“Now in the people that were meant to be green there is no more life of any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!” -Hildegard of Bingen
Over 400,000 activists, both religious and secular, descended upon New York City last Sunday for the People’s Climate March. On Monday, over 1,000 activists attended the “Flood Wall Street” protests, which called for radical economic and structural change to end the climate crisis. These protestors gathered under the banner of “Structural Change, not Climate Change”. Refusing to accept small reforms as a solution, the protestors demanded complete economic and political revolution. In my opinion, the Catholic and Christian Left could take a page from Flood Wall Street’s book.
Because of how beat-down and ignored church justice advocates have been, it can be easy to celebrate individual changes in church policy. We rejoice at the appearance of a centrist pope, bishops with purportedly inclusive messages about the LGBTQ community, and a church that dances in the mushy middle of social justice issues. Don’t get me wrong; these shifts toward justice should be celebrated. Yet, while incremental changes are undoubtedly important, they are often Band-Aids where reconstructive surgery is necessary.
The church justice movement must, in the words of Diarmuid O’Murchu, be shaken out of our complacency. No longer can we accept “kind” words from bishops that are followed by a refusal to change oppressive church policy. We cannot accept simple tolerance as a solution to the deeply embedded sins of sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, cissexism, and ableism in our Church. We must demand justice.
Implementing these changes is difficult, especially with the church’s entanglement in oppressive structures. Admission of the church’s role in oppression is the first step in implementing changes. The next is concrete, structural change through the implementation of feminist, womanist, mujerista, racial and queer liberation theologies, the deconstruction of oppressive structures, and the prioritization and amplification of all marginalized voices.
These reforms must be decidedly intersectional, and cannot be focused around one issue or treat one issue as the be-all, end-all solution. Jacqueline Small of WATER discusses this in a blog post on Feminist Studies in Religion, saying “A Church that ordains women or permits them to be bishops is not necessarily a Church that is affirming of LGBTIQ lives, or one that is welcoming for non-white people”. Around all issues, we must demand a change in culture, not just a minor increase in the diversity of hierarchical leadership.
Through a push for revolutionary renewal, a lens of intersectional justice, and a fight for radical structural change, we can create a new church and world where the lives and identities of all persons are celebrated. This will not be achieved until the People of God stand in solidarity with one another in a collective uprising, demanding justice for all. Luckily, at the center of our faith is a radical, anti-imperialist community organizer who preached radical economic justice, stood steadfastly with the marginalized, and listened to those who called him out on his own oppressive, racist words. We should all follow his example, and pressure our Church to do the same.