Reading Revelation from the Margins and from a Position of Power

Reading Revelation from the Margins and from a Position of Power July 20, 2018

I was really struck by futurist David Brin’s comments about Abraham Lincoln’s words. He wrote:

Lincoln does speak of “humane and Christian virtues —” as do today’s Red Letter Christians, who emphasize the caring, generous words of Jesus, and not the bilious hate-drenched Book of Revelation, or BoR. Notice that Lincoln gets almost science fictional, in speaking of “farthest posterity” — an implicit utter-rejection of the gleeful apocalypse yearning expressed by today’s End Times junkies, like president-in-waiting Mike Pence.

I think that the Book of Revelation sounds far less “bilious” and “hate-drenched” when one reads it not as though it speaks from the perspective of someone like Mike Pence, but as though it speaks from the perspective of the refugees that Donald Trump will not allow into the country; the LGBT couples who can scarcely acknowledge who they are and their important relationship, never mind find someone to bake a cake for their wedding in their local rural context; and/or the historic minorities who have been attacked verbally or perhaps even physically as a result of the enabling of racism provided by the current President of the United States.

There is a great deal in the New Testament that sounds very different when you read it from the perspective of its original audience, a tiny minority group that found itself beleaguered and the object of hostility, vs. when you read it from the perspective of the End Times white American Christians who have a persecution complex while actively enjoying great freedom and influence, and simultaneously seeking to diminish the freedoms and influence of others. Hoping for God to bring judgment on one’s oppressors when one is part of a persecuted minority in a non-democratic context is very different than hoping for God to bring judgment on those that one actively seeks to marginalize and oppress from one’s stance of power and influence.

For more on this topic, see the excerpt that Rachel Held Evans shared on her blog from her latest book, Inspired. Here’s a sample:

Americans, particularly white Americans, have a hard time catching apocalyptic visions when they benefit too much from the status quo to want a peek behind the curtain. When you belong to the privileged class of the most powerful global military superpower in the world, it can be hard to relate to the oppressed minorities who wrote so much of the Bible. (And no, their oppression did not consist of getting wished “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” at Target. That’s not actual persecution, folks.)

The fact is, the shadow under which most of the world trembles today belongs to America, and its beasts could be named any number of things— White Supremacy, Colonialism, the Prison Industrial Complex, the War Machine, Civil Religion, Materialism, Greed…

…America’s no ancient Babylon or Rome, I know that. But America’s no kingdom of God either.

Greg Carey wrote in a recent article for the Christian Century:

Revelation stands out as the most overtly political book in the New Testament. The Apocalypse cartoons Rome as a warlike monster (chapter 13) and an intoxicated prostitute (17–18), drunk on the blood of Jesus’ followers. Along the way it condemns Rome for its violence, exploitation, and idolatry. And despite cosmic scope of its vision, Revelation sets forth a role for the beleaguered churches: they must persist (13:10), for through their faithful testimony they will conquer the fearsome monster (12:11).

A lot has been written on this topic. I looked for books such as Leonard Thompson’s The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire, so as to provide links to them, and found that a search only for the subtitle leads one to something very different:

Below are some useful books for further reading on the actual subject of this blog post. See as well the blog post on Jesus Creed about whether Bonhoeffer was an apocalyptic theologian.

 

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