Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Justice Is Nothing But Love With Legs."

That's President Serene Jones, of Union Theological Seminary speaking. She continued, "Justice is what love looks like when it takes social form."

Wow. This is but one of the profound statements made by Dr. Jones throughout the course of Bill Moyers' "Journal: Faith and Social Justice," which also included Dr. Cornel West, formerly of Union, now at Princeton University, and Dr. Gary Dorrien, from Union. There is a video of the show, which can be seen HERE, and is from which all further quotes are taken (thanks for the link, SusanUnPC!).

Back to President Jones for a moment, though. In Union Theological Seminary's 172 year history, she is the FIRST woman to hold this post. I wrote about her way back in April, 2008, "Is This A Sign Of Things To Come??" Of course, now we know that the Powers-That-Be made sure it wasn't, but a girl has to have her dreams, and that was mine at the time. (Now, it is that Secretary Clinton can get out before her ability to affect change has been marginalized beyond recognition. As in, she should be in Russia right now - just sayin'.) President Jones has a distinguished resume, including teaching at Yale for the past 17 years, at the university as well as the law school. She is an impressive woman, brilliant mind, yet the kindness and warmth exude from her like, well, like it does from Hillary. Or as one might expect from someone who is the head of, and teaches at, a seminary preparing students for ministry.

Union has long had a history of social justice in the world. One might say that is its calling, or the calling of the students who attend it. During my time there, we were able to get the Board of Trustees to divest assets in South Africa, still in the throes of apartheid at that time. Many of the students worked in soup kitchens, engaged in protests on a variety of issues, and dealt with the AIDS crisis as it first erupted in New York City. In addition to that, because it was understood that language shapes reality, all classroom discussion, all papers, and all worship services HAD to be in inclusive language. It was an amazing environment in which to learn, though it made it rather difficult in the world at large in which language was certainly not all inclusive, or in which women did not hold prominent positions Even then, though, we had a number of outstanding professors in women's theology, ethics, and Hebrew Scriptures. Thankfully, those numbers continue to increase among the faculty. (Photo by wallyg)

So, it is in that environment that this discussion took place with Bill Moyers moderating. Bear in mind, these are Christians, and that is the place from which they move in the world. BUT - that being said, they may not be the kinds of Christians you are used to hearing from, thus why I encourage you to listen to the whole video, if you have the time and inclination.

This is what followed the statements made by Dr. Jones above:
BILL MOYERS: And that's the trade union movement you talked about.

SERENE JONES: That's what love is.

CORNEL WEST: That's the woman's movement. That's the gay and lesbian movement.

SERENE JONES: You put it in policy forms.

GARY DORRIEN: It's the love that, that's what holds you in the struggle, you know. Even if you're not succeeding, you know.

CORNEL WEST: Allowing you to sustain and do.

GARY DORRIEN: It's the energy. It propels you into a struggle in which you might not be succeeding.

BILL MOYERS: You remind me that all three of you come out of what, once upon a time, was called the Social Gospel movement. The movement to apply Christian ethical principles to society. And wasn't that a response to the first round of economic collapse in the early part of the last century?

GARY DORRIEN: There is something new that started in the 1880s with the Social Gospel. You have a sociological consciousness itself that there's such a thing as social structure. And so, well, if there's such a thing as social structure then now there's something that's just different.

That makes the equation different. That it's not just a question of bringing people to Jesus who will then transform society. But rather salvation itself has to be conceived, not just in personal, but social-structural terms. So, with the Social Gospel movement in the 1880s, you do, for the first time, see preaching and theology in which Christian salvation is being talked about as including making movements toward the change of social structures themselves in the direction of something that's now being called social justice.

CORNEL WEST: There's a sense of-

GARY DORRIEN: Because even the term social justice is only coined during that very same period.

BILL MOYERS: But the Social Gospel tradition was, in itself, overwhelmed by the materialism of the last part of the 20th century and by the turbo capitalism that you were talking about enshrined in Thomas Freidman's icon. I mean, the Social Gospel was not sufficient to sustain itself against the power of economics and, in fact, structural wealth. Right?

CORNEL WEST: Right. That's true.

SERENE JONES: But I think we can never underestimate the crisis of desire. That it wasn't just that there was - it didn't have enough social strength, or a good enough analysis. That what turbo capitalism does, is it - the biggest, sort of, war zone is interior to us - where it takes over your desire. It makes you into a creature who wants to buy the commodities. So you could have a great political analysis. But what you're doing, on the ground every day, is you're fueling this turbo capitalism. And it's in the churches that another kind of desire should have been being crafted. That's where you can get people in their bones and really begin to force the question of, what is it that you want? What makes you happy? What makes your life mean? What, you know, it's those deep questions of want.

"Turbo capitalism" - what a concept that is. I think we have seen that operating on Wall Street and in our banks (which was the discussion preceding this one). Here is a good bit of the discussion on Obama. Now, I should say that early on, as I understand it, West was a supporter of Hillary Clinton's. Clearly, he has moved to back Obama, but critically so, as he points out in this discussion. There is more about Obama, but for space reasons, I am limiting that part of the discussion to this:
BILL MOYERS: You said the age of Obama is about everyday people. And you asked the question: how do we unleash their power? What's the evidence that that's happening?

