The Social Location of Your Christianity Matters

2020 has been a challenging year for many nonprofits. RHM is no exception. We need your support to impact lives and bring the faith-based, societal-justice focused resources and analysis RHM provides.

Intersections between faith, love, compassion, and justice are needed right now more than ever.

If you have been blessed by the work of RHM, please consider making a tax-deductible donation, today.


The Social Location of Your Christianity Matters

cross on church

Herb Montgomery | October 23, 2020

—”This devolution of the Jesus of the story justifies why many today are repulsed or revolted when anything Christian is brought up or the name Jesus is evoked. But in the story, it was the elite and privileged who felt this disgust and loathing. Today, it’s those on the margins of society, those who have also been hurt by Christianity or disenfranchised and harmed by Christians . . . Their intense dislike of all things Christian simply expresses a much deeper internal revolt against injustice and the religion of those who perpetuate it.”

My heart is heavy this week as I listen to some of the other Christian voices here in Appalachia. I wonder sometimes if we are reading the same Jesus story, and I know that we are, at minimum, interpreting the story differently.

I read the Jesus story as a story of Jesus being a conduit of hope for the disenfranchised and oppressed in the gospels. This Jesus’ teachings and actions threatened the privileged and therefore had to be stopped. The Jesus story doesn’t center on a cross. It focuses on the life that overcame a cross; life-giving that reversed and ultimately triumphed over the crushing death-dealing in the story.

The resurrection event in the Jesus story is the Divine response to Jesus’ unjust crucifixion on a Roman cross and a system of injustice that culminated in such acts against those deemed social or political threats. The resurrection event speaks of a Jesus in solidarity with oppressed people rather than with the oppression and oppressors who benefit from oppressing.

As western Christianity’s social location changed over the centuries, many of these themes in the Jesus story became ignored or reinterpreted. Under the Roman emperor, the same empire that had crucified Jesus also changed the church’s social focus and understanding of the “gospel.” The stories about Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) have political implications and those implications became problematic as Christianity transitioned from a community of the oppressed, as James Cone used to say, to a community of oppressors. Seemingly overnight, the Jesus of the gospels became the Jesus of the oppressors. This devolution of the Jesus of the story justifies why many today are repulsed or revolted when anything Christian is brought up or the name Jesus is evoked. But in the story, it was the elite and privileged who felt this disgust and loathing. Today, it’s those on the margins of society, those who have also been hurt by Christianity or disenfranchised and harmed by Christians. The Hebrew narrative of a God who stands in solidarity with those who suffer at the hands of others was so strong in the Jesus stories and has been subverted.

Today, many of my non-religious friends who oppose Christianity are rooted in a deep concern about matters of justice. Their intense dislike of all things Christian simply expresses a much deeper internal revolt against injustice and the religion of those who perpetuate it. I acknowledge this. I also recognize that the European-American Jesus who stands with the superpowers of this planet does not exist in the biblical stories or in life. The Jesus we find in the Jesus of the stories was radically inclusive, seeking to mitigate the harm being perpetuated toward the vulnerable and excluded in his society. He stood in solidarity with those on the bottom of our systems of oppression, flipping tables and challenging systemic and economic injustice with those for whom injustice meant an early death.

This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that the “Christian” god of the conquering West is not the God we find in the Jesus story. The god that many of us white Christians have worshipped all our lives doesn’t exist. The God of the Jesus story stood in solidarity with the Abels, not the Cains, and with the Hebrews, Jews, and the 1st Century followers of Jesus persecuted by systems they lived under.

Today this must call us to re-evaluate our standing in relation to the lives of Indigenous Americans, Black and Brown people, Women, poor people, queer people, and anyone whom our society relates to as “less than.” I believe the gospel stories about Jesus can still speak to these communities of how another world is possible, here, now: a world where the first are last and the last are first. It’s not a world that makes room at the top of a pyramid of oppression for people who were once oppressed themselves. It’s not a world where the oppressed become the new and inevitable oppressors, as Saul Alinsky imagined they would. The world of the gospels is a world where the relationships of oppressor and oppressed are no more. We’ll have outgrown survival instincts that may have once kept us alive but are now impeding our survival as a human community.

The themes of the gospel of Jesus are a universal love and care about the injustice that beloveds are facing today. This kind of gospel is not about post-mortem bliss but about a world, in this time, that we can shape into a just, safe, compassionate home for everyone. It’s not a gospel of mercy, grace, and forgiveness that releases us from a Divine, punitive retribution, but of a mercy, grace, and forgiveness of debt that gives birth to distributive, restorative, transformative, and reparative justice. Death is overcome by life and not avoided with greater death-dealing. We choose the path of life-giving politics for our societies, and guilt gives way to reparations and reparations, to reconciliation. It’s a world where we reap what we sow and what we’ve sown is compassion, love, justice, and inclusion. This is a world that is a “blessing” to those the present arrangement oppresses, and it will be a “blessing” to those who stand in solidarity with and give a voice to those who have been oppressed (cf. Matthew 5-10, and Luke 6). Lastly, this is a world where the means we have used to build are the “oak within the acorn.” They have shaped the kind of world we have ended up in the end: the means determined our end.

This week I’m challenged once again to believe this kind of world is actually possible. What hurts my heart as someone raised within Christianity is to see how many, many Christians are allowing themselves to be misinformed enough to oppose the world found in the oldest interpretations of the Jesus story. This month, the recommended book at Renewed Heart Ministries is Miguel A. De La Torre’s Burying White Privilege: Resurrecting a Badass Christianity. While I read this short, timely, and poignant book, I was struck by a statement that captures the kind of opposition I’m referring to:

“While justifying their choice with pro-life rhetoric, [pro-life Christians] bloody their hands through their allegiance to death-dealing policies that disproportionately impact the poor, the undocumented, and the queer. Pro-life Christians in the United States who today want to build walls to drive brown bodies into the desert to die are the ideological descendants of pro-life Pilgrims and slave masters whose invasion, genocide, enslavement, and rape epitomize the legacy of white Christianity.” (Kindle location 239)

Every day we have the opportunity to choose what kind of world we want to live in. When we make these choices collectively, our choices create change. None of us can change the world all by ourselves, but together we can accomplish great and beautiful things.

In the US, we have an opportunity in just a couple of weeks to work toward change collectively. I cannot tell you who to vote for. What I can do is encourage you not to hold illusions about what the act of voting is in this county. I can encourage you not to try voting for a candidate and think they will heal all of our country’s ills without failure. There are no heroes. In the words of Alice Walker, we are the ones we have been waiting for. Whoever wins, we will have to hold them accountable. We don’t vote for ideal candidates, then. Instead, this year, vote for those you believe will cause the least amount of harm, misery, and oppression for the world’s marginalized, disenfranchised and underprivileged. Vote to mitigate harm while we continue to work every day toward a world where the vulnerable are no longer harmed.

To paraphrase what Vincent Harding used to say, we are citizens of a country that doesn’t exist yet. But I believe we can take steps that move us closer to the realization of our highest values and ideals.

Another world is possible.

Over the next few weeks, let’s move closer to it.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us.

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What are some practices in other countries, that you see support for in the Jesus story, that you wish we also practiced here in the United States? Share with your group, along with how you see the Jesus story supporting these practices.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

A Cautionary Tale for Society

Herb Montgomery | October 16, 2020


“Seeing the man set free from his internalized oppression, the society around him refuses to get free of the same ‘demons.’ . . . When people get free of collective violence toward a marginalized sector of our society, (whether in themselves toward themselves, or within themselves toward others) they are following the social truth within this gospel story.”


In Mark’s gospel we read a story that many people find difficult:

“[Jesus and his disciples] went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of Him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” (Mark 5:1-9)

The original audience of Mark’s gospel would have recognized the symbols and codes in this story. We are removed by time and context, and so it’s harder to follow.

I believe this story is a symbolic portrait of Roman imperialism. Ched Myers notes in his commentary on Mark’s gospel that this story is a story of “symbolic confrontation” and has specific political meaning. The name of the man, Legion, was the name of a division of Roman soldiers.

“The conclusion is irresistible that we are here encountering imagery meant to call to mind the Roman military occupation of Palestine,” Myers writes in Binding the Strong Man (p. 191). This occupation was destroying the spirit, independence, and will of the people Rome colonized, and this story depicts what we refer to today as a person’s internalized oppression.

