Oppression exists. Oppression is all around us, we do not have to look very far or hard to find it. When we marginalize, disenfranchise, demonize we oppress. Oppression is an evil. It is the worst kind of evil. It is insidious and deceptive. Many who are oppressed do not even know that they are oppressed. Oppressors are every bit as oppressed as those they oppress. And here’s the real kicker I cannot be free while there are those living in oppression. This doesn’t just go for me, it applies to us all.
Our current world structure is inherently oppressive in that it is hierarchical. Hierarchies place one above another, one below another. We oppress others when we feel superior to them. The current oppressive structure differs from the ancient only on the surface. God recognized that this is the way it would be when He told Samuel what the king (secular government) would be like and damn if He wasn’t right. Saul did exactly as God predicted as have most all of the Kings described in the Bible. All of our governments have done exactly as God said that they would. (being an open theist I do not hold to omniscience in its common sense, I think that God can know all that is knowable, but the details of the future don’t exist and are, therefore, unknowable, but this is fodder for a different post.) Some governments have been better than others, but all have been oppressive.
I oft hear from more conservative Christians a defense for the current, American system as being somehow Christian. Yet, when we look at it our structure is not significantly different than any other except in cosmetics, the surface. I guess I am not just speaking of the political structures but those of all of society. Can we really say that our social structures are significantly different from those of first century Judea? Do we not have those with power and those who are powerless? Do we not have, and as Christians, support a hierarchical notion of gender roles? Does not our consumerism enable the exploitation of workers, many of whom are children being robbed of their childhood as virtual slaves? Does not our consumerism and fleshly appetites enable sexual slavery? Don’t we have religious oppression, when we demonize those of other faiths? Do we not hold prejudices and bigotry against the other? Did not all of these exist in some form or another in the ancient world?
As I read through the Bible I see that God does not support our hierarchical systems that oppress. In one of my favorite passages God tells people that He doesn’t want burnt offerings and the sacrifice of animals. Neither does He want a fast that is simply not eating. What God wants, what He always wanted was for people to love. Love your workers, pay them a decent wage. Love the foreigner, the outcast, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the hated and despised — the other and treat them like they are bearers of the Imago Dei. (Isaiah 58)
In the Gospels Jesus subverts the societal structures. The Sermon on the Mount is totally subversive to the structures of the day. The narrative of Jesus with the Samaritan woman subverts religious and social structures of the day. His whole life and teaching subverts the oppressive, hierarchical structures.
In Luke 10 we find Jesus at Marhta’s home for a gathering and dinner. Martha’s sister Mary is there. The place for a disciple was at the feet of his rabbi. the traditional place for a woman was in the kitchen serving the men. Martha is being obedient to the gender role hierarchy, she is serving in the kitchen. Mary, on the other hand, is in the position of a disciple, at the feet of her rabbi, Jesus. Martha goes in to Jesus and tells Him that Mary’s traditional place, the place dictated by the societal/traditional structures is to be helping her prepare and serve the meal, not being a disciple, women aren’t disciples. What does Jesus tell Martha? That Mary and even Martha have a choice in the roles they are in and that Mary makes the better choice. This teaching subverts the major societal structures, the religious/political and the social/biological.
When Jesus travels to Samaria and meets the woman at the well He is subverting the political/religious structures by simply being there. He subverts the social by actually speaking to this woman, for she is a woman and men don’t talk to strange women in public. And He takes a cup of water from her. Here again He stomps all over the oppressive, marginalizing, hierarchical systems.
These are but two examples, but the Gospels are replete with instances where Jesus subverts, trashes the customs and structures. He does this because these systems are anti-love and God is love, therefore…..They stand in the way of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In Acts we see the early church creating its own economy, one that equalizes and empowers all. This stands in juxtaposition to the economy of the world which is hierarchical.
The Apostle Paul does the same thing as he pens his theology based on the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 we are told that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male or female. These three pairs represent the three major structures of society the religious, the political, and the social. Paul tears them down by removing the divisions, by collapsing the hierarchy and making all one in Christ.
Paul further subverts the worldly structures when he tells us to obey the secular authority. Our worldly structures need an underclass, a criminal class, they need to marginalize and disenfranchise in order to exist. Before I came to Christ I used to tell people in prison that thought that they were rebelling against the system by committing crimes and doing drugs that they were actually supporting the system they thought they rebelled against. The best way to bring down the system is to quit doing crime and drugs. If everyone would do this the worldly system would collapse.
So many people live under oppression around the world. We, here in America, live under oppression. Consumerism is a tool of the oppressive system to placate us, to keep our minds away from our oppression. Yet, this world stands opposed to the Kingdom of Heaven where there is no oppressive structure. To usher in the Kingdom we need to come to grips with our oppression and do like Jesus and subvert the system. We do this with radical love, radical acceptance. If we are in one marginalized/oppressed group we stand with all of those in all marginalized groups, even those with whom we disagree. Men are freed when women are freed. No one can be free until all are free, even our oppressors need to be freed because even they are in bondage. Just as God left Paradise to come be in solidarity with us against that which oppresses, the structures of this world ( I want to caution that we become the oppressor when we go against people instead of the systems of oppression) we are called to be of that same mind as Christ (Philippians 2:5-8).
Yet we hear over and over in our churches and from Christian leaders that we should support and adopt the systems of this world. Support and adopt a system that stands opposed to the Kingdom of God.
I am calling for us to be like Christ and love all people, be for ALL people, yet subvert the systems and structures that oppress.