Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Oscar Romero

“[The Church] is a community of faith whose primary obligation, whose raison d’etre, is to continue the life and work of Jesus.” (73)  No lesser objective would inspire such a pairing of powerful intellect and complete sacrifice as that of Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The centrality of evangelism and justice, especially with regards to the violence and poverty in his “beloved country”, was clearly motivated by no alternative ideology.  No ideology encompassed Jesus.  Marxism and Capitalism simply had fallen off different sides of the same horse.  The direction that the church must take cannot be left to the decision of councils or national politics.  “Only in the light of Christ, of his actions and his teaching, can the church find meaning of, and guidance for, its service in the world.” (71)  For Romero, the action and teaching was clear. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)  Every individual or ideology that stood in the way of justice must be confronted—confronted by what Romero would repeatedly call, “the full power of the Gospel.”  Romero understood that the advance of the church was not done by matching violence with violence.  The church advances through evangelism—“Evangelism is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, its deepest identity.” (130)  Violence will only lead to a different form of bondage; evangelism leads to true liberation.  Romero was very clear that his emphasis on the poor was not because they were extra special.  All people equally need Jesus.  Romero, following the pattern of Jesus, focused on the poor because they are the one without voices, overwhelmed by rampant injustice.  By doing so he became the “voice for the voiceless.”

Evangelism and justice cannot be merely fashionable hobbies of the modern church.  They are not niceties and things that we do to booster the identity of our organizations.  The Gospel is not a brand to be marketed; it is a power that is waiting to be unleashed.  It is very clear in the writings of Romero that he believed the Gospel was more powerful than steel and gun powder.  Guns will not triumph, but the person of faith will.  This is not a new conviction, but an old tradition.  The commitment to sacrificial evangelism and fearless pursuit of justice has won the greatest victories in all the annals of history.  Though it is currently trendy to speak of “relevant” evangelism and justice in modern culture it rarely takes a selfless, sacrificial form.  Romero aptly remarked, “Just as injustice takes concrete forms, so the promotion of justice must take concrete forms.” (75)  The form of injustice was apparent in El Salvador—abductions, assassinations, wide-spread poverty, inequality—and required an equally visible response.  This is culturally awkward, though.  It is not neutral and will force us away from the center of normalcy.  For example: we decry racism, but are too busy to make an effort to extend a hand of reconciliation.  But our words are so beautiful!  Nice sermons and chili cook-offs will not further the kingdom unless they take the form of true and visible justice and mercy.  The poor are not helped by people feeling bad, they are helped by people taking acting on their behalf.  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)