As soon as Jesus arrives in this story, he is met with immediate resistance. This ancient exorcism story is full of symbolic action: oppression by foreign rule appears as occupation by a foreign “spirit.” The man Jesus meets, whom no one could bind, cut himself with stones. Self-cutting in this context is a form of auto-lapidation. Lapidating is the act of pelting or killing someone with stones until they die, and the gospels typically attribute this activity to a crowd stoning someone (Matthew 21:35; 23:37; Luke 20:6; John 8:7, 59, 10:31–33, 1:8) Why would this man do this to himself?

In the gospels, it is always the many, the majority, the privileged crowd that engages in this form of capital punishment, but this man has internalized this kind of violence toward himself. So this is a story where societal oppression leads someone to believe their oppressors’ valuation of themselves, and that leads to self-hatred and self-destruction.

Social violence becomes collective as members choose someone they can come together against. They find unity in agreeing on who they are against. Victims of this violence can adopt their society’s estimation of themselves. In our context this can take many forms:

Non-White people internalize White supremacy to survive,

Women internalize the patriarchy, going along to get along,

The poor and/or working-class people champion the cause of exploitative capitalists,

LGBTQ people internalize the repulsion and bigotry of cis-heterosexist, heteronormative society.

Jesus arrives in the story as someone outside of this man’s community coming to set him free from his own self-hatred.

The story doesn’t end with this man’s isolated experience, though.

“[Legion] begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” (Mark 5:10-17; Emphasis added)

In this Hellenized, mostly Greek region (Gentile with very few Jews), pigs were a farming commodity. Here the author zooms in to focus on the economic dimension of Jesus’ politics. If the larger community embraces this man’s liberation from internalized oppression, what will this mean for them? If they honestly estimate the Roman occupation, that will change everything, including their economic structure. Economic change is emotionally unsettling even when it’s more distributively just: it’s challenging what some people need for survival on one hand, and what others have hoarded for security and anxiety management on the other hand.

Jesus began by restoring the man, but the story quickly redirects us to the man’s surrounding society. His liberation of the man from internalized oppression threatens the unity and peace that the privileged of society had found in Roman occupation. Jesus turns their way of life, their stability, on its head and forces them to see the man as a fellow human being, like themselves. Jesus un-objectifies the man, de-dehumanizes him, un-degrades him. Jesus lifts this man up and returns him to a place of belonging in the humanity in the sight of a society that had found unity and coherence by purging him to the tombs. Jesus challenges the entire arrangement of this society.

The story doesn’t end well. The people choose economic and political security over the liberation Jesus pointed to. They cry, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds us.” Jesus and his liberation is not welcome with them.

Just this week I had a discussion with a neighbor of mine who was expressing their views about the upcoming election. He admitted that the present administration had economically benefited him and his business. At last, though, he said that even that economic benefit was not enough for him. He felt he also had to consider the thousands upon thousands whom the administration had harmed. He was choosing harm-mitigation and planned to vote for change come November. My neighbor made the opposite decision to the privileged in Mark’s story.

Seeing the man set free from his internalized oppression, the society around him refuses to get free of the same “demons.” Until then, this man had become infected with the bigotry of his own society toward himself.  He had allowed how his society defined him to become the way he defined himself as well. When people get free of collective violence toward a marginalized sector of our society, (whether in themselves toward themselves, or within themselves toward others) they are following the social truth within this gospel story.

This is my story, too. I am a member of the kind of scapegoating society this man lived in. But I have also seen the humanity of the ones I once marginalized, and it has turned my world upside down. I wish I could claim some credit for this transformation, but I did not go looking for it. Once it was laid at my doorstep, though, I did have to make a choice.

Today, I simply want to bring others with me. Has it brought me some economic uncertainty? You bet. The ministry I direct has gone through huge economic shifts as our support base has changed. I hope it will continue to recover. Too often, economic reasons drive us to reject positive changes and this story is a cautionary tale for just such moments.

What would happen if we saw those people we have placed on society’s altars as having just as much value, worth, and right to be included as we have? Though we are living with a very different worldview today than those for whom this story was written, our society, political, economic, and even religious bigotries are no different than those in this gospel story.

This story calls us today to once again see those whom we have labeled as different or other as human, bearing the image of the Divine just as we do. Jesus calls us to embrace the reality that they are our siblings, we are part of the same human family, and they deserve a place at the table, too.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us.

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Share an experience with your group of how you broke free from your own internalized dehumanization from how other’s viewed you, or where you chose to reject your own dehumanization of others.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Jesus and Law and Order

law and order

Herb Montgomery | September 25, 2020


“Beware when you see those in power using law and order rhetoric used to maintain power, position, control, and political office. Jesus’ followers should be the first to recognize when ‘law and order’ is being used to serve and protect the elite and privileged rather than the marginalized and excluded.”


At the beginning of Luke’s version of the Jesus story, we read this summation of the character of what Jesus’ ministry will be in the gospel of Luke:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4.18-19)

Here Jesus is portrayed as taking a firm stand with those his society was pushing to the margins,. This solidarity comes into even sharper focus just two chapters later in Luke’s sermon on the plain:

“Looking at his disciples, he said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets …

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6.20-31)

Jesus here is announcing that God’s just future is decidedly for those the present system makes last. Jesus’ announcement is that the last will be first. What about those the present system is already making first? Jesus’ words are blunt. They’ve “already received” their comfort.

In his book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News? Peter Gomes explains how problematic Jesus’ solidarity with those who are presently marginalized is,

“When the gospel says, ‘The last will be first, and the first will be last,’ despite the fact it is counterintuitive to our cultural presuppositions, it is invariably good news to those who are last, and at least problematic news to those who see themselves as first… Good news to some will almost inevitably be bad news to others. In order that the gospel in the New Testament might be made as palatable as possible to as many people as possible, its rough edges have been shorn off and the radical edge of Jesus’ preaching has been replaced by a respectable middle, of which “niceness” is now God. When Jesus came preaching, it was to proclaim the ends of things as they are and the breaking in of things that are to be: the status quo is not to be criticized; it is to be destroyed.” (p. 42, 31)

Jesus’ solidarity with those on the margins of his society is not just a characteristic of Luke’s Jesus. Each of the Gospels begin on the margins. John the Baptist rejected his more central role of being a priest in the temple. He was a voice crying out in the wilderness. Jesus was from the marginalized region of Galilee and the majority of his story takes place here as well. This had deep, encouraging, political significance for the marginalized audiences of each of these gospels. “While the margin has a primarily negative political connotation as a place of disenfranchisement, Mark ascribes to it a primarily positive theological value. It is the place where the sovereignty of God is made manifest, where the story of liberation is renewed, where God’s intervention in history occurs.” (Ched Myers, Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 12)

What does this mean for those Jesus followers whose present social location is not marginalized but more centered? The temptation is often to call for those at the center to make room at their table for those more marginalized. Miguel A. De La Torre offers a different option. This option does not invite those on the margins to a table at the center of an oppressive society where God is not. But to recognize that God is already present at the tables of those presently on the margins; God is already at work there. God is with them and we are only with God when we, too, are with them.

The question for those endeavoring to follow Jesus whose social location is more central and privileged is whether they will reject a status quo that privileges some over others on the basis simply of difference and begin supporting and working alongside those our society relegates to the margins. God is already there. The question is: are we?

“In reality, the gospel is thriving in the margins of society. The real question facing the center, accustomed to confusing its interpretations with the biblical text itself, is whether those at the center will also participate in the body of Christ that already exists in the margins of society.” (Miguel A. De La Torre, Reading the Bible from the Margins, Kindle location 1075)

Jesus’ solidarity with those on the margins reached a critical breaking point with Jesus’ protest in the courtyard of the temple. The temple was the political, economic, and religious symbol of the temple state of his own society. Don’t think of the temple as a modern Christian church. The temple was much more like a state’s capital building This was the center of power. Jesus’ protest in his flipping over the tables of the money changers was the decisive move in the synoptic gospels which marks the threat of Jesus’ teaching as having gone too far. His temple protest damaged temple property and threatened the income of those power-brokers who were at the center of a system that economically exploited the poor. The growing number of followers of Jesus each day meant to those in power that something must be done. This is where we see the machinery of Roman “law and order enter” the story. Before the week is over, Jesus is hanging on a Roman cross.

Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas gives us insight into how the rule of Roman law and order including Roman crucifixion functioned in Jesus’ society,

“In Jesus’’first-century world, crucifixion was the brutal tool of social-political power …. It indicated how much of a threat that a person was believed to pose. Crucifixion was reserved for those who threatened the ‘peace of the day. It was a torturous death that was also meant to send a message: disrupt the Roman order in any way, this too will happen to you ….The crucified class …. consisted of those who were castigated and demonized as well as those who defied the status quo. Crucifixion was a stand-your-ground type of punishment for the treasonous offense of violating the rule of Roman ‘law and order.’” (Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, p. 170)

Law and order should be to protect the vulnerable, those whom the more powerful in society will take advantage of if given the opportunity. Too often law and order and the rhetoric that surrounds a law and order approach is nothing more than the powerful of society using law enforcement to silence the unrest and protest of the marginalized crying out for a more just and more equitable society. The question we must always ask about law and order is which sector of society is our law and order serving and protecting.

Jesus stood in solidarity with the marginalized over and against those who would exploit them. When ‘law and order’ is instead standing with the powerful and centered over and against the cries of those calling for justice we must recognize this not as life-giving to society but death-dealing, literally. We can have peace through establishing distributive justice or we can have peace through a heavy-handed use of law and order that silences protest. These are two paths toward peace. Rome used the latter. In America presently, we are seeing the use of the latter. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan comment on the error of using this method, “The terrible truth is that our world has never established peace through victory. Victory establishes not peace, but lull. Thereafter, violence returns once again, and always worse than before. And it is that escalator violence that then endangers our world.” (The First Christmas, What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth, p. 166).

Beware when you see those in power using law and order rhetoric used to maintain power, position, control, and political office. Jesus’ followers should be the first to recognize when law and order is being used to serve and protect the elite and privileged rather than the marginalized and excluded. America has a long history of law and order being used to systemically serve and protect only the elite or privileged. And Christians should be the first to recognize when this American tradition is being repeated. It’s what our story is all about.

The resurrection itself is God’s definitive, nonviolent victory over law and order being used to protect privileged positions of a society’s elite. The resurrection is God’s definitive, nonviolent victory over systemic death-dealing. This victory was not one where death is overcome by a more severe death-dealing. But one where the death dealt by an unjust system is overcome by life. Life and life-giving overcomes systemic death and death-dealing in the Jesus story.

Again, Rev Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas calls us to reorient our interpretations of what the Jesus story is actually saying to us in moments like this one we are presently witnessing in the U.S. “The resurrection is God’s definitive victory over crucifying powers of evil. Ironically, the power that attempts to destroy Jesus on the cross is actually itself destroyed by the cross. The cross represents the power that denigrates human bodies, destroys life, and preys on the most vulnerable in society. As the cross is defeated, so too is that power. The impressive factor is how it is defeated. It is defeated by life-giving rather than a life-negating force. God’s power, unlike human power, is not a ‘master race’ kind of power. That is, it is not a power that diminishes the life of another so that others might live. God’s’ power respects the integrity of all human bodies and the sanctity of all life. This is a resurrecting power. Therefore God’s power never expresses itself through the humiliation or denigration of another. It does not triumph over life. It conquers death by resurrecting life. The force of God is a death-negating, life-affirming force.” (Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, p. 188)

Luke’s gospel climaxes, not with a Roman cross, but a reversal, undoing, and overcoming of the rule of Roman law and order used by the elite over and against the marginalized:

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!’” (Luke 24.1-6)

What resurrecting power against our societal injustice–both private and systemic–are you needing in your life today?

What resurrecting power are the gospels calling you to go forth and exercise in our own lives as members of our society?

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us.

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How do you see law and order rhetoric being used today? What is the social location of those calling for law and order? What kind of violence is being critiqued? What kind of violence is being affirmed? Discuss with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

What a Just Future Requires

2020 has been a challenging year for many nonprofits. RHM is no exception. We need your support to impact lives and bring the faith-based, societal-justice focused resources and analysis RHM provides.

Intersections between faith, love, compassion, and justice are needed right now more than ever.

If you have been blessed by the work of RHM, please consider making a tax-deductible donation, today.


wedding table

Herb Montgomery | September 18, 2020


“Although everyone was invited to the event in the parable of Matthew 22, the event itself required certain attire. And a just future requires a certain something too: the inclusive, just, equitable passion for making our world safe for everyone, the desire to make sure we all thrive together.”


In Matthew’s gospel, we read this story,

“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.” But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are invited, but few are chosen.’” (Matthew 22:1-14)

The stories in Matthew’s gospel were intended to teach their audience something about the just future, the vision for a just human community, that this gospel bases on the teachings of Jesus.

This story progresses in a specific order.

First, the king invites guests to his son’s wedding. These guests would have been those whose social standing warranted such an invitation. Their invitation would not have been universal but for those who belonged to a society shaped by exceptionalism and privilege. I also cannot overlook the patriarchal character of this story about a “king” feasting for his “son” and a social structure that includes slaves and a master. Despite what’s problematic in this story, is there some kernel of truth in it that may speak to us in our contemporary context and justice work?

Let’s see.

When those first invited refuse their invitation, the king’s invitation becomes much more inclusive. Everyone is now invited.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready . . . Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’”

Everyone? Does everyone get invited? Yes, and Jesus makes sure to add, “the bad as well as the good.” This invitation is generously and extravagantly inclusive.

But the story does not remain so.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.”

I used to interpret this parable differently than I do today. I used to see this parable as “Olly Olly oxen free,” a story where everyone gets let in, penalty-free. But when we read this parable from the perspective of those oppressed, subjugated, or pushed to the margins of society, certain things begin to stand out.

First, this is a mixed group from a lower class of society than would normally be invited as guests at a royal wedding, and that class includes divisions as well. In a classist society, the lower class is not a monolith.

Michelle Alexander explains this when she describes the history of Bacon’s rebellion in YEAR. It failed because social elites created racial divisions among the lower classes to prevent them from threatening the economic structure that privileged those at the top.

“Nathaniel Bacon was a white property owner in Jamestown, Virginia, who managed to unite slaves, indentured servants, and poor whites in a revolutionary effort to overthrow the planter elite. Although slaves clearly occupied the lowest position in the social hierarchy and suffered the most under the plantation system, the condition of indentured whites was barely better, and the majority of free whites lived in extreme poverty . . . The events in Jamestown [the failed Bacon’s rebellion] were alarming to the planter elite, who were deeply fearful of the multiracial alliance of bond workers and slaves. Word of Bacon’s Rebellion spread far and wide, and several more uprisings of a similar type followed. In an effort to protect their superior status and economic position, the planters shifted their strategy for maintaining dominance . . . Fearful that such measures might not be sufficient to protect their interests, the planter class took an additional precautionary step, a step that would later come to be known as a “racial bribe.” Deliberately and strategically, the planter class extended special privileges to poor whites in an effort to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. White settlers were allowed greater access to Native American lands, white servants were allowed to police slaves through slave patrols and militias, and barriers were created so that free labor would not be placed in competition with slave labor. These measures effectively eliminated the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites. Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery. Their own plight had not improved by much, but at least they were not slaves. Once the planter elite split the labor force, poor whites responded to the logic of their situation and sought ways to expand their racially privileged position. (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, p. 24-25.)

Throughout U.S. history, the elites have repeatedly fanned the flames of racially charged bigotry to divide the lower class. During Reconstruction, after the Civil War, they did it again, and that led to the era of Jim Crow.

“Just as the white elite had successfully driven a wedge between poor whites and blacks following Bacon’s Rebellion by creating the institution of black slavery, another racial caste system was emerging nearly two centuries later, in part due to efforts by white elites to decimate a multiracial alliance of poor people. By the turn of the twentieth century, every state in the South had laws on the books that disenfranchised blacks and discriminated against them in virtually every sphere of life, lending sanction to a racial ostracism that extended to schools, churches, housing, jobs, restrooms, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, orphanages, prisons, funeral homes, morgues, and cemeteries. Politicians competed with each other by proposing and passing ever more stringent, oppressive, and downright ridiculous legislation (such as laws specifically prohibiting blacks and whites from playing chess together). The public symbols and constant reminders of black subjugation were supported by whites across the political spectrum, though the plight of poor whites remained largely unchanged. For them, the racial bribe was primarily psychological.” (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, pp. 34-35.)

