Thursday, 10 January 2019

Worshipping a Wall: The Idolatry Underlying Trump’s Border…

As I write, the US government is shut down, locked in a political stalemate for nearly three weeks over the President’s promise to build a solid wall along the 2,000 miles of the southern border with Mexico, an easy promise made endlessly during the campaign, and reiterated in the two years since then, right up to his televised address this week, which painted a grim dystopia of international terrorists, drug dealers, and criminal and diseased immigrants flooding across the Rio Grande.

Supporters embraced it with relish; the wall promise was a linchpin in Trump’s win, with throngs of supporters at rallies- before and after the inauguration- chanting ‘Build the wall!’

The wall was always going to be a hard sell- outside of Trump’s hardcore base- as facts on the ground didn’t point to its critical necessity:

In September 2018, a detailed US State Department report found ‘no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.’ As to the drug cartels, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has repeatedly reported that the most common- and easiest- method for traffickers to smuggle drugs across the border is by hiding them in cars that legally drive through official border checkpoints. Why walk them across the desert when it’s far simpler to drive them in an air-conditioned SUV?

Furthermore, undocumented immigration across the southern border is in fact dropping and has been for years; in 2000, 1.6 million people were caught crossing from Mexico illegally. Last year, the number was 310,531, the lowest figure since 1971.

In fact, there has been a decline in undocumented immigration overall since the economic recession of 2008… and almost none of it comes over the southern border. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants in the US overstayed a legally-granted tourist, student, or work visa.

What all this points to is that there is no ‘crisis’ of illegal immigration from Mexico, and the solution offered to undocumented immigration by the President and his supporters- longer, higher, and more fortified walls- doesn’t address the immigration and security issues that the US does face.

This begs the question: Why is the President so passionately committed to his wall?

To begin to answer that, we need to look at Trump’s wall theologically.

I believe Trump’s wall is an idol. It is a false god, promising much, delivering little, and demanding a heavy and cruel price.

In modern Christian doctrine, we tend to think that an idol can be anything. We particularly focus on an idol being something that preoccupies our attention away from spiritual pursuits. If we think about football more than our daily devotions, we might conclude that football has become an ‘idol’ in our lives; if we spend more time at work than at church or with family, we begin to wonder if the job or the salary might be an ‘idol’; if we obsess over a new car, a new phone, or expensive clothes, we worry that materialism is becoming an ‘idol’.

However, the ancient Hebrews didn’t think like this; for them, an idol was something very specific.

In the commandment against idols in Exodus 20:4 (‘you shall not make for yourself an idol’), the Hebrew terminology of ‘idol’ or ‘image’ (פֶּ֫סֶל, ‘pesel’, ‘hewn’) specifically denotes making, crafting, or building. An idol was something made, something specifically constructed. The ancient Hebrews of the biblical text weren’t interested in abstract mental images, inward desires, or emotional passions…

An idol was something you built.

From the biblical text we can see that an idol’s purposes were very specific- to give people a sense of control, to be a source of security and to reinforce a community’s identity.

Exodus 32- the account of the Golden Calf- is probably the most well-known and it is here that one of the most important purposes of an idol is seen- a community afflicted with fear and lack of trust seeks a sense of security and identity outside of that provided by God.

In the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh had made it clear to his people that he was invisible, nameless, and unknowable, only discerned through his own self-revelation. This is why the commandments were so adamant that no image of him could be made. To do so implied that Yahweh could be made visible and knowable; that he could be located, placed in one place or another solely on a human’s desire; that he could be made present and available, attributes Yahweh had made clear were absolutely beyond the Hebrews’ control. The constructed image gave the people the ability to worship Yahweh as they desired- it allowed the possibility of naming God, controlling God.

Thus, in Exodus 32:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." 

Moses was gone, disappeared up a mountain covered with fire and cloud (Ex. 24:17-18). The one man on which they have become entirely dependent has disappeared. When was he coming back? Worse, was he dead? No one knew. The unreliable Moses- and Moses’ God- had to be replaced with something tangible and reliable. The people demand ‘gods’ to do what Yahweh and Moses have, for whatever reason, stopped doing. 

These new gods would ‘go before’; ‘go ahead’ (‘asher’; ראֲשֶׁ), as into battle. A nameless, invisible god was indeed an interesting novelty, but was it wise to persist in this notion, alone, surrounded by enemies, and with a military campaign to occupy Canaan drawing ever nearer? The people want to meet their adversaries on an equal footing; they wanted something that they could see and that could be seen; something that would announce who they were. In the face of physical threat, something more tangible than what Moses or Yahweh offered was required.

