Day 44 of our Lenten Journey beyond “Beyond Vietnam” continues. An excerpt from Michelle Alexander’s recent comments on Mark Lewis Taylor’s re-release of The Executed God (2001), part of a longer back-and-forth dialogue that is well worth reading.
The truth is that I am still struggling to figure out what I believe about the nature of God and what it means to say that anyone has a “personal relationship” with God. I am just beginning my journey with theology, and therefore I have mostly questions — not answers or critiques.
What I do know is that I can no longer proceed as though mass incarceration is a purely political or legal problem that can be solved through forms of organizing, advocacy, movement-building and protest that lack a strong moral and spiritual foundation. The fact that Taylor offers a rigorous argument for spiritually-grounded actions that will force a national reckoning with our criminal injustice system is a cause for celebration. I wholeheartedly agree with him that political organizing and movement-building among faith communities is essential, and I also agree that political insurrection can be healing and transformative for those who have been traumatized, abused, and violated.
But here’s the rub. Political insurrection is not always healing or transformative, just as declarations of forgiveness are not necessarily liberating. Years of advocacy and activism have taught me that many organizing spaces are spiritually and morally impoverished in ways that we cannot afford to ignore. I have found myself asking: what is required beyond political insurrection in these times? Or, perhaps more to the point, how do we approach political insurrection in a manner that ensures that it will be healing and transformative and not a miniature mirror of power games played by empire? These strike me as important spiritual and theological questions, as well as practical ones. They are among the questions that recently led me to a seminary.