Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“Theology that arises from Scripture and from the teachings of Jesus does not allow for the identification and exclusion of the other” —Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths
Trolling social media the other day, I saw the latest outrage precipitated by a religious attack on democracy, women’s rights, or LGBTQ people. They come so frequently now and are so similar in their details that any specific story I chose to share would be familiar. As the commenters to the posts discussed the theological reasoning behind each religious persecution, it saddened me to notice that what they were describing revealed a stunted theological imagination, an inability to see within the biblical witness divine resistance and creative response to the ugliness of a fallen social reality. It takes very little imagination to give oneself theological permission to do harmful, self-interested things and maintain a status quo in the current social reality that never liberates or expands society’s social and material benefits to the most vulnerable among us.
I discovered the power of theological imagination early in my life. All of the explanations I received from my parents and church for why going to the movies, attending parties, or prohibiting women from wearing pants arose from a reading of the Bible that reinforced an existing social reality and worldview. Specifically, my church and family had embraced values and practices for organizing and structuring their lives and used Scripture to support and justify them. Therein lies the power and danger of the theological imagination: it can either dull and distort or expand and enliven the social imagination. Suppose my theology permits everything I want, upholds my power and privilege, and imposes the values and practices I’ve constructed on society and culture. In that case, it will be hard for me to imagine an alternative, much less an alternative that mirrors God’s shalom for the entire creation.
A careful reading of Scripture does not easily result in the kinds of diabolical actions and oppressive ideologies humanity embraces to shape and control our social reality. Only a diseased social imagination, beholden to the logic of power, exclusion, and white supremacy, would distort the whole of the biblical narrative to create a social reality that serves only the individual, one race, or one ethnicity. Reading Scripture in ways that stifle the imagination, protect the status quo of inequality and oppression, and reinforce the worst tendencies to hoard and exclude others is a conscious decision. With every encounter with Scripture, we have an opportunity to embrace a theology that inspires covenant and connectivity across differences in race, sex, gender, ethnicity, and religion. I pray that our reading of sacred text inspires us with theological imagination that widens the welcome circle, affirms the dignity of all creation, and includes God’s diverse humanity in the beloved community without condition or compromise. May it be so.