This is a call for revolution from someone who won't be involved in the revolution. This is a call for "let's you and him fight!" This is the cowardice of the academic, one who won't take a pulpit or be called to lead a popular movement (the main reason Dr. King's succeeded, aside from calling the prophet that the SCLC did).
This is kinda funny, and kinda pathetic. Starting with the bottom and working up:
What did you think of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment?Yeah, that's it; it's your revolution, and no one else's.
Pope Francis, I think, is an amazing figure in the sense that he’s providing, I think, a new narrative for the Catholic church. If you can do that with Roman Catholicism and you can do that from the position of the Vatican—I don’t know how successful he’ll be—I think that it can be done in a lot other places as well.
I am shocked that the Spirit gave the Church a pope that is this revolutionary at this moment. He’s not a revolutionary in the sense that I as a Protestant would pick as a revolutionary. But these are Catholics. This is the Vatican, so it’s a different kind of revolution. But I can recognize it when I see it. So whereas I would be tearing down the walls of the Sistine Chapel (No! I love the art in the Sistine Chapel; I wouldn’t tear that down) but I would be opening up the Vatican in all sorts of ways.
I would have women priests within five minutes.
In the encyclical, which I read pretty closely, he works to maintain that Creator-Creation distinction. He says at several junctions, “We cannot confuse these two things.” Those are the places where I went, “Darn it!” He came this close to a theological revolution in the Catholic church, and he backs off at the last minute.
God is with us: what difference does that make? It makes a huge difference. Maybe we’ll treat each other better. Maybe we’ll treat the planet better. That was the missed moment of that encyclical.
But that’s my revolution.
Not to pick on Professor Butler Bass too harshly; two years later we now see what it looks like to have a revolutionary in power who wants to "deconstruct" institutions. Trump declared China a currency manipulator, made it a tentpole of his campaign to have that declaration made official when he took office. One meeting with the president of China, Trump finds out how complicated the situation in the Koreas is; and decides he can 'do business' with China, who is NOT a currency manipulator after all (it's only words, right?). Steve Bannon sat on the National Security Council with no warrant except the President's say so (and a supine Congress that allowed the law to be flouted, yet again. IOKIYAR!). Now Bannon is off the NSC, and his role sharply diminished as the old hands at getting things done in government take over (on national security that's an improvement, slightly; in the AG's office it will prove a disaster).
Whither Trump's revolution? Is he the most powerful man in the world, or not? Repeal of the ACA won't even happen, much less its replacement. Does anyone really think the tax code is going to be re-written this year? Ever?
Darn it! He came this close to a revolution in the government, and he backed off! Or maybe he was never that close, and governments can't be revolutionized; or deinstitutionalized; or deconstructed. Or changed radically (from the root) at all. No more can institutions.
And while we're on the subject of changing institutions, Bass strikes at the branches, and ignores the root: the root is people. People in America like the way government works, by and large. They intended to vote for divided government, Clinton in the White House, Republicans in the Congress; each controlling the excesses of the other. The shock of finding out the best laid plans had gang agley shook them out of their torpor, but doesn't yet seem to have awakened the grass roots (special elections are not turning out the bastards; not yet, anyway). But the people got what they wanted, except they didn't. Be careful what you wish for.
So do you wish for revolution? Then you want someone else involved in it, or you want to be the leader when the dust settles. Bystanders to revolution are the worst cowards of all. Light the torch and burn it all down, or scatter before the chaos unleashed by others; but you don't get to roast marshmallows at the bonfire of the vanities.
The Pope, Professor Bass says, whiffed a chance to start a theological revolution. But the Pope doesn't run the Catholic church, he leads it. He leads, but the Church has to follow. Any pastor will tell you that much; any politician will, too (especially those attending raucous town halls just now). The problem for the revolution is not the institutions, it's the people in them. And the people in them are living longer and longer and longer. It's the Generation Gap of the Boomers now writ into a rapidly aging society. New analyses of the Presidential election indicate Trump won, not the crowd on social media absorbing all that Russian-directed "fake news," but the "old old": people who watch FoxNews and listen to Rush Limbaugh, who don't spend their time on Facebook or Breitbart. I heard a statistic yesterday (veracity not determined) that 114 teachers in the Texas Teacher Retirement System are over the age of 100. That's an obvious issue for pension plans set up to pay people to live on retirement for 10, maybe 20 years. We have churches that kowtow to the elderly because they must be respected; but one reason those churches are dying is that they don't respect their youth, their young people, their children's children. Husbands can't tell wives what to do; parents can't tell children what to believe, or how to worship, or who to worship with. In my last church, at the age of 45, I was one of the youngest people in the room. Many in the congregation resented me simply because I was not of their generation; I was of their children's generation. They wanted the old pastor back, the one as old as them; but he, like them, had retired. They didn't resent me personally so much as the fact of me. I was different, I thought differently, I saw the church's mission and purpose differently.