Another example of this idea is the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Though this passage is not normally associated with idolatry, in light of what we see in the Exodus passage, particularly the emotions and situations that might lead people to build ‘idols',  this text again speaks to humanity’s propensity toward idolatry, the constant struggle with the desire to build ‘gods’.

And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

In this text, we again have the building of a structure out of fear, to provide security and identity, but once again outside of the relationship with God.

The people desire to ‘make a name for themselves’. Once again, the desire to ‘make’ usurps the role of God as well. It is God who creates and names humankind; now humankind declares that they will name themselves; just as the Israelites seek the name of God (Ex. 3:13) in order to possess God’s name- God’s identity- and therefore have a measure of control over him. Once the people ‘name’ themselves, they believe their destiny will be their own. The builders’ city and tower are their creation, their power base from which they will make their name; their identity and their works will endure. 

This then reveals their fear: ‘...otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth (11:4).’ Without their self-made identity, they would be dispersed, and their identity- their self-made identity- destroyed.

In light of this reflection, we’re left with a grim picture. Since Trump’s wall has no practical application, we need to start dealing with what it represents- and that is where its idolatry truly lies.

Given that Trump’s wall solves none of the complex and admittedly serious immigration issues that America faces;

No member of congress from border districts supports it (including members of Trump’s party);

No one with any knowledge or expertise in immigration or national security agrees with him;

All we’re left with is fear, a false sense of security, and an ever-more desperate need for Trump to make a name for himself… all the reasons for the construction of an idol.

This would all be bad enough if not for the most disturbing aspect of idolatry in the biblical text- that idols always demand sacrifices.

The practice of idolatry in the ancient Near East was closely related to the idea of human sacrifice, specifically that of children. It would appear that this was at least common enough that the Hebrew prophets saw the need to continually stress Yahweh’s abhorrence of it. Jeremiah 19:5 is a perfect example; the prophet has Yahweh describe child sacrifice as ‘a thing I never ordered, never mentioned, that had never entered my thoughts’. For the prophets, it was not simply the practice that was abhorrent, but the intimation that Yahweh ever actually desired it. It was false gods who demanded sacrifice, not the God of life and liberation.

Two children have already died in US border patrol custody, sacrificed as part of a useless and cruel policy based on fear, lack of trust, and misplaced nationalism, designed to deter thousands of men, women, and children fleeing the poverty and violence of Central America- a region that has seen the blunt end of US foreign policy for over a century- from seeking asylum in the US…

These people have had their humanity and dignity sacrificed. They have been relentlessly demonized as lazy, scrounging, diseased criminals by the President, his administration, and his supporters, despite the fact that under US and international law they are perfectly within their rights to seek asylum in the US or any other country.

If Trump embodies anyone in the biblical text, it is the litany of kings who led God’s people into idolatry.

If Christ is who he said he was- a stranger, either invited in or not-

He is languishing, right now, in Tijuana.

American Christians have a choice; the same choice that every age has had to make: to serve Christ or an idol…

To bow down to one or the other...

But make no mistake, it can never- ever- be both. 

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Facing the Wall: Looking for Liberation and Reconciliation Around Belfast’s Separation Barriers

One memory that sticks in my mind from my doctoral studies was driving down from Belfast to Dublin with my academic adviser to attend a seminar. He had the audio book of Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat Pray Love’ in the car, and we listened on the way.

At one point, Gilbert mentioned in her narration that she had received a five-figure advance from her publisher which, considering her book was about experiences in Italy, India, and Bali, was how she was able to write the book.

‘Just to be clear’, my adviser said, ‘no one is going to give you that kind of advance to write a book on theology…’

It was sound advice. Publishers don’t splash that kind of cash at theologians.

But we write books anyway. We write because it’s what we do. We use our skills and expertise to theologically reflect on the biblical text in the light of our experiences and convictions.

In light of that, I’m delighted to announce that my book, ‘Facing the Wall: Looking for Liberation and Reconciliation Around Belfast’s Separation Barriers’, is now available on Amazon.

