Walter Brueggemann

July 11, 2018

Walter Brueggemann on “the Joker amid Class Warfare”

As a summer intern for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, I continue to learn about the challenging inner workings of the Church. One of my first tasks was to monitor and report on the Festival of Homiletics, a liberal preacher’s conference urging politics in the pulpit. The festival convened in May here in Washington, D.C. Speakers included Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, Diana Butler Bass, Otis Moss III, and other notable left-leaning political and religious figures.

Among the more provocative discussions was Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann’s presentation titled, “The Joker amid Class Warfare.”

Brueggemann, who teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary, declared the first step in addressing class warfare is to recognize its existence. Since this was a conference catering to pastors, Brueggemann was quick to note that class warfare is prevalent throughout the Bible. As such, he cautioned church leaders not to avoid or edit out class tensions within local communities.

The failure to correctly identify class warfare, Brueggemann warned, only “ensures that the status quo remains in place without disturbance or interruption.”

During his address, Brueggemann emphasized that the Christian faith is all about exposing the truth and stressed the church is the key place to have a conversation about class warfare. He admitted the discussion is in opposition to typical “safe” church topics, but encouraged other pastors to engage in the conversation nonetheless.

For a class war to exist, Brueggemann stated there must be two combatants. He described them as “the haves and the have-nots; the rich, white haves and the poor, colored have-nots.” A part of the conflict occurs because the “[haves] are well articulated, well organized, readily organized and are therefore considered legitimate,” he said and claimed obligations such as “taxes, mortgages, loan stipulations, and low wages” are levied, then there’s no way for the lower class to speak.

Continuing on, Brueggemann insisted the Church must recognize that there is “a third participant in this dispute of justice, namely the God of Exodus.” He explained God is not neutral in the struggle for justice, but rather one that chooses sides. God must be involved in this fight because, if he is not, “there will be no legitimate sustained struggle for justice.”

“In good creation,” said Brueggemann, “when it’s working, everything works for good, and the have’s and the have not’s, powerful whites and the poor and the nonwhites and the poor whites, are engaged in neighborliness.” He challenged the pastors to “dare to summon God back into the enterprise of creation, confident that when God is mobilized, good creation can be restored.”

This all sounds nice and good and I agree with the Brueggemann’s call for “movement beyond our comfort zones.” But for such a well-respected theologian, he failed to offer a practical faith-based vision for how to do all this. If indeed the Church is the pivotal place to have such discussions, then it would be helpful to know what real, charitable steps clergy and lay leaders should take to ease class divisions and strife, all the while sharing the Gospel with lost souls.

I suspect what was left unsaid is a political push for congregants to support increased welfare programs, universal healthcare, and the like. But if that is truly the vision, then the Church and God are not seen as problem solvers at all.


2 Responses to Walter Brueggemann on “the Joker amid Class Warfare”

  1. Dan W says:

    The God of Exodus is a participant in this dispute of justice, but not Christ? That seems to contradict what Jesus told his disciples when he gave them the Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20.

  2. Somehow when I am exposed to a “theologian” I seem to recall a very classic definition: “A theologian is a blind man in a dark room at midnight looking for a black cat that isn’t there!” 🙂

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