Right now in the U.S., we are witnessing a new set of racial bribes being offered to the lower class White population in exchange for November election results.

In Matthew’s story, the king invited everyone, but his own social location stopped him from recognizing that not everyone invited would have had the means to procure the proper attire. I no longer blame the guest who wasn’t properly dressed: maybe he didn’t have anything to wear other than what he had on his back. Nonetheless, the king still threw him out, and the story only gives one explanation: many are invited, only a few are chosen.

What could this mean for us?

Everyone is invited to a future that is just, but not everyone will be chosen to be a part of it. Wedding hosts require certain attire, and a future that is just, equitable, and safe also has requirements. It requires no one exclude others based on their class or sex, gender identity or race, sexual orientation, or gender expression. Everyone is invited to take a seat at the table, yet not everyone is welcome at the table.

If someone refuses to let go of their bigotry, to reject their prejudice and fear of someone else simply because they are different, their death-grip on death-dealing values naturally excludes them from a future that is life-giving for everyone. And, unlike the parable where some could perhaps not afford the attire that the event required, any of us can choose let go of our phobias and bigotry. We have the power to reject the divisive programming we have been taught and to embrace the interconnected reality we are already living in.

I’m thinking, this week, of those who see in the US government a savior for their white privilege yet deny justice to those excluded and even killed under the dog-whistle of “law and order.” And that leads me to our final point.

The parable states that our story ends with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Gnashing of teeth is not torture as the hell-fire preachers teach. It’s anger (see Luke 13:28; Job 16:9; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12; Psalms 112:10; Lamentations 2:16; Acts 7:54, cf. Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30).

It’s anger that someone you thought should be excluded is actually included. And it’s anger that for all your smug assurance that your own place at the table was secure, you find yourself outside in the dark looking in through the window at those you feel are inferior to you. They’re enjoying the feast and you are not. The gnashing of teeth in the story is the inability to accept the king’s invitation to you on one hand because you can’t accept another’s invitation on the other. Someone you feel should be excluded was not merely invited, but is enjoying the party instead of you.

Although everyone was invited to the event in the parable of Matthew 22, the event itself required certain attire. And a just future requires a certain something too: the inclusive, just, equitable passion for making our world safe for everyone, the desire to make sure we all thrive together.

If any are left out of that just future, it will be because they could not stomach the lack of distinction between themselves and their fellow guests that characterizes themselves as somehow superior. It won’t be because they’ve failed to accept an invitation for themselves.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. A safe, just, inclusive, compassionate future is possible. And it will require something from each of us. What requirements stand out to you from your own experience of inequity. Discuss your experiences with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



A Sign Up to Receive RHM’s Free Monthly Newsletter

Subscribe here

Enough for Us All

Herb Montgomery | September 4, 2020


2020 has been a challenging year for many nonprofits. RHM is no exception. We need your support to impact lives and bring the faith-based, societal-justice focused resources and analysis RHM provides.

Intersections between faith, love, compassion, and justice are needed right now more than ever.

If you have been blessed by the work of RHM, please consider making a tax-deductible donation, today.



“There is enough manna for everyone. It belongs to all of us, as a gift. Stop standing in the way of others’ thriving. Believe that your own thriving is dependent on theirs. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are connected. Like it or not, we are part of one another”


In Luke’s gospel,

“It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

In Luke, Jesus says these words to those who are afraid of giving up their privilege. They are afraid that working toward a more just world will cause them to go without. They have put their trust in hoarded means of survival at the expense of others’ ability to survive and thrive.

A few years back, two of my children sat at the breakfast table before heading off to school. My daughter tried to correct something her younger brother was doing and he was not having it. What began as correction quickly escalated to resistance and a near verbal war. It was too early in the morning for these shenanigans, and so my wife Crystal broke in:

First, she addressed our daughter: “You are not his mother, I am! If you have a problem with something he is doing, you bring it to ME and let ME deal with him! Now apologize.”

Crystal then spoke to our son, “THIS is your SISTER! And although she was overstepping her place as your sister, she is still your SISTER and the words you said to her were unkind. You apologize to her now!”

Both gave each other reluctant apologies.

This is an ancient narrative within many cultures. At the very beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, there is a conflict between two siblings, and that conflict ends in murder. Some scholars understand the story of Cain and Abel to represent the conflict between the settled agriculture communities and nomadic shepherding communities of that time. This is a story of the beginnings of early land disputes: disputes over resources, possible resources being hoarded, and needed for all to survive and thrive.

Abel was a keeper of sheep.

Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Ancient wars between the stationary tillers of the soil and nomadic livestock herders marked the transition from hunter-gathering to an agrarian society. Think of the older sibling and younger sibling dynamic in every family. Add to this a narrative where the older is the oppressive landowner and the younger is the nomadic herder. Imagine tillers of the soil being the dominant group, and the herders being the hated and marginalized. Put those glasses on and then go reread the story of those two brothers.

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

As in the crucifixion and resurrection narrative, we have been discussing over the last few weeks, though oppressors often claim “God is on our side,” the God of the Genesis story shows regard for the victim of systemic injustice.

“So Cain was very angry . . . Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.”

God then comes to Cain saying, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

Cain must now adopt the same social location that his brother Abel lived as a nomad. He must learn from experience what it is like to be marginalized.

“And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil . . . I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth . . .”

Luke 12 has a similar lesson for the Cains in the society Jesus lived in. It culminates in Jesus assuring those having more than they need, those afraid to let go and share it with the poor: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).

In that chapter, a brother asks Jesus to be his “arbiter” and divide an inheritance between brothers. Jesus then tells a radical story that reveals that this squabble between brothers was just another repetition of history: Cain was about to kill Abel once again. Jesus contrasts those historical human social arrangements with the path of justice he was calling his listeners to embrace. Jesus’ gospel was of a world, not of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, territorialism, and violence, one where there is a limited amount of what we all need, and only enough for a few. His gospel was one of abundance, a gospel where each day offers enough for everyone.

Our hope for the future is in our ability to cooperate with one another to make sure we all have what we need, through a mutual sharing the assures us we have each other’s back. It is a gospel of caring and sharing, with a faith that if I supplied someone’s need today, I’m creating a community where tomorrow I will have others around me that will help me too if the need arises.

When we practice the worldview of Cain politically, economically, socially, and religiously, we reveal that our faith or assurance of life depends on excluding, othering, or marginalizing someone else. In the place of our broken Cain narrative, Jesus is offering the narrative of God’s just future. Jesus calls us to trust that there really is enough for everyone. In a world where everyone has enough to thrive, gratitude replaces our deep survival anxiety. The world we create by rejecting the way of greed is a world of sharing rather than accumulation, giving “freely” rather than territorialism, and peace-making rooted in distributive justice over violence.

The story in Luke 12 ends with brothers not having to fight others for their place in this new future: “It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” You don’t have to fight each other for your place. There is enough for everyone.

America’s chaos now is just another example of the narrative of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, territorialism, and violence. We have a chance right now to move away from our most ugly impulses, to listen to our “better angels” as President Lincoln said. This is a moment with grave consequences. Will we work toward a more just future or will our nation continue to fail to live up to its high ideals?

With Jesus’ statement that it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” the author of Luke’s gospel is saying we don’t have to fight each other for our survival. We can come together and work together to ensure each of us has what we need. There is enough room at the table. This kind of belief frees Cains and Abels to no longer be oppressors or oppressed, but rather to be members of a radically new way of arranging life here on earth. In Jesus’ vision for human society there is no more survival at someone else’s expense.

To use another story in Luke’s gospel (Luke 15), our call today is to reject the narrative of the “older brother” who cannot stomach the inclusion and celebration of his younger sibling. Reread the parable of the prodigal son through the lens of the Cain and Abel narrative. Luke’s Jesus, over and over again, is whispering to us that if any are left out, at last, it will not be because they could not achieve some privilege for themselves; instead, it will be because they could not accept the inclusion of someone else that they thought should be excluded. Embracing the “other” as a child of God too, as a fellow bearer of the image of the Divine, transforms all of us into the kind of people that can create a new world. We can bend the arc of our universe toward justice, but none of us can without transformation.

If this causes Cain-like responses inside your heart, I encourage you to spend some more time quietly contemplating this week’s passage in its context in Luke 12. We are all siblings. We are part of the same human family, all children of the same divine Parents.

