butler, Jr., Chicago Theological Seminary
- Gil Caldwell, United Methodist Clergy
- Leslie Callahan, St. Paul’s Baptist Church
- Jamall Andrew Calloway, Brown University
- Rosemary P. Carbine, Whittier College
- J. Kameron Carter, Duke Divinity School
- Cláudio Carvalhaes, Union Theological Seminary
- Noel Castallanos, Christian Community Development Association
- Choi Hee An, Boston University School of Theology
- Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way
- Jawanza Eric Clark, Manhattan College
- Christian T. Collins Winn, Bethel University
- Monica A. Coleman, Claremont School of Theology
- James H. Cone, Union Theological Seminary
- David W. Congdon, University Press of Kansas
- M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College
- Kendall Cox, University of Virginia
- Shannon Craigo-Snell, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
- Brandy Daniels, University of Virginia
- Keri Day, Princeton Theological Seminary
- Megan K. DeFranza, Boston University School of Theology
- Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary
- Kelly Brown Douglas, Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary
- Kait Dugan, Princeton Theological Seminary
- Victor Ezigbo, Bethel University
- Nancy Fields, New York Theological Seminary
- Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Fordham University
- John Flett, Pilgrim Theological College (Australia)
- Walter Fluker, Boston University School of Theology
- Yvette Flunder, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
- Robert Franklin, Emory University
- Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Duke Divinity School
- Wil Gafney, Brite Divinity School
- Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Colby College
- Gene Green, Wheaton College
- Sharon Groves, Auburn Seminary
- Katelin Hansen, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Lisa Sharon Harper, Greenville University and Freedom Road, LLC
- Jennifer Harvey, Drake University
- Susan Hassinger, Boston University School of Theology
- Katharine Henderson, Auburn Seminary
- Johnny Hill, Shaw University Divinity School
- Peter Goodwin Heltzel, New York Theological Seminary
- Michael S. Hogue, Meadville Lombard Theological School
- Alice W. Hunt, Chicago Theological Seminary
- Douglas “Jake” Jacobsen, Messiah College
- Jeffrey Jaynes, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Willie James Jennings, Yale University
- Wonhee Anne Joh, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Alfred Johnson, New York Theological Seminary
- Paul Dafydd Jones, University of Virginia
- Serene Jones, Union Theological Seminary
- Sherry Jordan, University of St. Thomas
- Namsoon Kang, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
- Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, Claremont School of Theology
- Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Claremont School of Theology
- Catherine Keller, Drew University School of Theology
- Jeff Keuss, Seattle Pacific University
- Grace Ji Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion
- Nicole Kirk, Meadville Lombard Theological School
- Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Shaw University Divinity School
- Jennifer Wright Knust, Boston University School of Theology
- Deborah Krause, Eden Theological Seminary
- Kwok Pui Lan, Emory University
- Sarah Heaner Lancaster, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Erik Leafblad, Bethel University
- Terri LeBlanc, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies
- Bernon Lee, Bethel University
- Jacqueline J. Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church
- Pamela Lightsey, Boston University School of Theology
- Diane H. Lobody, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Tamura Lomax, The Feminist Wire
- Vanessa Lovelace, Interdenominational Theological Center
- Joretta Marshall, Brite Divinity School
- Eboni Marshall Turman, Yale University
- Jenny McBride, McCormick Theological Seminary
- Clint McCann, Eden Theological School
- Carolyn McCrary, Interdenominational Theological Seminary
- Brian D. McLaren, Convergence Leadership Project
- W. Travis McMaken, Lindenwood University
- Linda Mercadante, Methodist Theological School of Ohio
- Rosemary Bray McNatt, Starr King School for the Ministry
- Stephanie Mitchem, University of South Carolina
- Martha Moore-Keish, Columbia Theological Seminary
- Otis Moss III, Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago
- Deborah Flemister Mullen, Columbia Theological Seminary
- Susan Myers, University of St. Thomas
- Francesca Nuzzolese, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- M. Fulgence Nyengele, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Kate Ott, Drew University
