Saints in Caesar’s Palace
A Faith Response to Poverty… America’s Shame
By Dr. Leonard Lovett
We are reminded that there were “saints in Caesar’s household.” Philippians 4:22: “And all the other Christians send their greetings, too…especially those who work in Caesar’s palace.” Paul makes sure that the saints in the emperor’s palace are remembered. We can speculate that they may have been paid domestic servants, but the good news is the fact that they were in the house. Poverty has been defined by certain theorists as “loss of fate control,” i.e., the feeling that someone else is either directly or indirectly controlling one’s destiny. Poverty is structural, behavioral, and cultural.
What an opportunity for diverse Communities of Faith to unite and face a beatable foe…poverty. When faith is insulated within the very institutions that serve as the vanguards of human society, we all suffer loss. When faith is unleashed in the struggle for justice, particularly for those who are marginalized, we can be assured that God is engaged in the work of redemption and love.
Long before politics became complex, Aristotle the classical Greek philosopher spoke of it as “the art of achieving the possible." Formally, politics has to do with the art, science, and philosophy of the governmental process. Another way of stating it: politics is that discipline which takes seriously the task of making life more humane through organized means. While such definitions are not comprehensive, they make a telling point, namely that “To make life more human is the primary goal of politics" (Paul Lehmann). While politics deals with the art of compromise, we must be forever mindful that as people of faith, we must always compromise on issues but never on principles.
Every year I looked forward eagerly to teaching a graduate course, entitled Theology of Politics/ Christianity and Political Thought, at Fuller Theological Seminary and Oral Roberts Graduate School of Theology.
The goal was to integrate the three disciplines of theology, ethics, and politics and to engage each in such a way as to enable students to begin to think theologically and ethically about political problems. Students were encouraged as believers to seek political vocations. It is refreshing to know that God is sovereign, even in the world of politics.
Who is left to admonish the powers that be when they have abandoned their purpose for being? Who is to remind an institution that it has become arrogant, self-serving, and idolatrous? I concur with Dr. Walter Wink that “The spiritual task is to unmask this idolatry and recall the Powers to their created purposes in the world…the church exists for the task of recalling these Powers to their divine vocation.” He quotes Ephesians 3:10: “…so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities [principalities and powers] in the heavenly places.”
Wink contends that the church must perform this task despite its being as fallen and idolatrous as any other institution in society. It is incumbent upon each of us to deal with our own idols and demons as we recover our prophetic witness so we can enable and say to powerless people: “Rise up and walk.”
Plan of Action:
1. Faith Communities can challenge their constituency to lobby congressional leaders to initiate legislation that will translate rhetoric into action with regard to our poor.
2. Pray that as a nation we will match our resources with our will to resolve poverty, which is America’s shame in our time.
3. Find a way to “do justice” rather than talk about it by exorcising structural demons of poverty.
Dr. Leonard Lovett is an ecumenical officer for the Church of God in Christ and a board member of Bread for the World.