Wherever this finds you this week, Jesus’ message to you is, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give YOU the Kingdom.” There is enough manna for everyone. It belongs to all of us, as a gift. Stop standing in the way of others’ thriving. Believe that your own thriving is dependent on theirs. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are connected. Like it or not, we are part of one another.

A more just future is possible.

Now is our moment to choose to move toward it.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Discuss with your group ways that we are all connected. How have you witnessed injustice anywhere threaten justice everywhere?

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.
Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

A Pebble Cast Into a Pond

Herb Montgomery | August 28, 2020


“No matter how small or how disconnected it may feel to you, no matter how tempted you may be to categorize your present efforts to move this world toward justice, mercy, and peace as futile, our voices, our work, our effort, our love, and solidarity are not in vain. We are building on the changes brought about by those who came before us. Will those who come after us be able to build on our work? “


In Matthew’s gospel we read:

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

Matthew’s sermon on the mount calls the meek to imagine a world where they inherit the earth. It doesn’t assure them that they will go to heaven when they die. Nowhere in the Jesus story does he ever share a sound-bite presentation of the “gospel” or try to get people to say a special prayer so they can go to heaven when they die. Even in the book of Acts, the message is never that fear of post-mortem hell is motivation to follow Jesus. The message is a hope of injustice, oppression, and violence being righted on this earth. Matthew’s readers are called to pray that God’s just community would come and that justice would be established “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus stood in the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition: that tradition and hope was grounded here on earth with those who “hungered and thirsted” for things to be put right (see Matthew 5:6). In the stories, we see a Jesus who made people whole so that they could then go and make the world they called home whole too. Jesus’ focus was creating a human community that practiced distributive justice, where together we have enough for each of us to thrive and live into our full humanity. 

Far too often, certain sectors of Christianity have preached a gospel of escaping our world instead of embracing Jesus’ call to reshape the world around us. As Brock and Parker explain: 

“Popular forms of Christianity that embrace redemptive violence and look to heaven in a world to come have become a major public and political voice for Christianity in recent decades. Reiterating Christian perspectives that echo imperial Christianity, they bless conquest and colonization, privilege those with wealth and status, sanction war against ‘evildoers,’ and exploit the environment. The paradise they offer is on the other side of the end of the world. Their apocalyptic expectations imagine that God’s plan is to destroy this earth and rapture an elect few into heaven.” (Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Parker, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, p. 378)

By contrast, Jesus’ teachings pointed toward personal and systemic change now, and making our communities a safe and just home for everyone. Jesus called for distributively just changes in this life, and called his followers to share that focus. (See Mark 10:21; Matthew 19:21; Luke 11:42; Luke 12:33; Luke 18:22; Luke 19:8)

In Matthew, Jesus blesses those whom the present system makes poor, those oppressed by this present world. God’s just society on earth is especially for them. Those hungering because of how this world is structured would be filled and satisfied. Those the present system causes to mourn, grieve, or weep would break out in joy and laughter for the world being put right. And those who would join him in standing up against injustice, who would choose to be hated by those benefitting from the present arrangement, who would choose being excluded, lied about, and insulted by the privileged for speaking out—they would be called blessed (Matthew 5:3-12). Those benefitting from the current world at others’ expense would find Jesus’ changes harder to embrace (Luke 6:24-26). Those well fed in the present world would see Jesus’ teachings as a threat, not a blessing. 

Today, not much about social injustice has changed from the injustices at work when the Jesus story was written. Today we are still called not be passive in regards to the injustice, oppression, and violence we see around us. In the words of Jon Sobrino, “The cross, for its part, tells of God’s affinity with victims” (Christ the Liberator: A View from the Victims, p. 88). We are called to this affinity as Jesus followers, too.

It is past time for western Christianity to let go of a primary focus on an age to come, and ask instead how Jesus’ teachings could save us from the evil present in this age. I’m reminded of the challenge Ida B. Wells made in Crusade for Justice:“Our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of White Christians from burning in hellfire to save the lives of Black ones from present burning in fires kindled by White Christians” (p. 154-155).

Will large sectors of Christians continue to miss the connection between the transformative, distributive, and restorative work we should be doing in our world today? Will we stop feeling as if any engagement with our social systems for justice, mercy, and peace in this world is others’ work but not ours?

No matter how small or how disconnected it may feel to you, no matter how tempted you may be to categorize your present efforts to move this world toward justice, mercy, and peace as futile, our voices, our work, our effort, our love and solidarity are not in vain. We are building on the changes brought about by those who came before us. Will those who come after us be able to build on our work? As Angela Davis reminds us, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” This doesn’t mean we should not also take time for self care. Self care is part of our work of transforming our world, too. I’m challenged by Davis’ words, especially because of my Christian background. I was raised with the futile belief that nothing I could do could make a difference. John Dominic Crossan challenges this mentality among Christians in his book Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer: 

“You have been waiting for God, [Jesus] said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.” (The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, p. 27-28)

Of course we’ll get discouraged sometimes: Change doesn’t happen overnight and it never happens as quickly as we want. Change happens incrementally as we keep at it. I hope that one day I’ll be able to look back at each chapter of my life and the various justice efforts I’ve participated in and see that we’ve made a difference. Whenever I get discouraged, I remind myself of these words:

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” (Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, p. 11)

In the end, Jesus’ concern was not what we must do in order to secure heavenly bliss, but rather, what does the present state of our world here “on earth” require of us, how do we respond to the needs of those being harmed, and how can we participate with them in struggling for a more just world? 

“The non-ethical practices and beliefs in historical Christianity nearly all center on the winning of heaven and immortality. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God can be established by nothing except righteous life and action.” (Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, p. 15)

May our focus be that of Matthew’s Jesus: inheriting the earth and an earth that is worth inheriting. Each day, with the choices we make, we are shaping the kind of earth we want to be part of. May we be able to look back on each of our journeys and see an earth made more just than it would have been without us and our efforts. 

Each of us, as Dorothy Day said, are like pebbles cast into a pond.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Discuss with your group movements in the past the enable us to further justice work, today. How can you imagine future generations being able to build on our work today?

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Saltless Salt and Social Justice

Herb Montgomery | August 21, 2020

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matthew 5:13)

When people harvested salt from ancient saltwater, they would gather the rocks of salt along with various and sundry other white-colored rocks and place them in a cloth for use during cooking. Over time, the salt would dissolve through the cloth and only the non-soluble rocks would remain. Eventually, the salt sack would lose its saltiness and be good for nothing more than common road gravel.

What does it mean for those who claim to be followers of Jesus to lose their salt? Jesus’ social teachings grew out of the soil of his own Jewish, prophetic, justice tradition. The Hebrew prophets help us understand Jesus’ teachings and reading them should result in us placing social justice work at the center of following Jesus. Certain sectors of Christianity have a long history of ignoring, domesticating, sanitizing, censuring/editing or marginalizing Jesus’ teachings related to justice work from their faith. But justice work is not tangential for the Jesus follower.

When we see Jesus, not within the elite establishment, but in the margins of his own society and in the justice tradition of the ancient Hebrew prophets, we can recognize insight after insight in the Jesus story, still relevant to us today. 

The Hebrew prophets called for the end of injustice, oppression, and violence, in the here and now. They called for the end of predatory exploitation. Isaiah’s wolf would lay down with the lamb:

“The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

“The wolf and the lamb will feed together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox,

and dust will be the serpent’s food.

They will neither harm nor destroy 

on all my holy mountain,”

says the LORD. (Isaiah 65:25)

For Amos, justice would roll down like a river:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

your assemblies are a stench to me. 

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

And for Ezekiel, the Dead Sea would become a place bearing fruit that would heal the nations:

“He said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:8-12)

The material things we need to thrive would flow to each of us in distributively just ways. A society of death and death dealing would become life-giving.

Abraham Heschel wrote of the prophets’ hope: “What saved the prophets from despair was their messianic vision and the idea of man’s capacity for repentance… History is not a blind alley, and guilt is not an abyss. There is always a way that leads out of guilt . . . The prophet is a person who, living in dismay, has the power to transcend his dismay. Over all the darkness of experience hovers the vision of a different day” (Between God and Man, p. 240).

Not only does this definition fit Jesus and how he related to marginalized people in his own society, but we are called to do the same. 