For the moment, it’s available as an e-Book, but a paperback edition will be available in the next few months. You can purchase it here:

The book had its impetus in two places:

First and foremost, it is a product of my years as a reconciliation worker in North and West Belfast, working with numerous projects and groups- Corrymeela, Community Relations in Schools, and various other groups and local projects- many different people, places, and experiences, but always with the end goal of helping people rebuild and live together well after Northern Ireland’s 30 years of civil conflict.

It also is a product of my doctoral work in Theology. Being involved in reconciliation work, I was familiar with much of the theology of reconciliation that was being produced out of the Irish peace process and beyond. I also have had an abiding fascination with liberation theology. I wondered what it would look like to apply the basic ideas of liberation theology to a context like post-conflict Northern Ireland, with its ongoing structural sectarianism and deep social divisions- a situation quite different from that experienced by its original proponents in Central and South America.

Simply put, I thought our process of reconciliation would benefit from a dose of liberation… and the liberation theological project would benefit from engaging with the context of human relationships healing after violent conflict.

Peacemaking is never easy or straightforward, and ‘Facing the Wall’ is about facing unpleasant facts. An overarching unpleasant fact is that while the 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought the armed conflict to a close, Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided place, but since far fewer people are dying, those divisions are seen in the corridors of power as basically acceptable …

And some divisions are not lessening, but getting worse.

This book is about one of them.

If you come to Belfast, it won’t be long before you encounter the separation barriers, sometimes referred to as ‘peace walls’ or ‘the peace line’, a vast network of walls, fences, gates, and unused tracts of land acting as ‘buffer zones’ located around or between areas of Belfast where the two majority communities- Catholic and Protestant, Nationalist and Unionist- live in close proximity.

The first one went up in 1969 as the conflict began to spiral out of control, when the British Army erected a fence between the riot-plagued Falls and Shankill neighborhoods in West Belfast.

British Army GOC Sir Ian Freeland declared at the time, ‘The peace line will be a very, very temporary affair. We will not have a Berlin Wall or anything like that in this city’.

49 years later, there are over 100, most of them having been built, or made longer or higher, after the peace agreement.

Why? What’s going on?

It wasn’t easy to find out. The separation barriers might not be the most critical issue facing Northern Ireland, but it is certainly one of the most enduring and overlooked.

In the dozens of books, papers, and articles I read about the conflict, photos of the barriers often featured prominently on many of the covers but- oddly- were rarely mentioned in the content;

In my years of working with churches and other faith-based communities on reconciliation projects, even though there was endless discussion of ‘divisions’ and ‘the barriers between communities’,  the actual physical barriers were more or less ignored;

 In the hours of discussions with colleagues and in all the lectures and talks I’d been to about building peace in Northern Ireland, the subject of the barriers rarely came up.  

When it did come up, it was indirectly, as a metaphor for something else;

‘Just as there are concrete barriers running through the streets of Belfast’, people would earnestly say, ‘so there are barriers in peoples’ hearts and minds’.

Over the years, I heard that phrase repeated to me dozens of times, and every time it was uttered as if the person had just thought it up.  

That was always the focus- the ‘barriers in peoples’ hearts and minds’.

I knew what they were trying to say. If you work in post-conflict social reconciliation, you’re well acquainted with the trauma, prejudice, resentment, and bigotry so many people in Northern Ireland carry in their hearts and minds. They had lived through political violence, through terror, through loss… Helping people live with or hopefully move beyond those deep mental and social wounds represents the bulk of what we do.

And yet (and this is what no one seemed willing to acknowledge) there were real, actual barriers, walls, fences, and gates of concrete and steel, some 6 to 9 meters high, running for miles through the city of Belfast… and they raised disturbing questions:

If the barriers were built to reduce violence, why had the majority been built after the ceasefires, the negotiations of the peace agreement, the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, and the pull-out of the British Army?

If the barriers were built to make people feel safer, why had the vast majority of deaths occurred within sight of them?

Since the barriers were constructed and maintained at enormous cost from public funds, why did they run through the most economically-deprived areas of the city?

Why did the churches of Belfast, who had so much to say about the ‘barriers’ in peoples’ hearts and minds’, never mention the separation barriers, even when their church butted right up against one?

Most crucially, what were the physical barriers doing to us? What were they doing to peoples’ hearts and minds?

How could we do reconciliation work with any integrity in Belfast without grappling with the reality of publicly-funded, physically-reinforced segregation?

How could we do theology with any integrity in Belfast in the shadow of the separation barriers?

