Enfleshing Good Religion
Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“What about the [Jericho] road? It is important to take care of people. It is important to be a good neighbor. But somebody needs to fix the road . . . I’m sick and tired of poor religion”
—Bishop Yvette Flunder
I attended The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM) biannual leadership conference this past week. TFAM is a radically inclusive, trans-denominational fellowship of churches and ministers founded by Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder in 2000 to propagate “a radical social ministry, reaching to the furthest margins of society to serve all in need without prejudice and discrimination.” We gathered again at a time that is far more politically, culturally, and economically fraught for women, the poor, and LGBTQ people. The theme of the conference was “Have We Got Good Religion?” a provocative riff off the lyrics of the Negro Spiritual Certainly Lord, which asks, “have you got good religion” and “do you love ev’rybody.” The theme set out an intentional contrast with the churches, theologies, and religious collectivities that have used their authority and influence not to liberate and empower the poor, the oppressed, or the marginalized seeking justice but to serve their own power and political interests by controlling the levers of governmental power. It is an acknowledgment that there is bad or poor religion, which is not a force for good in the world.
Bishop Flunder set the frame for considering what “good religion” looks like in her sermon at the opening worship and plenary, using the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke as her preaching text. In describing the dangerous Jericho Road and the laudable response of the Samaritan in demonstrating the good religion of love and care for a suffering neighbor, Bishop Flunder lamented that the most visible manifestation of faith in our current culture and politics is “where the religious cross the road” to avoid serving their neighbors in need and never work to fix dangerous roads where people get hurt.
At a time when people of faith are searching for ways to be a constructive force for collective action in a toxic political environment, this conference issued a prophetic call on people with a progressive faith to engage a public hungry for proactive religious responses to the betrayal of women and their right to reproductive justice, retrenchment from voting rights and multiracial democracy, and backlash against racial justice and LGBTQ rights. Every prophetic word prompted us to consider how we may enflesh and manifest “good religion” that sees, loves, and affirms all of God’s beloved. Although bad religion appears to be winning the day, and even if the politicians who seek our votes and support are failing to meet the moment, we have an opportunity to enflesh and manifest a “good religion” that works on both serving our neighbors and fixing systems to which too many of our neighbors remain vulnerable. I pray we show the world good religion.