The Struggle is Real
At Jubilee Baptist, we worship, gather, struggle, and liberate. I get the inherent cheesiness of catchphrases, slogans, and mission statements, but at the same time I think they do have some usefulness. They do provide the ability to succinctly say that we worship, gather, struggle, and liberate and then elaborate as necessary. In last few months that I’ve found that “struggle” requires the most explanation. Worship makes sense. You’ve got God and you should worship God. Gather makes sense because a church requires at least two people. Liberate sounds about right because people think of church making things better. But struggle usually requires some sort of elucidation.
When I say that we “struggle” I mean we know that who we are now is not who we will one day be and the only way we will become those people is by struggling. We, and I mean this both individually and as a community, have desires, convictions, and values that make us who we are. Some of them are good, others not as good and others we need to rid ourselves of. We recognize that values exist that we don’t have at the moment that we may one day need or desire and the only way we attain them is to struggle.
Becoming a person that appreciates silence requires struggle if you don’t value silence to begin with and if your world surrounds you with noise. You have to do things that block out noise and that might require you to do things you don’t normally desire. If you reach for your phone in moments of silence, you’ll have to practice keeping it on the table when enjoying a quiet cup of coffee. As for our community, we want to be one that values paying off people’s debts not because people work hard but because we believe in liberating them from bondage. This means we’ll have to actually struggle to do that. We’ll have to sacrifice on behalf of others and talk more openly about our finances. We’ll have to learn to desire paying off debt each month in worship. We don’t know what it will mean to actually be the kind of people that pay off each other’s debts, but we’ll find out. We aren’t who we will one day be but we can imagine those people and we’ll struggle together to become them.
One of our church’s struggles is class struggle. I just got done recording an episode of Left Anchor Podcast with Ryan Cooper and Alexi. In the episode we discussed Herbert McCabe’s excellent essay “The Class Struggle and Christian Love.” I recommend that the first time you read it you jump ahead to the paragraph beginning “First of all …”
The long and short of it is this: class struggle, the struggle over the value of what’s produced, is inherent to capitalism. Capitalism requires a battle between the capitalist class that owns things and the working class that can only get paid wages, and we can’t have capitalism without the fight between those two classes over who owns what and who gets the benefits for the stuff that the workers make. There is no capitalism without class struggle and any Christian that says otherwise either takes the side of the capitalists, doesn’t have a proper understanding of capitalism, or wants to avoid the problem all together. As McCabe describes it, if you live in a capitalist world, you have no choice but to pick a side in the class struggle. It’s a part of your world so pick a side and fight. Capitalism is a class struggle.
Just before we recorded, I watched a short clip of William Barber talking to the Democrats last week. He said that if Republicans want to call call Biblical and just policies that protect the poor and vulnerable “socialism” then they have to admit that the Bible endorses socialism. He quoted some Bible verses about the poor and hungry and justice to prove his point. I don’t know what policies the Democrats have put forward in the last few decades that have truly helped the poor and hungry though they certainly have done a better job than their Republican counterparts. But the force of his argument seemed to be “These policies that help the needy accord better with these Bible verses and if you call them ‘socialism’ then the Bible must be socialist.”
Fox News then had on a radio host and former pastor who said that you can’t just cherry pick Bible verses and apply them to government policy because that’s not how the Bible or governments work. The Bible and Christianity instruct individuals on how to live together. They have little to say about how governments should craft policy. His argument is mostly bullshit, but at that point the whole thing drifted from class and struggle, from the very heart of what makes capitalism capitalism, to the role of government and how Christians should relate to it. Both Barber’s speech and the radio host’s response moved the matter of cocern to the role of government and then to better or worse policy based on the Bible.
I actually think the radio host was right in one way. We should talk about how the Christian life instructs us to be with each other and relate to one another. We have to do that before talking about more or less just policy. The problem is that if you center how we relate to one another, capitalism comes out looking far worse.
McCabe writes that “What is wrong with capitalism is simply that it is based on human antagonism, and it is precisely here that it comes into conflict with Christianity.” Isn’t that refreshing to read? It’s so clear and cuts through so much bullshit. He later writes, “Christianity is deeply subversive of capitalism presciesly because it announces the improbable impossibility that people might live together without war; neither by domination nor by antagonism but by unity in love.”
For Christians, capitalism isn’t a problem because of government overreach or because of a handful of Bible verses suggest that we should have more federal money going to programs to alleviate poverty. It’s bad because it sets us up to live in conflict with one another. Under capitalism we are forced by the powers of the world to relate to each other antagonistically. Christianity is the promise that God is love through and through so much so that one day, maybe tomorrow, we won’t have to fight. The Christian gospel promises that we will one day live together without the antagonisms of capitalism and that that day could be today.
At Jubilee Baptist, we worship, gather, struggle, and liberate and we do so because we believe in love as if a different world is possible. We want to live together as if that different world exists right now because one day it will and no one knows the day or hour when it’ll show up. We’ll help organize workers. We’ll pay off debt. We’ll pick a side in the class struggle and fight in hopes that one day the people that work get to realize the value of what they produce and share it with each other. That’s what Christian love conquering the antagonisms of capitalism looks like, and we believe that kind of life is possible even if it’s not likely.
Who we are isn’t who we have to be and it sure as hell isn’t who we will be. At some point in the future we’ll live together without the antagonisms of capitalism. Until then there is nothing else for us to do but to struggle together towards the people we will one day all become.
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