Liberal secularism has failed us. That’s what my spiritual director told me last week, and I have to say, I agree with him. The violence and hatred our current political and social situations have exposed are fundamentally spiritual issues and must be met with spiritual solutions. As the letter to the Ephesians puts it, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (6:12, NRSV) To the extent that we, as progressive Christians, have allied ourselves with liberal secularism, we will also fail to address the cosmic powers of this present darkness.
For too long we have ceded to the evangelical right the power of the Christian scriptural and ascetic witness. When struggling with violence, oppression, materialism, and the exploitation and objectification of people and the earth, a polite, enlightened, rational approach will not suffice. These are forces of evil. They must be named and engaged as such. And not only out there, but also–even primarily–inside of us. We need the power of Christ, crucified and risen, inscribed in our flesh through baptism in order, not to fight the evil that surrounds and encompasses us, but to transform it.
If we take seriously the gospel proclamation that we are all one body, united in Christ Jesus, then the problem of evil is not primarily an external one. Evil is located within me as much as outside of me. Until we undergo Christ’s passion internally, allowing all the violence and hatred and objectification that live within our own hearts to crucify us with Christ, we will never be raised with him.
The world needs a new fellowship of Christian martyrs. The testimony of the martyrs (“martyr,” after all, means “witness”) has always proclaimed to the world that life in Christ transcends and transforms earthly life. Through their prayer, martyrs have already undergone a kind of death that has released them from the need to cling to their earthly lives. Truly they have already tasted the life of Christ welling up deep within them. They no longer need to hold tightly their physical life. As such, they have been freed to follow Christ’s example and pour out their lives for the life of the world.
In these chaotic times, I cannot get the image of the marchers at Selma in 1965 out of my mind’s eye. These were truly Christians and martyrs: men and women who literally took onto their bodies the violence of the world, exposing the impotence at its heart. As such, they transformed the hatred and violence heaped upon them. Evil cannot be fought. It can only be transformed. We will be able to participate in that transformation in direct proportion to our willingness to let go of all we cling to, even, if it comes to it, to our very lives.
This witness is rooted in the life of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. That same Christ, so our faith tell us, reigns forever from the Cross, planted firmly in the soil of our souls. From that Cross, now become the tree of life, Christ pours out his life into ours so that we may pour out our lives for world. What we need now is a new generation of Christian martyrs, a generation whose action and testimony are grounded in its experience of dying and rising with Christ. It is the only way we can participate in the transformation of the evil that threatens to overwhelm us.
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