We can make this world give way to a more life-giving one. We can change our systems. The Jesus of the gospels isn’t a priest, or ruler, or member of the community’s elite. He emerges in the story on the margins of his society as a prophet of the poor, marginalized, oppressed, and excluded. What does this mean for us as Jesus followers today?

The prophets weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with the material mess of our world’s injustice. They spoke truth to those in power, economically, politically, and religiously. They had social concerns. They had religious concerns, and their concerns were also political. The called the attention of those who heard their voices to a God of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and those deemed other. They called for personal righteousness and for social, systemic justice. Their inward contemplative practices empowered them to march onto the public scene as advocates for those harmed in their society. For them, social justice was what God’s love looked like in public. 

It reminds me of Isaiah 1:12-17: 

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (emphasis added)

Isaiah could just as easily been speaking to Christians who prioritize their religious practice but neglect or omit the work of transforming our society into a just, safe, compassionate home for all. Challenging LGBTQ discrimination, White supremacy, patriarchy, or exploitative capitalism that places profit above people is not on the plate of these kinds of Christians, but they give much attention, time, and detail to their religious observances. 

I’m reminded of how Luke’s Jesus calls out misplaced priorities and attention:

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)

The prophetic book of Micah has that same emphasis:

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Those who seek to follow the teachings of a Jesus must, like the prophets of old, find their own hearts beating for justice for the oppressed and for mercy, rather than sacrifice, for the exploited. Their heart for justice and mercy must express itself daily through humble love that has learned to listen to the cries of the oppressed. As the prophets called for our world to be put right, we, too, can learn how to authentically listen to and live in the way of justice, mercy, compassion, and taking action.

Faith in Jesus that is not aligned with social justice in its many expressions or with communities being harmed is not the kind of faith we encounter in the story of Jesus. 

I look forward to the day when Jesus followers are known for ministering justice to the poor, are overwhelmed with the grief of loss, and stand with the beaten down and all those hungering and thirsting for things to be put right (cf. Matthew 5:3-6).

What group of people are on your heart this week?

Let’s be salt that hasn’t lost its saltiness.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. In Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Parker remind us, “The work of justice requires paying attention to how difference is used to justify oppression. It employs astute awareness of how oppressive systems grant privilege and seek to protect it at all costs. It engages those who have privilege in challenging systems from which they benefit, not just helping those ‘less fortunate.’” (p. 396)  Discuss the differences, this week, between systemic justice work and charity.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Social Liberation in the Jesus Story

Herb Montgomery | August 14, 2020

open book


“As Jesus followers today, the gospel we tell must locate Jesus among our oppressed siblings, whether they are women, people of color, Black people, LGBTQ people, poor people, or others.”


I was shocked when I first realized that the book of Acts doesn’t speak about Jesus’ crucifixion as a meritorious death that promised postmortem bliss. The author’s focus is rather on the resurrection of Jesus, one who had been executed unjustly by those in control of an unjust system. His resurrection marked the beginning of that long-awaited work (rooted in the hope of the ancient Hebrew prophets) that the oppression, violence, and injustice of our present iteration of our world would be put right.

This was profoundly curious to me. I began to notice the message of Acts and the gospels was rather different than the cross-focused preaching and teaching I was used to.

The author of the gospel of Luke also includes resurrection in a category of “musts,” things that must happen:

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, emphasis added)

The Jewish early followers of Jesus had a similar focus to the ancient Hebrew prophets. Their dream was not of one day going to a far distant “heaven” and escaping either this world or a postmortem “hell.” Their focus was very much on this present world, and the gospels showed a Jesus who taught a path toward righting oppression, violence, and injustice. Their message was that Jesus’ unjust execution interrupted his liberation work, and his resurrection overcame or reversed the death that unjust systems dealt.

Consider the following excerpts from Acts, and pay close attention to how each emphasizes the resurrection and describes what it resurrection accomplished:

“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power . . . God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact . . . Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:22-36, emphasis added)

“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:13-15, emphasis added)

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior . . .” (Acts 5:30-31, emphasis added)

Two things are happening in these passages. First, each identifies Jesus with communities who had been victimized and excluded politically, economically, and religiously. Second, each states the unjust execution has been overcome.

That Jesus was unjustly executed through an alliance of political and economic systems and that this unjust execution had been reversed places the story’s truth on the side of those damaged by those systems. The stories unmask a way of doing life that benefits some at the expense of others deemed expendable and that protects itself at any cost (see Systems of Sacrifice).

With the authors of the gospels, we identify Jesus as in solidarity with all victims and survivors of systemic evil, both historical and contemporary. Whether we victimize people through our politics, economics, or religions, we begin to see that Jesus is with them, rather than with us (see Acts 2:37), and that we are with Jesus when we are standing alongside them too. This understanding “converts” us as followers of Jesus, to stand in solidarity with those we once harmed, over and against those systems which may privilege us at their expense.

As Jesus followers today, the gospel we tell must locate Jesus among our oppressed siblings. Whether they are women, people of color, Black people, LGBTQ people, poor people, or others, the story challenges us not to be the very ones “who don’t know what we are doing,” believing our actions to be politically “justifiable,” economically “expedient,” or religiously “required.” This interpretation challenges us to ask, as the old Black American spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” and also ask what role in the story we are taking with our actions today. The story decisively declares and demonstrates that those our present systems oppress are those we should be working alongside of, too.

To save Jesus followers socially, our gospel must include but not be focused solely on an execution, and also emphasize the deep significance of the story’s focus on resurrection.

Jesus stood in the justice tradition of the Hebrew prophets before him. It was a tradition that called for the end of politics dependent on violence, economics dependent on exploitation, and religion dependent on the exclusion of others. Far from Jesus’ unjust execution being what satisfied cosmic justice, the murder of Jesus on a Roman cross was an act of injustice. The resurrection, in the story, is a symbol of that death-dealing being overcome. It puts Jesus on the side of those opposing those systems.

Our gospel is the story of a Jesus critiquing all exclusionary and exploitative politics, economics, and religious expressions, unmasking them for what they are, and calling us to live in opposition to those systems, too.

The story calls us to begin by identifying our oppressive political, economic, and religious systems today for what they truly are. We can no longer stand in solidarity with death-dealing systems. We have to take our cue from Jesus and stand with the victims of those systems, even if we have previously been “persecutors” or oppressors rather than allies. In the story of Jesus, the main character has the power to change us from oppressor to comrade, to inspire us to stand with those being oppressed and to critique unjust systems and work for change. This Jesus calls us to believe that these kinds of systems can be defeated and stripped of their power over us through their very real threat of death and our fear of death.

”We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33)

”For he has set a day when he will [put the world to right] with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

The resurrection focus of the book of Acts and the gospels calls us to imagine a world where our politics, economics, and religion have been replaced with the love of others expressed in justice. Ways of domination are replaced with care. Exploitation is replaced with ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive. And exclusion is replaced with an inclusion that centers those who used to be left outside. The story calls us to imagine a human community characterized as life-giving for all, not death-dealing to some.

Understood this way, the resurrection story, the resurrection of one executed by systemic injustice and the ones privileged by it, has the power to help Jesus followers rethink everything.

This truth, I believe, does have the power to set us free.

There is a stark difference between preaching a violent death that substitutionally assures us of postmortem bliss, and teaching about an unjust execution by the powers that be that was interrupted, reversed, undone, and overcome. This story can point us, not simply to liberated and healed individuals, but also to a liberated and healed world.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. In the Jesus story, give examples of where Jesus stood with those systemically oppressed or marginalized? Who would he be standing with if the story was re-written for our societal context, today?

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

The Social Truth of Resurrection

Herb Montgomery | August 7, 2020

light at the end of the tunnel


“The elite characters in the story represent the political and economic elite in partnership to conquer the life that many of the oppressed and excluded found in Jesus’ teachings as a prophet of the poor. The resurrection is not a scientific declaration of a person coming back to life. It’s a political statement that the present system does not have to have the last word. Life can conquer even when death seeks to extinguish it.”


In the gospel of John, we read:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’” (John 11:25)

What is the truth that the gospels are trying to communicate by including resurrection at the end of the Jesus story? I believe it’s the truth, the hope, that life can triumph over death, even when that death is inflicted by those who control and benefit from a system of injustice and exclusion.