CORNEL WEST: Well, I think it's a very complicated situation. Because, of course, the age of Obama actually emerges with a discredited Republican party in disarray. With a mediocre Democratic party that only had the Clinton machine at the center. And if this charismatic, brilliant, young, black brother can somehow get over the Clinton machine, he can become president.

That's why I supported him. Critically! A Socratic, prophetic, orientation toward the brother, right? Because he becomes the initiator of a new age. We had to bring the age of Reagan to a close. The era of conservatism had to be brought to a close. Thank God it was. But then the question will be, well, is he going to focus on the poor and working people? Will he recycle neo-liberal elites from the old establishment of Wall Street - which the economic team is?

BILL MOYERS: We know the answer to that.

CORNEL WEST: We know the answer to that.

BILL MOYERS: Right after the election, you were-

CORNEL WEST: Will he recycle the same neo-imperial elites when it comes to foreign policy. I know he's dealing with tremendous power. Wall Street. Congress. And so forth, and so on. I understand the political considerations. People have the right to organize. Lobbies have a right to bring power and pressure to bear. That's what American democracy's about.

But that's not truth. That's not the same as prophetic witness to truth. Especially as Christians, you see. So that the critique launched against Barack Obama, be it Gaza, be it Darfur, be it in Ethiopia, be it wherever. It has to be put forward. That is the calling of prophetic Christians.

GARY DORRIEN: Well, I wouldn't even give him the out that Cornel just gave him. Because I think, in fact, he could stay in his lane and do way better than he has on the economy, and also on scaling back the military empire.

So, on those two things, to be so solicitous of Wall Street, to have treatment of the banks that's just absurdly favorable to their interests, and refusing to clear out shareholders, and refusing to get to the bottom of it.

And also in his just utter refusal to really face up to the cost and extent of the military empire that, even though he notes in this book, "The Audacity of Hope," is outspending the next 25 nations combined in the military. He says in the next paragraph, and he has continued on this line, that we need to expand it further. So we've got nothing coming on sort of pulling back on that issue as well. On the other hand, you can't say that this has been a cautious president overall.

I mean, it's quite amazing that he is taking on virtually everything one way or another at the same time. So he has - there's been a fair amount of audacity in deciding that this is his moment. There's not going to be a better moment to come along anyway.

If he's going to do something about health care, or a number of issues. Dealing with Iran, maybe make a breakthrough with Cuba. That he's got to put his cards on the table now and get what he can.

BILL MOYERS: You said, after the election, "We want to give him time. We want to give him room." And my question to you is: how much room and how much time?

CORNEL WEST: Well, the first thing we want to do, we want to protect him, and he and his precious family. Second thing we want to do, we want to make sure all the criticism is fair, so it's not ad hominids, it's not personal. It's not racist. It's not whatever, you see.

At the same time, he is subject to all the same requirements of truth and justice as any other president, any color. So my criticism out of love for, not just the people, but Barack Obama himself. How my criticism help him? Give him strength? He plans to be progressive Lincoln. Fine. That's difficult. He will be helped by more progressive Frederick Douglasses. That's what I aspire to.

BILL MOYERS: Do you see the-

CORNEL WEST: To help him push him in a progressive direction.

BILL MOYERS: Do you hear those voices coming from his left? We know about them from the right. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh. We all know them.

CORNEL WEST: Well, the voices are there! Paul Krugman, and Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ben Barber and William Greider and Ron Walters. The voices are there. He's not yet listening. That's the difference. Lincoln listened to Douglass, Garrison. Brother Barack Obama, he is listening too much to Summers, Thurman, Geithner. We can go right down the neo liberal list. That's dangerous if he wants to be a progressive president.

BILL MOYERS: Why do you think that is?

SERENE JONES: I think one of the reasons that it happens is that we are living in a very overwhelming time. And it's always going to be the case that a conservative familiar neo liberal agenda sounds safer.

Because it's what we know. But the truth of the matter is what we know is what got us in trouble in the first place. So it's one of those moments that everybody faces in their own life. We happen to be facing it structurally right now. Is everything collapses, what do we do? In the midst of that fear, do we grasp for what's most familiar? That's what's happening. But the very thing you're grasping for is the thing that got you there in the first place.

CORNEL WEST: Absolutely.

SERENE JONES: It takes a little opening of spirit and an opening of intellect and courage. It's courage.

There is so much more to this discussion. But for me, it is heartening to know that these kinds of discussions are taking place at all. I hope that their being Christians didn't put you off, because what they say really transcends what their particular faith system is (and I say that as someone who is not Christian, myself). I am glad that people like this are keeping a watchful eye on Obama, and I think they make good partners with us as we try to reclaim our country from where Obama and his Wall Street cronies are trying to take us.

I began with the words of President Jones, and now I'd like to conclude with them as well. I think these are good words to live by in general, and especially in these days:
It takes a little opening of spirit and an opening of intellect and courage. It's courage.

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