Friday, June 30, 2006

The next lecture of the conference was given by Cheryl Bridges Johns, a Pentecostal (Church of God) theologian.

She gave a very general lecture on what salvation means in the Pentecostal traditions, but she used the very helpful lens of her attempt to engage liberation theology with charismatic traditions.

Her most striking statement--and the one that subtly undergirded all she said--was more-or-less as follows: "Those who are influenced by liberation theology tend to emphasize the plight of the poor, and affirm the dignity of the poor, while holding in contempt the religion of the poor."

One can immediately see her point. Of all the Christian traditions, Pentecostalism and Catholicism simply include more low-income and poverty-stricken people than the others (I suspect that's both in total numbers and in percentages.) Yet these are the two least "respectable" faiths in academia--particularly as they are expressed within less educated or less economically comfortable communities. You may remember the kerfluffle when Candidate Kerry attended Eucharist (cameraman in tow) immediately after the Vatican announcement that pro-choice candidates should refrain. One of the staff members of his church gave an interview justifying the priest's choice to serve Kerry Eucharist. He spoke glowingly of the intellectual and political sophistication of his church's members, and practically crowed, "We're not Saint Around-the-Corner."

Those faithful Catholics who are less sophisticated, less educated, and less well-off than this man, who find peace and strength and life at Saint Around-their-Corner, were found by him to be lacking. I'm sure he would look with equal disdain on those who attend Around-their-Corner Assembly of God. As far as such men are concerned, the poor should be helped out of both their material poverty and their religious superstitiousness.

Now, to be fair, my husband pointed out that Gutierrez, for example, would be aghast at such a statement; he once gave a sermon at Duke in which he advised that anyone wishing to help the poor should first live with them and . . . prepare for a shocker, here . . . ask them whether and how they should helped.

But Johns was going even farther in her lecture. She was suggesting that not only do the poor know something about what kind of help they need. They also may know something about our salvation that we need to hear from them.

How very provocative.

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