The hope of the resurrection is no different from the gospel that Jesus announced throughout his life and teachings: life can triumph over death-dealing. I want to be very clear here though. I don’t believe that triumph is automatic. We have to choose life and life-giving ways of organizing our society for life to ultimately triumph over systemic death and death-dealing. The elite, in their treatment of Jesus, revealed they were deeply threatened by the kind of egalitarian community Jesus taught.

The Jesus stories teach life values that have the potential to expose our political, economic, and religious systems when they are more aligned with death and death-dealing than life, justice, compassion, inclusion, equity, and safety. Politics, economics, and religion can all become veiled forms of violence driven by fear that others will take what we desire rather than being the means through which we create a world where the sun shines and the rain falls on all in distributively just ways. Religion, too, can become the means of othering those who are different, an elaborate system of sacrifice that creates victims to give us hope. Political death-dealing becomes justifiable or, at least, seems inevitable, economic death-dealing becomes the wisest way to govern our resources, and then religious death-dealing based on the fear of the divine inspires us to marginalize others to keep our gods happy.

But Jesus announced that he was the resurrection and the life. He came calling us to a new human community, a distributively just community that shares with those who do not have and practices mercy for another rather than “sacrifice.” (See Systems of Sacrifice) Such a community would reject the systemic violence of inequity. Those benefiting from inequity always see these types of communities as a threat. Jesus’ gospel is not good news to them; it promises to take from them much of what they think defines their value and keeps them secure. Everyone has enough to thrive. Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, and the elite sectors of society these characters represented did not perceive Jesus’ gospel as good news. Maybe this is why so much of Jesus’ message has been coopted since then to focus on postmortem heaven rather than challenging and transforming systemic injustice in our present world, here, now, today. Consider the three characters of Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod in the following passage from the gospels stories:

“Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning.” (John 18:28)

“That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12)

“Now the chief priests and the elders excited the mob to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.” (Matthew 27:20, emphasis added)

The political climate in the United States has revealed that the masses can use their power to stand up to injustice, and they can also be manipulated by people in power to promote death and oppose life.

Jesus does not represent those in the system. Instead, he is associated with those like John the Baptist: voices in the wilderness, on the margins of society, calling for change. The elite characters in the story represent the political and economic elite in partnership to conquer the life that many of the oppressed and excluded found in Jesus’ teachings as a prophet of the poor. The resurrection is not a scientific declaration of a person coming back to life. It’s a political statement that the present system does not have to have the last word. Life can conquer even when death seeks to extinguish it.

In the New Testament book of Acts, the good news was not that Jesus had died, but that life had conquered that death:

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power…This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God…” (Acts 2:22-33)

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:13-15)

”Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’” (Acts 4:10-11)

“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things…” (Acts 5:30)

“You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as He who reigns over the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:36-42)

“Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised…My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus…” (Acts 13:23)

The death of Jesus was not the “good news” of the original narrative, though it is characterized as such in much of Christianity today. The cross was the quintessential travesty of justice in the Jesus story: Jesus and his gospel of life become the victims of unjust political, economic, and religious systems that sacrifice others for their success. The resurrection reveals a Jesus who lived in solidarity with the innocent victims of those systems. It speaks of a way of organizing human community for life over and against unjust ways of organizing society, even when it faces lethal opposition from those in charge of the present death-dealing system. Jesus’ gospel didn’t triumph because of death. Jesus’ murder interrupted his gospel and was an attempt to silence it. Jesus’ gospel triumphed in reversing, undoing, and conquering that death.

The story of Jesus’ resurrection, instead, endorses and proclaims that God’s just future is possible. It doesn’t depend on death for its existence. It shares generously the bread it receives today with the poor, the widow, and those othered as a foreigner, trusting that no matter what the future brings, we can face it—not alone, each person for themselves, but together as a community of love and care. Resurrection calls for the end of systems that sacrifice others, including sacrifice done in the name of standing up for and defending “the right thing.” Jesus gospel calls us to embrace the way of mercy over sacrifice, and care for those previously deemed expendable by our politics and economics.

The story of a resurrection in the gospels calls us to recognize systems of death in every age and to obstruct them. The ancient Hebrew hope, a tradition in which Jesus solidly stood, was one where all injustice, oppression, and violence is set right. It was a hope of life conquering death.

Life can also conquer death today if we will choose it. Our political, economic, and even religious climate is full of opportunities to stand up to death and choose life. Another iteration of our world is possible.

Will we have the courage to choose life-giving ways of ordering our society that can conquer death-dealing structures? Will we, as Jesus followers, have the courage to choose the living truth behind this ancient story of resurrection?

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How does the gospel story of Jesus’ resurrection impact your own justice work as a Jesus follower? Share with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

Three Paths Toward Change Rejected

Herb Montgomery | July 31, 2020

diverging paths


“And in each of these versions of the story, Jesus announces the arrival of God’s just future (‘the kingdom’) but rejects three methods for bringing justice to fruition. We’ll look at each of them.”


The beginning of Mark’s gospel reads:

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:12)

The story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is believed to have been a part of the earliest Jesus tradition. In each of the next two synoptic gospels written, the story is given more detail.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:1-11)

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:1-13)

Jesus rejected the Satan three times. And in each of these versions of the story, Jesus announces the arrival of God’s just future (“the kingdom”) but rejects three methods for bringing justice to fruition. We’ll look at each of them.

Bread

Jesus chose not to justify a system simply because it offered bread. Rome promised sustenance to its inhabitants but at what cost?

In our time, Duke Energy recently abandon its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, citing costs due to activist obstruction. Some people with power pushed back against this monumental decision by pointing to the jobs that would now be lost. Such people believe placing profit above the planet was justified because, despite the ecological damage, the pipeline produced jobs for the working class and profit to company owners: it produced bread.

Exploitative economic systems create scarcity to create a narrative needed for their survival. The scarcity of things we need produces undercurrents of survival anxiety for us. Our desire for security and assurance that our needs will be met (“bread”) drives us to support systems that promise to fulfill those needs regardless of how people and our planet suffer as a result. And, without fail, those who are most driven by this economic anxiety protect and defend these systems at all costs. This is the essence of exploitative economies, and it comes with a long list of victims upon whom we lay the costs of our hopes that these systems will give us the bread we need.

Jesus’ first temptation was to coerce nature, to “turn stones into bread.” Think of Monsanto, or the meat and dairy industry here in the United States, which has deemed essential workers expendable during this pandemic. Henry Kissinger once said, “Those who control the food supply control the people.” Now and in the times of Jesus, the way to establish an exploitative system economically was to control what supplies people’s “bread” needs. Jesus rejects the use of such methods in establishing God’s just future, quoting from Deuteronomy:

“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Jesus saw what the temptation really was. He refused to prioritize profit or “bread” over justice, and instead chose the ancient Hebrew narrative of manna: needs will be supplied not by accumulation and exploitation but daily, as needed. There will be more manna tomorrow.

Jesus rejected a narrative of scarcity, anxiety, accumulation, and exploitation for a narrative of trust, gratitude, sharing, and generosity. As Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every person’s needs, but not every person’s greed.”

The accumulation of bread is not the highest value of God’s just future. God values how that bread is produced and what its production violates or affirms. Our hope is “not by bread alone.”

Self-Sacrifice

In both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the story, Jesus is also tempted to sacrifice himself while assuming that he would be spared death. His response is to not “put God to the test.” On the temple mount the devil told him to leap from was the symbol at the core of his society’s political, economic, and religious systems. His temptation was to sacrifice himself in front of this system with the promise that in the end, God’s just future would come through his sacrifice.

This temptation strikes at the heart of the method most pushed on masses who desire social change. I don’t believe the oppressed must sacrifice themselves to achieve social change, but. The sacrifice of innocent victims for achieving social change has a long history.

Speaking of how the idea of sacrifice has impacted women in Christianity, Elizabeth Bettenhausen writes:

“Christian theology has long imposed upon women a norm of imitative self-sacrifice based on the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Powerlessness is equated with faithfulness. When the cross is also interpreted as the salvific work of an all-powerful paternal deity, women’s well being is as secure as that of a child cowering before an abusive father.” (Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse, p. xii; edited by Joanne Carlson Brown & Carole R. Bohn)

In Brown and Parker’s essay in the same volume, “For God So Loved the World?” they write:

“Women are acculturated to accept abuse. We come to believe that it is our place to suffer . . . Christianity has been a primary—in many women’s lives the primary—force in shaping our acceptance of abuse. The central image of Christ on the cross as the savior of the world communicates the message that suffering is redemptive.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p. 1-2)

Mary Daly makes a similar comment:
“The qualities that Christianity idealizes, especially for women, are also those of a victim: sacrificial love, passive acceptance of suffering, humility, meekness, etc. Since these are the qualities idealized in Jesus ‘who died for our sins,’ his functioning as a model reinforces the scapegoat syndrome for women.” (Beyond God the Father, p. 77)

Again, Brown and Parker:
“The problem with this theology is that it asks people to suffer for the sake of helping evildoers see their evil ways. It puts concern for the evildoers ahead of concern for the victim of evil. It makes victims the servants of the evildoers’ salvation.” (in Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p. 20.)