The problem with the church is people. The problem with the church is age; not of the institution, but of the people in the pews.
No Pope can change that. No revolution can change that. Indeed, that's the revolution we're facing, and no one wants to talk about it because no one can claim to be leading it. Revolutions that we can imagine ourselves leading are good; revolutions that happen because of changing circumstances no one person or institution can control, are the problems the preferred revolution are supposed to fix. Except it doesn't work that way. Consider the French Revolution, which improved France eventually, but only after the Reign of Terror; or the Russian Revolution, which really didn't improve Russia much at all; or the American Revolution, which has come to the present with Donald Trump in the White House, Paul Ryan the 3rd most powerful person in government, and Mitch McConnell running the Senate. Maybe Chou En-Lai was right, and it's too soon to tell about any of these revolutions.
Ms. Bass is right when she comments on the nature of most churches:
We have these churches that have been proclaiming complete equality of all humankind—theologically—while when you look at the institutions themselves, it’s a different story. Just this summer there was a Pew survey on religious diversity in America and it was sad. It was just sad. There were only a few that were genuinely diverse as religions: Jehovah’s Witnesses, one Pentecostal group, Muslims, and everybody else was not very diverse.But it's not a question of "empire." Ask any pastor, she will tell you, it isn't an abstract question of empire; it's sociological question of who we want to associate with. It's an existential question of personhood. It's a personal question of who we want to sit next to in worship, at covered dish suppers, in council meetings. "Niceness" is a gloss on all that, but it isn't about politeness, it's about acceptance. And Protestants, especially, don't do acceptance very well. If we don't accept you, you can leave, or we will. Catholics have the universal Church; Protestants have their congregation. And that congregation must be protected at all costs, against enemies both foreign and domestic. I reflect on the call to personal risk related in Dr. King's famous jail letter. He describes the process used to prepare marchers to march peacefully for civil rights. They weren't asked to oppose "the privilege of white people," which certainly existed more blatantly then than now. They weren't asked to oppose a political or corporate culture, which is what was driving the police to use dogs and water cannons. They weren't asked to question "empire." Here's what Dr. King put to them: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" You don't ask a church member to overcome empire and privilege and culture; you ask them to accept a stranger in their pew: perhaps a black person, or an Asian, or a "Mexican." Perhaps a gay, a lesbian, a transgender. You ask a person, to accept another as a person. That's what the church should do; and it's not revolutionary: it's what Jesus told us to do.
You start asking those questions, and sometimes people will say, “Oh, well, we really try!” or “Our church is open to everybody.” What’s happened is that churches have failed to ask the really deep questions. The church has just never dealt well with race. To ask deep questions of churches regarding race is one of the surest ways to get yourself kicked out of a church meeting—it’s a really sure way to get a conversation shut down.
That raises the question of empire. In a very really sense, many churches have played the hand, over and over again, of a corporate culture that privileges rich, white people, a political culture that privileges rich, white people, and a military culture that uses poor people of color in order to keep rich, white people safe.
And we don’t want to look at that, or we don’t have the eyes to look at it. Because the institution has kept us locked in a place that wants us to justify our niceness, but has failed to ask us to address the questions of poverty and class and color that really do advance the privilege of white people at the expense of other people in our society.
Jesus told us to do a lot of things we don't want to do.
"Revolution" should be a tired trope by now. The U.S. kicked off the idea of the virtues of revolt in the late 18th century, helping make the idea of "revolution" an attractive one in the 19th century. As it played out, nothing really changed: the U.S. didn't give up slavery until the "revolt" of the Southern states (which revolt failed). The French didn't give up their monarchy entirely, not for a while (Proust still lived in a time of peers, although they had about as much influence as peers in England do today, a century after Proust). Russia went on being Russia, and has gone back to being Russia. The "Industrial Revolution" just upended the source of wealth; it didn't make the first last and the last first, or the first of all last and servant of all. The "Silicon Valley" revolution has done nothing more radical than change the hands on the reins. Whose getting rich from Uber: the drivers, or the people who run Uber? Is Google sharing the wealth, or gathering it? Do we really want a revolution? Or do we want a change of heart?
Do we want, in other words, to join the Church of Belonging? Or the Church of Meaning and Belonging? Aye, there's the rub.....