One of the most militant expressions of left-wing Christianity was and is Liberation Theology, that creation of Latin American Roman Catholicism that brought Marx into the Church for so many years. One of the enduring slogans of that movement was "the preferential option for the poor," which means that the Church acts in such a way that the poor have an advantage in the result. Although one thinks first of Marx’s dictum in the Critique of the Gotha Programme "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," the truth is that the Gospels are tilted strongly in the direction of the lower reaches of society, to say nothing of James:
“My Brothers, are you really trying to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the worship of rank? Suppose a man should enter your Synagogue, with gold rings and in grand clothes, and suppose a poor man should come in also, in shabby clothes, And you are deferential to the man who is wearing grand clothes, and say–“There is a good seat for you here,” but to the poor man–“You must stand; or sit down there by my footstool,” Is not that to make distinctions among yourselves, and show yourselves prejudiced judges? Listen, my dear Brothers. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the things of this world to be rich through their faith, and to possess the Kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you–you insult the poor man! Is not it the rich who oppress you? Is not it they who drag you into law-courts? Is not it they who malign that honorable Name which has been bestowed upon you?” (James 2:1-7)
In listening to the aftermath the recent Anglican Primates Meeting in Tanzania, one hears the "noise of the renegades" (a good Chinese Communist phrase,) i.e., the liberals in the Episcopal Church, whining about the "spirit of inclusiveness" and "discussion of justice and morality" that has been checked by the African and other conservative Global South primates. For them, inclusion of homosexuals in the hierarchy of the church and same-sex blessings and marriage is an issue on par with racial equality (something many black people in the U.S. find offensive) and the many other causes liberals espouse.
But let’s think about the passage from James. The Lord’s brother (that’s right, Roman Catholics) makes an assumption: "…suppose a poor man should come in also…" In the church that James led, that was a regular occurance. But in the modern Episcoal Church–along with the other Main Line churches–that is an exceptional event in the general scheme of things. TEC remains a largely white, upscale church, wondering how to fix the problem but seemingly unable to do so. The poor go elsewhere. In the meanwhile the homosexuals, an upscale group in their own right, remain a tempting target for TEC, thus all of the moves towards accomodating them.
On the other hand, had Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schiori lifted up her eyes and look around her at the Primates’ meeting, she would have seen prelates whose churches have quite a few poor people–millions of them, in fact. Many of the divisions that plague the Anglican Communion–to say nothing of Christianity in general–stem from disparities such as this. In spite of the TEC blunders on, attacking the Global South for their lack of social concern when in fact TEC’s "social concern" is badly misplaced.
It is our core contention that any church whose membership’s average per capita income is above the average for the country it’s in is not really serious about social justice. Its social justice is mere paternalism whose main purpose is to assuage guilt about its superior economic status, not to really fix the problems in front of it. Supporting groups of like elevated status like the homosexuals only shows how far removed from real social justice these people have strayed. This doesn’t only apply to churches; it also works in the secular realm as well.
To put it in terms Liberation Theology people would understand, the church that isn’t the "preferential option of the poor" cannot have the "preferential option for the poor." Until TEC recognises this simple fact, everything they do along these lines, from their enthusiasm for the Millennium Development Goals to the money-favouring they spread around the Communion–will be a farce.
10 Replies to “The Preferential Option of the Poor”