Brown and Parker also critique nonviolent movements that use self-sacrifice to drive change. They use some of the methods used by Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example. King saw suffering as:

“‘a most creative and powerful social force’ . . . The non-violent say that suffering becomes a powerful social force when you willingly accept that violence on yourself, so that self-suffering stands at the center of the non-violent movement and the individuals involved are able to suffer in a creative manner, feeling that unearned suffering is redemptive, and that suffering may serve to transform the social situation.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p. 20)

Finally, Delores Williams’ classic book Sisters in the Wilderness builds on this critique with applications specifically for Black women. These insights have been powerfully transformative for me personally. I want to share them with you here:

“Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest that Jesus did not come to redeem humans by showing them God’s ‘love” manifested in the death of God’s innocent child on a cross erected by cruel, imperialistic, patriarchal power. Rather, the texts suggest that the spirit of God in Jesus came to show humans life— to show redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relations between body (individual and community), mind (of humans and of tradition) and spirit. A female-male inclusive vision, Jesus’ ministry of righting relationships involved raising the dead (those separated from life and community), casting out demons (for example, ridding the mind of destructive forces prohibiting the flourishing of positive, peaceful life) and proclaiming the word of life that demanded the transformation of tradition so that life could be lived more abundantly . . . God’s gift to humans, through Jesus, was to invite them to participate in this ministerial vision (“ whosoever will, let them come”) of righting relations. The response to this invitation by human principalities and powers was the horrible deed the cross represents— the evil of humankind trying to kill the ministerial vision of life in relation that Jesus brought to humanity. The resurrection does not depend upon the cross for life, for the cross only represents historical evil trying to defeat good. The resurrection of Jesus and the flourishing of God’s spirit in the world as the result of resurrection represent the life of the ministerial vision gaining victory over the evil attempt to kill it. Thus, to respond meaningfully to black women’s historic experience of surrogacy oppression, the womanist theologian must show that redemption of humans can have nothing to do with any kind of surrogate or substitute role Jesus was reputed to have played in a bloody act that supposedly gained victory over sin and/ or evil.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, p. 130)

“Black women are intelligent people living in a technological world where nuclear bombs, defilement of the earth, racism, sexism, dope and economic injustices attest to the presence and power of evil in the world. Perhaps not many people today can believe that evil and sin were overcome by Jesus’ death on the cross; that is, that Jesus took human sin upon himself and therefore saved humankind. Rather, it seems more intelligent and more scriptural to understand that redemption had to do with God, through Jesus, giving humankind new vision to see the resources for positive, abundant relational life. Redemption had to do with God, through the ministerial vision, giving humankind the ethical thought and practice upon which to build positive, productive quality of life. Hence, the kingdom of God theme in the ministerial vision of Jesus does not point to death; it is not something one has to die to reach. Rather, the kingdom of God is a metaphor of hope God gives those attempting to right the relations between self and self, between self and others, between self and God as prescribed in the sermon on the mount, in the golden rule and in the commandment to show love above all else.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, pp. 130-131)

“The resurrection of Jesus and the kingdom of God theme in Jesus’ ministerial vision provide black women with the knowledge that God has, through Jesus, shown humankind how to live peacefully, productively and abundantly in relationship.” (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, p. 132)

“Humankind is, then, redeemed through Jesus’ ministerial vision of life and not through his death. There is nothing divine in the blood of the cross. God does not intend black women’s surrogacy experience. Neither can Christian faith affirm such an idea. Jesus did not come to be a surrogate. Jesus came for life, to show humans a perfect vision of ministerial relation that humans had very little knowledge of. As Christians, black women cannot forget the cross, but neither can they glorify it. To do so is to glorify suffering and to render their exploitation sacred. To do so is to glorify the sin of defilement. (Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, p. 132)

Again, Brown and Parker:

“Suffering is never redemptive, and suffering cannot be redeemed. The cross is a sign of tragedy. God’s grief is revealed there and everywhere and every time life is thwarted by violence. God’s grief is as ultimate as God’s love. Every tragedy eternally remains and is eternally mourned. Eternally the murdered scream, Betrayal. Eternally God sings kaddish for the world. To be a Christian means keeping: faith with those who have heard and lived God’s call for justice, radical love, and liberation; who have challenged unjust systems both political and ecclesiastical; and who in that struggle have refused to be victims and have refused to cower under the threat of violence, suffering, and death. Fullness of life is attained in moments of decision for such faithfulness and integrity. When the threat of death is refused and the choice is made for justice, radical love, and liberation, the power of death is overthrown. Resurrection is radical courage. Resurrection means that death is overcome in those precise instances when human beings choose life, refusing the threat of death. Jesus climbed out of the grave in the Garden of Gethsemane when he refused to abandon his commitment to the truth even though his enemies threatened him with death. On Good Friday, the Resurrected One was Crucified.” (“For God So Loved the World?”)

“It is not the acceptance of suffering that gives life; it is commitment to life that gives life. The question, moreover, is not Am I willing to suffer? but Do I desire fully to live? This distinction is subtle and, to some, specious, but in the end it makes a great difference in how people interpret and respond to suffering.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse, p.18,)

“Such a theology has devastating effects on human life. The reality is that victimization never leads to triumph. It can lead to extended pain if it is not refused or fought. It can lead to destruction of the human spirit through the death of a person’s sense of power, worth, dignity. or creativity. It can lead to actual death.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse)

Jesus did not choose the way of sacrifice. He rejected the way of sacrifice and, instead, “chose to live a life in opposition to unjust, oppressive cultures…. Jesus chose integrity and faithfulness, refusing to change course because of threat.” (Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse)

These insights have grave implications for how some sectors of Christianity have traditionally interpreted the death and resurrection of Jesus. (For more on these implications see my presentation Nonviolence and the Cross)

As Katie Cannon sternly admonishes us, “Theologians need to think seriously about the real-life consequences of redemptive suffering, God-talk that equates the acceptance of pain, misery, and abuse as the way for true believers to live as authentic Christian disciples. Those who spew such false teaching and warped preaching must cease and desist.”

And there is a third path the Jesus of the story rejected, too.

Complicity

Lastly, in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus was tempted to arrive at God’s just future through being complicit with exploitative and oppressive systems. But he resisted that temptation of achieving God’s just future by “bowing down.” He instead worshiped God and God’s just future only. God’s just future cannot be achieved through compromise with exploitation, oppression, and exclusion.

Christianity has a long history with being complicit in systems that oppress, and some adherents still use it to promote White supremacy, neocolonialism, and capitalism today.

Much more needs to be said about this.

I’m reminded of the words that the late Peter Gomes wrote in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus. When Jesus’ followers choose complicity, he explains, “The church, then, is made an agency of continuity rather than of change, conformity rather than transformation becomes the reigning ideology of the day, and the church that is comfortable with the powers-that-be is no threat to them.”

These early Jesus story narratives give us much to think about as we, too, continue the work of moving toward a more just future today.

Another world is possible. We must reject some common means to get it.

HeartGroup Application

We at RHM are continuing to ask all HeartGroups not to meet together physically at this time. Please stay virtually connected and practice physical distancing. When you do go out, please keep a six-foot distance between you and others, wear a mask, and continue to wash your hands to stop the spread of the virus.

This is also a time where we can practice the resource-sharing and mutual aid found in the gospels. Make sure the others in your group have what they need. This is a time to work together and prioritize protecting those most vulnerable among us. How many ways can you take care of each other while we are physically apart?

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Have you experienced any of the three methods mentioned this week used by sectors of the Christian church? What are some examples? Have you witnessed secular social justice movements or organizations promote any of the above methods? Discuss with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for all? Discuss with your group and pick something from the discussion to put into practice this upcoming week.

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week