This book is an attempt to pick those questions apart. It explores what the barriers are, where they come from, why they matter, and what churches and people of faith can positively do to engage with them;

It seeks to transform the way the barriers are seen and understood by people of faith, how we do theological reflection in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and hopefully broadens our lens of what we feel we can reflect on;

Finally, it seeks to contribute to Irish theology by drawing on both liberation theology and theologies of reconciliation- but combining them in new, practical ways- helping us to better theologically engage with our post-conflict context- less violent, less deadly, but still divided, and still being divided.

If you’re interested in Irish history and politics, as well as in new forms of contextual and public theology, give ‘Facing the Wall’ a read and, if you feel it deserves it, please leave it a favourable review. Please also feel free to pass information about the book to those who might benefit from it or are interested in similar topics.

Hopefully you’ll find it interesting, thought-provoking, and beneficial…

Even if it never reaches ‘Eat Pray Love’ numbers…

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

An Advent of Resistance...

In 2003, I was part of the Irish anti-war movement, working with several groups to build resistance to the US and UK ramp-up for war, as well as the toxic racism that was erupting against Muslim citizens (actually, against anyone vaguely of brown complexion) of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Two highlights from that time stand out in my memory:

one was giving a press conference With Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, one of the bravest, most down-to-Earth and loveable people I’ve ever met. The two of us sitting at a table in a conference room at the Linen Hall Library facing the world’s media, I just assumed that she would do most of the talking.

‘Ach no, love. You read the statement. You speak so well.’ Astonishing…

The second memory is of the global day of protests against the war on 15 February. In Belfast, we had between 10,000 and 20,000 on the streets. I’d never been in a crowd that big in my life before that, and it was truly exhilarating. Belfast is a delicate place, full of sectarian and political divisions that make every issue a minefield. But there was support for the march across the communities and politicians from various parties who would never be caught dead standing next to each other managed it on that day.

Again, it was astonishing…

Behind that extraordinary day were weeks of preparation and planning, which most of the people who turned up didn’t see and weren’t a part of. Ironically, that might have been part of the reason so many marchers that day were so let down when Bush and Blair went ahead and had a war anyway.

On the day that the bombing campaign began on 20 March, we held a vigil in front of Belfast City Hall. There was a miniscule fraction of the numbers we’d had back in February- a few dozen at most.

In the face of that level of violent power, it’s hard to keep going, particularly when you’ve given so much of yourself in terms of time and effort, and violent power simply ignores you and keeps going…

The 15 February rally wasn’t going to stop the war; the only thing that would have done that was a general strike- nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, nobody pays their rates, everybody just stops everything until our demands are met.

If you want to stop a war, make it impossible for the state to have a war. 

Very few people out on 15 February were ready to do that, and needless to say, there wasn’t consensus within the anti-war movement to do it. Even if there had been, it would’ve been nearly impossible. 

But one truth underlies both the success of anti-war movement on 15 February and the disappointments of the Iraq invasion:

Resistance is a lot of work.

If you want to put together a real resistance- one that actually affects change upon an integrated system, a system that has been running for a long time and has become self-perpetuating- you’re going to need to have organization, preparation, and dedication. 

Resistance is a lot of work. Ask the people behind the abolition of the North Atlantic slave trade, the US Civil Rights Movement, or anyone who resisted a war.

Ask the people in the 80s and 90s trying to wake people up to the AIDS epidemic.

Ask the people behind Stop The War, Occupy, MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and Standing Rock.

Resistance is a lot of work.

It’s a lot of long meetings, delegating responsibilities, phone calls and following up on phone calls…

It’s planning what to do when you know that you’re going to have dozens of colleagues being arrested,  finding out where they’re being held, finding out what the exact charge against them is, finding out their bail conditions, arranging lawyers…

Resistance is a lot of work…

And it’s very often done in the face of people trying to stop you with seemingly-unlimited resources and power…

You will need to cultivate in yourself and your movement a healthy balance of optimism and realism. The desire is there, the vision is there, but the thing itself is not yet born.

So you prepare. You prepare yourself and your movement.

And in the face of an entrenched status quo- deep-seated racism, embedded inequality, rampant consumerism, apathy, self-centered politics- it can be hard to keep going…

You hope. And you work…

Today is the first Sunday of the Christian season of Advent. It is the season that I think more than any other speaks to this reality.

If you’re not a Christian, or you’re part of a Christian tradition that doesn’t closely follow the liturgical year, Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’) is the season that precedes Christmas in the Christian liturgical year. It begins on the first Sunday after the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and continues until the 24th of December.

It serves as a time of preparation and reflection. Advent traditions involve the lighting of candles on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, usually in church but also in the home. Similar to the season of Lent which leads up to Easter, Advent is also a traditional time of fasting, self-examination, and prayer.

Reflections during Advent often draw on the biblical texts from the long centuries before the birth of Christ.

It is a time to remember the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures that tell of the eventual coming of God’s messiah.

It is a time to reflect on the coming invasion of God into his creation.

Ultimately, Advent prepares us for Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation, 

‘God with us’.

The incarnation- God’s presence and action in human history regardless of circumstance- is the central theme of the ancient Hebrew prophets. No matter what was going on-

invading armies, corrupt officials, unjust structures, inhumane systems, the devaluing of human life and human goodness-

the prophets asserted that God was not blind, nor did he sleep.

God’s Messiah would come, and all would be put right:

And it would not be put right in some mystical, fantastic reality beyond this world;

It would be put right here, now, in history, in time.  

Advent is preparing for the good work of God when God and goodness seem far off.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we read from the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
They lived in a land of shadows,
but now light is shining on them.
You have given them great joy, Lord;
you have made them happy.
They rejoice in what you have done,
as people rejoice when they harvest grain
or when they divide captured wealth.
For you have broken the yoke that burdened them
and the rod that beat their shoulders.
You have defeated the nation
that oppressed and exploited your people,
just as you defeated the army of Midian long ago.
The boots of the invading army
and all their bloodstained clothing
will be destroyed by fire.
A child is born to us!
A son is given to us!
And he will be our ruler.
He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,”
“Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,”
“Prince of Peace.”

God had revealed himself as the God of life and liberation; 

Thus, the Christian liturgical year begins by putting the world on notice that we await liberation and transformation-

Not just of hearts, minds, and souls, but of historical conditions;

Of structures, of hierarchies, of the status quo.

With the coming of the messiah, the prophets declared, nothing can- or will- remain as it is.

For the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed, this is good news;

For the wealthy, the influential, the disenfranchising, and the oppressors, this is a warning…

This is the radical Advent, an Advent of Resistance.

And those who hold to this spirit of liberation and transformation are a radical ‘Advent people’.

This is why it would be such a mistake to see Advent in only spiritual terms. Though for centuries, religious and political structures colluded to assure us that misery on Earth was a prelude to a glorious heaven.

The world has rightly risen in protest against such sentimental piety.

The ‘Advent people’ cultivate hope- for peace, for justice, for equity, for equality.

The ‘Advent people’ prepare for what is coming- for who is coming…

The ‘Advent people’ proclaim that, yes, we have walked in darkness;

Darkness of violence, war, oppression, injustice…

But we have seen a great light.

And that light will light our resistance…

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Óscar Romero, Che Guevara, and Spray-Painted Theology…

I want to take you on a little nostalgia trip, back to the 80s and 90s when I was part of the burgeoning punk scene in the New York/New Jersey area.

This is a track by Puerto Rican political punks Ricanstruction, a mainstay of the hardcore punk scene on the Lower East Side.

When I started dedicating myself to becoming a theologian, I remember recalling this video. It fascinated me that the young man with the rattle can had no trouble equating Óscar Romero (the martyred archbishop), Túpac Amaru (the murdered Native American leader), and Emiliano Zapata (the Mexican revolutionary), declaring in the name of them all, ‘La Lucha Sigue’… ‘The Struggle Continues’…

As I began to delve deeper into Latin American liberation theology, I was equally fascinated by murals you see dotted around Central and South America with images of both Che Guevara and Romero- devout Christian archbishop and implacable revolutionary atheist- side by side.

I think there’s a lesson for us in that graffiti and those images, a holy treatise that we need to remember, particularly on this day.

For as I write this, Archbishop Óscar Romero- martyred 24 March 1980 for his determined and increasingly vocal opposition to the government of El Salvador’s reign of terror- has been officially canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church.

Romero has exerted such an influence and inspiration over my life, my work, and my personal spirituality that it might come as a surprise to many that I’m feeling rather subdued today.

The reason for my ambivalence is two-fold.

The first, as most regular readers will know, has to do with my enduring struggles with the Vatican power structure, which did very little to support or defend Romero in his fight for justice when he and the persecuted people of El Salvador needed it most.

