Challenging Power and Privilege: Is Good News for the poor Bad News for many of us in North America?

By Will O’Brien, coordinator of The Alternative Seminary

Our Western scholarship and church teaching have communicated to us the notion that the four Gospels convey “objective truth,” and we read them to discern their objective and universal meaning. But such an approach to Scripture, bred in the Western / European church, has functioned to uphold social power systems of domination. What is “objective” and what is “universal” have been adjudicated conveniently by church hierarchy and monarchs to serve the needs of Empire, muting the prophetic and liberating voices of scripture.

In recent decades, the Western church has had its safe objectivity subverted by the powerful and insistent voices from the global south, who have forced us to reckon with the social contexts of scripture – both in its historical origins and in our contemporary world. They have exposed the lie behind the phony neutrality of Western biblical scholarship and challenged our concepts of universal meaning by reading the gospels in contexts of real-life suffering, oppression, and unjust social systems.

We need the challenges of radical new readings of Scripture coming from communities suffering oppression – liberation theologies, feminist and womanist readings, Black and other BIPOC readings, as well as from queer and differently abled communities. As Christian nationalism rages in the United States, what would it mean for those of us who are White and privileged to honestly read the gospel in our context – not with some illusory objectivity or neutrality but in full recognition of the wealth, power, racism, and militarism that are the pillars of U.S. society?

In this sense, the Gospel of Luke is especially relevant. In fact, contrary to other gospels, it reveals its social context in the very first words.  Addressed to “Most Excellent Theophilus,” Luke was clearly writing for a community of believers that included many socially privileged members who were enjoying the benefits of empire – in fact, those are his primary audience.  He is re-telling the Jesus story specifically to the powerful and the privileged. This means that Luke is perhaps the most relevant Gospel to the North American (and predominantly White) church. 

What would it mean for us in the American church to recognize ourselves as “Most Excellent Theophilus” and hear the gospel of Luke addressed to us precisely in our wealth, our power, our privilege – and our allegiance to Empire? 

The Alternative Seminary will embark on this journey with a ten-week online study of the Gospel of Luke.  We will explore how Luke directly challenges systems of power and privilege, while inviting the powerful and privileged out of Empire to the Beloved Community of the reign of God.  We will look at specific themes of Luke’s theology, including social reversals, inclusion of sinners and enemies, forgiveness and mercy, and many radical teachings on money and possessions. 

It is not enough to be good progressive and liberal Christians who claim to stand in solidarity with “the poor and marginalized” – while we continue to be complicit in and benefit from American Christian nationalism and a pro-imperial theology.  It is not enough to read exciting liberating theologies from the social margins without a fierce commitment to acknowledging our role in oppressive structures and doing the hard work of grappling with and dispossessing ourselves of complicity.

This will be an intensive course that will wrestle with many deeply challenging texts – especially for people of privilege – and how they challenge us on what it means to live out the reign of God in the midst of American empire and White supremacy today.  Join us.

The Alternative Seminary invites you to

“Challenging Power and Privilege: A ten-week online study of the Gospel of Luke”

Thursday evenings, April 21 – June 23, 2022, 7:00 – 9:00 pm Eastern Time

This course will be facilitated by Will O’Brien, coordinator of The Alternative Seminary.  The cost for this course will be $100 (or whatever you can afford).  Registration is required. To register, go to GospelofLuke2022.

If you have any questions, please contact Will O’Brien at willobrien59@gmail.com or 267-339-8989. The Alternative Seminary is a program of biblical and theological study and reflection designed to foster an authentic biblical witness in the modern world.  For more information, see www.alternativeseminary.net.

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