Political Theology in an Anti-Religious World, Evangelical Focus

Many today are angry with religion, or at least disappointed in it. Rightly perhaps, since so much violence is perpetrated in the name of God.

In the MENA part of the world, anger and disappointment surfaced in the so-called “Arab Spring” protests that began towards the end of 2010, raging like a storm of new hope across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya , Yemen and Syria. Although the early protests did not have obvious anti-religious overtones, they were primarily anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment. As the wave of popular anger raged, scholars and pundits began to uncover a growing and emboldened movement of atheism that was forcing its way through the ranks of Arab youth. Authoritarian regimes had co-opted religion and the religious establishment – ​​Muslim and Christian – had co-opted political dictators so blatantly throughout history that this evil marriage had to come to an end sooner or later.

The shame felt within the Muslim world is reflected in the abundance of self-justifying material that emerged in the first eighteen months of the ISIS phenomenon.
As the Arab Spring protests spread to Syria in 2012, the resulting chaos ultimately created a vacuum for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or Daesh in its equivalent Arabic acronym) to expand there in the summer of 2014. The group’s murderous behavior began to wreak havoc in mainstream Muslim circles. of Daesh the justification of his actions based on the Quran and other Islamic texts has imposed unprecedented interpretative challenges on traditional understandings of these texts that religious leadership circles had to deal with – some for the first time in such a context.

In the West, and on the Christian side, I would say a similar phenomenon has occurred as a result of the politics now widely referred to as “Trumpism”, both at home and abroad. Studies show that youth disillusionment with politicized evangelism is probably at its highest today.

Anger towards religion is expressed in various ways. Some are angry with God because of all the suffering they see. Classically, this crisis is called theodicy: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” This blog is not about theodicy, however. More people today are angry with religion in the form of and because of its various political manifestations: sectarianism, political clericalism and religious authoritarianism. If you’re not mad at religion, then maybe it’s time you were!

How, then, to engage in political theology in such a misotheistic world – a world of God-haters? Or should we perhaps call this phenomenon misoreligionism – a world of religion haters?

More and more people today are angry with religion in and because of its various political manifestations: bigotry, political clericalism and religious authoritarianism.

In Liban, misoreligionism clearly dominated the discourse and popular slogans of our own version of the Arab Spring – the October 17 Revolution, sparked in 2019 by the weakening and degradation of all national institutions under the weight of corrupt policies and behaviors and clientelists of a kleptocratic policy. classroom. Members of collective societies – especially in the MENA region – remain deeply attached to their belief in the existence of God. What we are witnessing, therefore, is best described as misoreligionism rather than misotheism. What is the fate of political theology in such an environment?

August 4and2020, the disintegration of the Lebanese state manifested phenomenally in the explosion of the port of Beirut, the most dramatic and tragic crime perpetrated in the history of Lebanon by an entire political class against its own people , the culmination of a long history of impunity and inherent violence.

Since August 4and, my own professional career took a turn. Although interfaith work, in which I have invested 19 years of my life, will continue to play an important role in triggering social change, my experience is that it is less powerful in its ability to achieve profound political change. Most religious leaders are first and foremost loyal to their religious hierarchy, which is too often co-opted by the political mainstream. Such leaders will not provide the kind of prophetic political leadership needed in a country like Lebanon. At this point in Lebanon’s history, I have therefore decided to reinvest much of my energy in short-term political activism, and in cathartically exploring our long history of longer-term violence. For me, this represents a natural extension of my journey into political theology as an expression of my public engagement.

This journey started inductively; my call to public engagement motivates me to seek a biblical framework for politics rather than theological convictions leading me to activism. So what is the meaning of public theology. Or perhaps a better question is this: can theology be other than public? Should it be? If it is not public, then who does it serve, since public theology should be part of the mission of the Church and missiology is always outward looking?

The gift of the cross annihilates the selfish abuse of political power

I would say that public theology is naturally political theology, where “politics” is understood as the overall order of everyday life. In this perspective, political theology designates the political elaboration of Christianity. In other words, even as we pray to the Father with Jesus, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” our hope for the kingdom of God and our anticipation of justice and peace shape our political hermeneutics and our message in society. and the world.

Reading the New Testament, it is not difficult to be convinced that the message of Jesus and the impact of his life, as transmitted to us by the first Christians, was deeply political.. They so profoundly changed the societies of the time that they became a moment of transition for history itself, a turning point expressed by “before Christ” and “after Christ”. What remains in question is not whether Christ’s call should be considered political, but whether we are going to engage in good political theology or bad political theology. The kind of practice that makes many today reluctant to integrate politics and theology is therefore a manifestation of bad political theology rather than an argument for separation.

the cross of christ is central to the gospel that comes to us. It is the greatest political statement against the abuse of human power that mocks justice and peace. Any evangelical proclamation that does not actively contribute to the advent of justice and the growth of peace is therefore a parody of the kerygma of Christ. In its perceived weakness, the cross is the most powerful political critique and the foundation of our hope for a politics of freedom. It is the memory of the crucified, tirelessly recalled in the Eucharist and represented with passion in the iconography of the Church, which inspires our political theology.

Public theology is naturally a political theology, where “politics” is understood as the global organization of daily life.

How, then, to engage in political theology in an anti-religious world? We do it like Jesus, prophetically denouncing tyrants who co-opt religion under the guise of political bigotry. In Lebanon, for example, the assertion that political sectarianism is the guarantee of Christianity’s survival would itself risk the disappearance of the historic Christian presence in the region. The self-giving of the cross annihilates the selfish abuse of political power. While idealistic men and women initially engage in politics, they often quickly fall into the trap of political self-perpetuation. The message of the cross restores power to the service of the public good, dislodges it from its self-perpetuating tendency. It’s the telosthe ultimate goal of servant leadership.

The critical situation in which the witness of the Church in the Middle East finds itself today has not gone unnoticed by theologians and thinkers in the region. Recently (September 2021), a prophetic and stimulating document, titled “We Choose an Abundant Life: Christians in the Middle East: Towards Renewed Theological, Social, and Political Choices,” was published by a group of Arab theologians. It is a sort of political manifesto calling on the Church in the Middle East to adopt a renewed framework for public theology. It does so in a spirit of humility and confession of past failures, reaffirming the mission of the Church as one of service to humanity, of perpetual institutional renewal, of restoration of witness as an active presence for renewal and hello to our societies. She expresses this call through the poignant and radical image of the adoption of a “culture of life” and rejection of the “culture of death” which has so often dominated the church’s engagement with society and the religious other.

I believe that our societies today are in desperate need of an appropriate political theology, the framework of which will motivate followers of Christ everywhere to engage in the kind of public engagement that serves the causes of justice, peace and freedom in all areas of social and environmental policy.

Martin Accad, associate professor of Islamic studies at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. He directs the research group Action Research Associates. This article was first published on the blog of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminaryand has been republished with permission.

Barry F. Howard