By Wayne Williams
It’s really quite revolutionary what he’s asking us to consider. Rieger’s book, Remember the Poor, develops the liberation theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez while holding hands with Jacques Lacan’s philosophy of the “other” and Frederick Herzog’s theologically impassioned social justice work in Latin America. To consider and elevate the poor by entering their world and giving them an authoritative voice requires us to reframe our privileged, empirical Christian worldview dramatically. Rieger’s Willson Lectures at ESR were grounded in his expert theological, Scriptural, philosophical, and ethical understanding of the problems contemporary Christians face to authentically carrying out Christ’s Gospel of good news for the poor. The problems are unequalled poverty in the face of capitalism’s ‘victory’, how to encounter the marginalized ‘other’, issues with questioning and relocating authority, and the need for the distribution of power. These manifold challenges can feel insurmountable to even a cock-eyed optimist like myself. Rieger was our theological tour guide into the Reality of the brokenness amidst our own Christian Empire. Aren’t we disgusted when the blinders come off? So when is the revolution?
The life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was the revolution. Or has Jesus’ own Life and praxis been diminished by a converted empire’s insatiable need for power and authority? Unfortunately, Christ’s Gospel ministry to the impoverished, the diseased, and the sinners in His 1st century world has largely been subsumed by our Judeo-Roman-Christian Empire over the past two millennia. Empire has bigger priorities than care of the sick and suffering. The institutions of our inherited culture value authority, wealth, power, and dominion. What would Jesus say about all this?
Rieger’s message resonates at the crux of Christ’s Gospel and Empire. He debunks Empire’s blind economic doctrines, citing the ‘prosperity gospel’ as a prime example of religion intersecting economics with a blind faith in ‘the big ideas.’ Rieger asks if those who blindly accept religious doctrine are more likely to accept economic principles on blind faith as well.
The gap between rich and poor gets wider all the time. The disparity is unconscionable. Rieger argues that our Empire wants us to believe there is only one way to solve this problem. If God is always envisioned at the top, then we correlate that the privileged and powerful embody God’s character. Rieger invites us to look at those on the underside to understand what is really going on. What if God were at work not from the top but from the bottom of society? After all, none of the rights gained for women or minorities were given by a benevolent leader. They were hard fought from a grass roots movement.
Rieger argues for the common good. He cites Apostle Paul, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” as having solid bottom up logic. Rieger believes that the common good can be built from the bottom up. He articulates the challenges that this paradigm shift presents in a new vision of justice for the poor. There is enough to go around. The re/distribution of wealth, along with a re-evaluation of the role and value of labor and production are necessary. Rieger proposes the “good news for the poor” involves production, organization, and honoring creativity to the benefit of all. New economic models and alternatives are already at work.
Wayne is a current MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion. He is a member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting.