American Christianity has a "pro-I" problem. That is, the focus is on promoting our own growth and power over the work of the Gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the difference between being pro-self and pro-other in his book Christ the Center. He tells us how Christ is pro-Thou not pro-I and that Jesus' focus was centered on restoring all people to relationship and membership in community rather than promoting his own worship and glorification. If we aren't freeing the oppressed we aren't following Jesus.
How timely is Bonhoeffer's work? Writing in a period where the German people were being lead into an empire-aligned Christianity, working with the Lutheran Church to stand against an interpretation of Christian faith that aligned religion with nationalism. It feels quite timely to me. There is a book being sold that has reached bestseller status on Amazon (I will not link to it and spread its hate) about how Donald Trump is the Christ. No, not Christ-like or Anti-Christ but the sitting-at-the-righthand Christ. Bonhoeffer's Germany and our America are nationalistic trains running on parallel tracks.
The author of Luke's Gospel tells us how Jesus quoted from Isaiah as the announcement of his ministry. The passage he reads before faithful Jews Worshiping a G-d who has liberated them from oppression tells of the prophet "proclaim[ing] good news to the poor… release to the captives… set[ting] free those who are oppressed,… proclaim[ing] the year of the Lord’s favor" (4.18, 19). Jesus said this proclamation was being fullied even as he read it! This was his ministry and this must be the ministry of we who would follow him.
We, like Jesus, are called to be pro-Thou. This is a radical act in our country. A country that is rooted in the glorification of the self, advancing even at the expense of others, hoarding wealth that could be used to improve the lives of everyone in our country and around the world. No human, no matter how powerful, clever, or inventive needs to sprawl dragon-like on a hoard of $137.2 billion. We are called to something different. We are called to something better. We have been called to follow the path Jesus set for us, to be pro-Thou and not pro-I.
What does this look like? It means listening to victims of oppression, putting their voices before our own, and standing against injustice regardless of the pac or party promulgating it. It means disinvesting ourselves from the Christian Nationalism spreading across the country and abandoning the bed of imperialism and empire.
Specificly, our actions must support Black and Brown lives over racist police officers. We need to move our support and our money toward social programs that promote equity and justice, not profiling and incarceration. Our spaces must welcome immigrants with food and shelter not bus tickets. Welcoming the stranger with radical acts of hospitality, valuing their lives over political points. Our leadership must include LGBTQIA2S people or our words are just empty clanging. There is a viral hate plaguing our legislative branches and being nourished by Christian nationalists; proclaiming the full and unconditional acceptance of trans and queer Christians in our churches and neighborhoods is our first step in countering the dehumanization they face.
It's not about a Republican enshrinning injustice or a Democrat giving speeches and calling others out. It is about showing up, being fully present, feeding, housing, and supporting those fleeing injustice and poverty even when it means we need to give of our own resources to help them. It is opening doors in radical acts of hospitality not shutting them and hiding ourselves away while we wait for G-d to make us a new heaven and a new earth.
These are not options from which we can select a few and call ourselves good. This is not one-and-done. We must focus and continually focus our efforts and resources on creating an equitable society. We must commit and continually commit ourselves to radical hospitality, radical empathy, and radical love. We must move and continually move to free ourselves of the pro-I mindset we have learned in our marriage to nationalism. We must abandon the marriage bed of empire.
Jesus' ministry was and is an act of creation. The creation of the Kin-dom of Heaven (Ada María Isasi-Díaz), an upside down Kin-dom where the least are valued the most, where the oppressed are freed from injustice and empowered to lead, where the poor and the hungry are feed abudently. This is the Kin-dom of Heaven. This is what it means to live a life that is pro-Thou. To build a community not rooted in the I and me, but the us and we.