Worse, that same Vatican power structure went on to variously frustrate, delay, or outright oppose the cause of Romero’s canonization for decades, maligning his memory and his character in the process.

The fact is, Romero was a saint at the moment of his death, and the people of El Salvador, as well as millions of Catholics around the world, recognized him as such. It has taken our bureaucratic, officious, autocratic hierarchy nearly thirty years to recognize what any Salvadoran campensino could have told them the day after Romero’s death.

But of course, this was heart of Latin American liberation theology’s critique- that theological reflection begins with the experience of the most poor and the most oppressed.
A corollary is when the Gospel writer has Christ say, ‘I thank you, Father, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and revealed them to infants (Matt. 11:35).
There are similar echoes of this when Brazilian priest and theologian Frei Betto observed, ‘the poor invaded the Church (and) Catholic priests and bishops began to be converted to Christianity.’
My second reason is related to the first; now that Romero is ensconced in the devotional structures of the Church, I worry that his elevation might blunt the message that he gave.
The greatness of Romero, I believe, is the fact that three weeks after this bookish, conservative, status quo figure was ordained archbishop, he unexpectedly and disturbingly felt that God showed him the path he would need to take.
His good friend Fr. Rutilio Grande- who had been denouncing the government’s cruelty to the people- and two companions were murdered by the Salvadoran military, which was carrying out a sustained campaign of terror in the countryside. Romero went to the funeral and stared at both the bullet-ridden body and at the faces of the parishioners. He later recounted:

When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’

After this event, Romero was tireless in his advocacy for the people, denouncing the government’s terror, appealing to US President Carter to cut off aid to the Salvadoran government, even going so far as, on 23 March 1980, to demand obedience from the soldiers at the expense of their military commanders:

‘I’d like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army: Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same people. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of the man telling you to kill, think instead of the words of God, ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the Law of God. In His Name and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much, and whose laments cry out to heaven: I implore you! I beg you! I order you! Stop the repression!’

The next day, he was dead.  

The people were drawn to Romero’s words because, in a world that made it brutally clear to them that their lives were of no value whatsoever, he constantly reminded them of their value in the eyes of God and that God is a God of justice.

The greatness of Romero is in the change of direction- at the prompting of the Spirit of God- he was willing to make… yet ironically he has been elevated to a place of example and inspiration by a Church that doesn’t change direction well at all.

If we wish to do theological reflection with integrity, it is vital that Romero’s greatness not be lost under a welter of gauzy, institutional sentimentality or rendered inoffensive, divorced from the radical context from which it sprouted.

That depends on the people of God who recognized his holiness from the beginning, not those who noticed it far, far later…

… And the key to that is in the graffiti of the video and in those murals of Romero and Che.

The poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the all those deemed ‘worthless’ by the forces of capital and power across the globe continue to cry out for justice… the cry of Romero… the cry of Jesus.

It is the duty of the Church to stand with those who cry out for justice, for justice is the heart of the Gospel…

‘The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it in full’ (John 10:10)…

This is the intersection of Romero and Che, the Christian and the revolutionary. It is impossible to evaluate the actions of Che without evaluating the actions of the Latin American Church of his social context- ossified, reactionary, anti-reform, privileged, elitist...

The Gospel of Christ- food for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, freedom for the captives, life for the lifeless, a voice for the voiceless- was, is, and ever shall be revolutionary.

If the Church fails to preach and act out this radical Gospel, the world will still cry out for it; the poor and the oppressed will still demand justice.

If the Church stops up its ears, it is surrendering its mission, and that mission will be picked up by those who will attempt it without any understanding of the love of Christ. No one- least of all the Church- should be surprised if that turns out to be a disaster...

But in that instance, I think the judgement of God rests heavier on the Church. They knew Christ, and failed to emulate him; Che didn't, and set off to do it in his own power and wisdom...

Ironically, this is why I have a deep admiration for Che and consider him an inspiration to me in the same manner as is Romero. For the Gospel to have any integrity it must be revolutionary or it will be empty… and for the revolution to have any integrity it must encompass Romero or it will be in vain.

Che said, 'If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine’;

Romero said, ‘When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises’;

Jesus said, 'Do you love me? Feed my sheep'. 

The statements are all identical to me...

… And spray painting any or all of them on a wall would be an act of devotion…