Metaphors are powerful. This is not a surprise; words and their meanings play a critical function in societal meaning-making. This simple truth was foundational to my understanding of the intersection of justice and theology. The importance of metaphor, and language more broadly, is incredibly significant as it establishes norms and conditions of community belonging. In other words, power-holders/oppressors use linguistics to placate and distract the masses to maintain privileged positions. Therefore, in order to work toward economic justice, we have to know the systems and metaphors that perpetuate injustice and provide countercultural metaphors.
This groundwork for reframing is established by many theologians: James Cone's dichotomy of Cross and Lynching Tree and God as Black, Sallie Mcfague's portrayal of God as Mother, Lover, and Friend and the necessity to see the biblical centrality of community, and more generally Walter Brueggemann's argument that Old Testament Prophets consistently subvert the hegemonic rule of their king's. The problem isn’t metaphor itself; the issue is when the metaphor becomes stale, overused and ultimately loses its liberative dimension. What we believe/pray/preach about God matters for how we act in the world. So shouldn't we see God as actively participatory in the Economy of God's Household? That is, we are in community with God, the environment and the rest of humanity and our actions have ramifications on these relationships. In God's Economy we must rely on each other as a unified collective to realize justice and become beloved community.
A light-hearted example to illustrate the significance and power of language can be found when we consider our own Book of Common Prayer. We all likely know at least one fellow Episcopalian, or maybe we are that person ourselves, who still uses the liturgical language of the 1928 BCP. This person (hopefully!!!) isn’t actively involved preventing the realization of becoming beloved Community through acting as an oppressor; but the individual likely finds something indescribably comforting and nostalgic in the tradition. Language can become entrenched remarkably easily.
On a more serious note we can consider a current revision of the BCP and the fact that some people feel excluded from the community. Masculine dominant "Kingdom" language has real implications for how Christians relate to the world and to each other. God as King has become dogma to the extent that non-male perspectives are valued considerably less. Further, Kingdom language also carries with it a certain culture of violence that undeniably plays a role in perpetuating domestic violence and wage gap. The tangible negative effects stale metaphors can have become abundantly clear and their need for urgent change is emphasized.
One of ENEJ’s goals is to foster an environment within The Episcopal Church that strengthens discourse around the topic of Economic Justice. Part of this discourse includes advocating for alternative metaphors of understanding that exemplify God’s liberative qualities that encourage full inclusion in community. Theologian, Douglas Meeks claimed:
“To live economically according to God’s righteousness the church should give up the notion that God is non-economic. The church sometimes lives and thinks as if God were outside the pale of economy…God’s own economy is God’s life, work, and suffering for the life of creation. As such it is meant as ground for the human economy for life.”
The God of Economics is not the Invisible Hand but rather, our Triune God. I invite you to consider with me how the metaphor of God the Liberative Economist may subvert the corrupt norms of our current communal household and bring us closer to embracing as beloved community.
ENEJ Secretary, Co-chair of The Lectionary Project Committee