Multiple Christian theologians, dressed in sackcloth and ashes, gathered Monday, November 20, 2017, at Boston’s historic Old South Church to mourn the American church’s role in society. This public lament was accompanied by the release of the “Boston Declaration,” signed by over 300 theologians and calling for the church to repent of ignoring racism and sexual abuse.
Christianity in the ‘belly of the beast’
“Today, too many Christians are placing party politics over the foundational teachings of Jesus. They make excuses for racial hatred and sexual abuse, and some have even said that it would be better to vote for a pedophile than a Democrat,” said the Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, Boston University School of Theology. “This is the basest kind of tribalism that feeds hatred. It is the opposite of love, the opposite of Jesus’ teaching of love and mercy.”
The declaration covers a sizable amount of theological ground, claiming racism as “the United States’ original and ongoing sin” and that following “the prophet Jesus” means “fighting poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression from the deepest wells of our faith. In a series of condemnations, the Boston Declaration rejects “patriarchal and misogynistic legacies,” “violations against the earth,” wealth inequality, Islamaphobia, transphobia, violence against the LGBTQ community, and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
Christian author Shane Claiborne wrote via twitter “I’m honored to be one of the signers of the #BostonDeclaration. This is what Christianity looks like in the belly of the beast.”
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) November 21, 2017
Mixed Feelings over the Declaration
However, some Christians have mixed feelings about the Boston Declaration. Rev. Grey Maggiano, a Baltimore Catholic priest, wrote on Twitter “I love the #BostonDeclaration. I appreciate those who put it together. It is prophetic witness we need. But I am sad to see that in calling for a resurrected world they neglected to claim a resurrected Christ.”
I love the #BostonDeclaration. I appreciate those who put it together. It is prophetic witness we need.
But I am sad to see that in calling for a resurrected world they neglected to claim a resurrected Christ. https://t.co/uH08ahCTIv
— Father Grey (@RevGrey) November 20, 2017
In a section entitled “Who is our God and what is the Jesus Way?” the Boston Declaration says “We believe in a God who holds all difference within God’s own life and in whom there is no one or no people who are distant from God’s justice, merciful love, and presence (Micah 6:8; Acts 10:34-35).” It then describes multiple facets of “the Jesus Way,” but does not make definitive claims as to who Jesus is.
The Boston Declaration’s press release says the signers were inspired by the Barmen Declaration of 1934, when Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and other conservative theologians living under the Third Reich protested the official church’s compromise with Hitler’s reign. The intent of that doctrine was to call for a unity in the German church centered around the divinity of Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life.” Author and Oklahoma Baptist University assistant professor O. Alan Noble says it’s this attempt at unity that’s missing from the Boston Declaration.
“The declaration rightly condemns some real evils in our country and the evangelical church, but it does so from a distinctly progressive position,” Noble said. “This almost certainly means that the very Christians that they criticize will never read or care about the declaration. While I share many of their concerns, for a public statement like this to be effective, we need to see conservative evangelical leaders calling for repentance.”