- Aristotle Papanikolaou, Fordham University
- Joon-Sik Park, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Angela N. Parker, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology
- Peter Phan, Georgetown University
- David Penchansky, University of St. Thomas
- Jim Perkinson, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
- Larry Perry, Georgetown University
- Adam Ployd, Eden Theological Seminary
- Alton B Pollard, III, Howard University School of Divinity
- Thomas Porter, Jr., Boston University School of Theology
- Andrew Prevot, Boston College
- Bradford H. Price, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Jeffrey C. Pugh, Elon University
- Marc A. Pugliese, St. Leo University
- Luis N. Rivera Pagan, Princeton Theological Seminary
- Shelly Rambo, Boston University School of Theology
- Erica Ramiriz, George Fox University
- Paul Brandeis Raushenbusch, Auburn Seminary
- Darby K. Ray, Bates College
- Stephen Ray, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Lallene Rector, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Joshua Reno, University of Minnesota
- Patrick Reyes, The Forum for Theological Exploration
- Kenneth A. Reynhout, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
- Kurt Anders Richardson, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics
- Joerg Rieger, Vanderbilt Divinity School
- Kyle Roberts, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
- Gene Robinson, Episcopal Church
- Luis R. Rivera Rodriguez, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Timothy J. Scherer, Fuller Theological Seminary
- Laurel C. Schneider, Vanderbilt University
- Donna Schaper, Judson Memorial Church
- Christian Scharen, Auburn Seminary
- David Schnasa Jacobsen, Boston University School of Theology
- Phillis Isabella Sheppard, Vanderbilt Divinity School
- Ry O. Siggelkow, University of St. Thomas
- Angela Sims, Saint Paul School of Theology
- Andrea Smith, University of California, Riverside
- Kay Higuera Smith, Azusa Pacific University
- Melanie Smith, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
- Patrick T. Smith, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Shannon Nicole Smythe, Seattle Pacific University
- Bryan Stone, Boston University School of Theology
- Diana M. Swancutt, Boston University School of Theology
- Kathryn Tanner, Yale University
- Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Seminary
- JoAnne Marie Terrell, Chicago Theological Seminary
- John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminary
- John E. Thiel, Fairfield University
- Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Chicago Theological Seminary
- Linda Thomas, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
- Julie Todd, Iliff School of Theology
- Joseph Tolton, The Fellowship Global
- Miguel A. De La Torre, Iliff School of Theology
- Cameron Trimble, Center for Progressive Renewal
- Emilie M. Townes, Vanderbilt Divinity School
- Kirk VanGilder, Gallaudet University
- Timothy L Van Meter, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Eldin Villafañe, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Kimberly Vrudny, University of St. Thomas
- Mark Wallace, Swarthmore College
- Janet Walton, Union Theological Seminary
- Nimi Wariboko, Boston University School of Theology
- Michele E. Watkins, Iliff School of Theology
- Eric Weed, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
- Sharon Welch, Meadville Lombard Theological School
- Jim Wellman, University of Washington
- Cornel West, Harvard Divinity School
- Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School
- Vitor Westhelle, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
- Andrea C. White, Union Theological Seminary
- Tamara Francis Wilden, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
- Wesley J. Wildman, Boston University School of Theology
- David E. Wilhite, Baylor University
- Matthew Williams, Forum for Theological Exploration
- Reggie L. Williams, McCormick Theological Seminary
- Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Rutba House
- Janet Wolf, United Methodist Clergy
- Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman, University of Otago (New Zealand)
- Randy Woodley, Portland Seminary/George Fox University
- Jessica Wong, Azusa Pacific University
- Gale A. Yee, Episcopal Divinity School
- Amos Yong, Fuller Theological Seminary
- Yvonne C. Zimmerman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
You may read and sign the declaration at The Boston Declaration.
photo credit: Twitter/@kkatyrose via Church Leaders