Are Suburban Churches Triumphalistic?

Hello, world!

So we’ve been out of the loop here on the blog for a little bit, mainly because we drove to Philadelphia for The Justice Conference at the end of February, and then we had to RECOVER from driving all the way to Philly and back! (That’s a 38-hour round trip, by the way. Yeah.)

Anyway, today I wanted to muse a little about one of the significant principles that was added to my think-tank at the conference.

One of the workshops I attended was a fascinating one about the importance of lament in the church (given by¬†Soong-Chan Rah, who is AWESOME). During this workshop, which I originally thought was going to be about Lent, Soong-Chan Rah talked about how the absence or presence of lament is part of the divide between wealthy congregations and congregations who deal with poverty. Predominantly white, upper-middle-class, often suburban congregations often focus on God’s blessings and God’s goodness and how they are “blessed to be a blessing” — aka they are supposed to give money to poor people. (I literally just heard a sermon on this this morning.) Rah calls this a “triumphalistic” theology — one that focuses on victory and good things and success (some even going so far as to claim that believing in God will actually bring you more wealth).

The problem with a triumphalistic, God-blessed-me-with-this-wealth mindset is that if God is responsible for making me wealthy, I’m inversely saying that God is also responsible for making others poor.

What, then, are poorer churches to think when they find themselves in dire straits and tough financial circumstances? If God “blesses” rich people with more money than they need, does that mean that God DOESN’T bless poor people? If rich Christians are “blessed (given money) in order to be a blessing (give the extra to poor people)”, then are the poor simply receptacles for the second-hand blessings of the rich? (The answer is NO, in case you were wondering.)

Viewing Christianity through a triumphalistic lens like this (and taking it across to its logical conclusions about poor people), it becomes clear why economic integration is difficult in the body of Christ: the rich and the poor view Christianity, their lives, and even God from totally different perspectives. How could poor Christians ever believe that God created them to be perpetual recipients of someone else’s kindness? And how can rich Christians step outside their victorious lives to understand what following Christ looks like from a position of hardship and lament?

It seems that God looks a lot different when life is hard than when life is easier. And, seeing as how I’m not an expert on life being hard, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut on that topic until I can do some more research rather than speculate on what God and Christianity are like from a perspective of lamentation rather than triumphalism.

But in the meantime, I’m thinking long and hard about what I believe about God and what God tells me I should do in relation to the poor.

What do you think? Is there really a theological line between rich Christians and poor Christians about God’s relationship to our circumstances? I’m just digging into this, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

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