Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Today is the Oklahoma Conference of Churches 26th annual day at the legislature. Rev. Stan Basler, Director of Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries for the United Methodist Churches of Oklahoma, gave the keynote address in the Senate Chamber of the Oklahoma State Capitol on the topic of "Systemic Sin, today's Challenge for the Church." Basler quoted John 19:15-16 as a biblical example of a sin of the system of governance. He spoke much about Walter Rauschenbush's concept of a social gospel that works to create a regenerated social order. After Basler spoke, I was one of four members of a panel that responded to and made comments about Basler's speech. The other panelists were Republican State Senator Clark Jolley, a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University who represents Northern Oklahoma City and Edmond, Pat Potts a Presbyterian laywoman active in social justice issues who twice ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a North Oklahoma City State Senate seat, and Lance Schmitz, Minister of Social Justice at First Nazarene Church in Oklahoma City.
Here is what I can remember of what I said about Basler's speech:
First, let me say that I am delighted that Stan had the insight and the wisdom to talk about "Systemic Sin." If there ever was a time for us to see the evidence of systemic sin, it is today. Every day we read about it in our newspapers and watch it on our televisions. We have a system that thought "Greed is good" and unregulated free-markets could police themselves. We are witnessing the evil and sinful effects of an unregulated "free-market fundamentalism" that defies comprehension. It had an exceedingly naive view of human nature. We need to return to the understanding of government that James Madison had. We need a system of checks and balances that will keep all forms of power honest.
Second, I am pleased to hear Rev. Basler quoting one of my heroes -- Walter Rauschenbush. He was a Baptist. It is good to remember that as a Baptist he was raised in a tradition rooted in a "born again" conversionist theology that emphasized a voluntary, relationship with Christ. No government, no community, and no church stands between a believer and Christ for a Baptist. We believe we have direct access to God. A lot of people, not Methodists like Stan, but a lot of other people think that that is individualistic. But, that is not what Rauschenbush is talking about when he speaks of individualism.
Baptists also believe strongly in liberty of conscience. By liberty of conscience I mean looking at yourself through the eyes of an Other. The most important Other whose eyes that we look at ourselves through are God's. Most sacred and inviolate is our conviction that no one can usurp the place that God's will has in our lives. We want to live lives that are pleasing in his eyes. Then, secondly, we also look at ourselves -- with humility -- through the eyes of "the least of these" -- as Rev. Basler mentioned. Looking that way, we see a brother or sister in Christ. We know that we are responsible to them and for them. When we see them in need, we know that, "but for the grace of God, there go I" and we strive to meet that need.
As Stan mentioned, when Rauschenbush talks about individualism, he is talking about sin as self-interest. He is insisting that we must replace self-interest with the common interest of society. The common good is that we all be free to live life with and for others in just institutions. Just institutions are fair institutions. Institutions that are fair to everyone. We all need to work to see that the institutions of our society treat everyone equally and fairly.
That's why I am glad to see the Oklahoma Conference of Churches hold these days at the legislature. It gives us an opportunity to recommit ourselves and gather the will to effect the kind of changes that need to take place for this to be a just society.
The economy we have now did not float down to us from heaven. It was created by us and the decisions that we have made as a community. We all need to work to see that we create a society that is just and fair for every man, woman and child in our country.
Posted by Bruce Prescott at 11:21 AM