Prayers of Privilege

One of my pet-peeves is the sort of piety that strives to remove our worship of and prayers to God from our everyday life. The “prayer Olympics” that many practice sometimes makes it seem as though the greatest height to which we can attain is when we praise God “just for who you are,” “for who you are in yourself”–as though this is more lofty than praise and thanks for the manifestations of God’s presence here on earth or in our own lives.

It struck me recently that the very idea that such a prayer is the most pious of all is a theology of power and privilege.

It is Sadducee piety. The Sadducees were of the priestly families. Those families had gradually come to power, and under various Greek and Roman regimes had found themselves the indigenous leaders given charge (and the wealth that comes with it) under various “temple constitutions.”

Is it any wonder they didn’t believe in resurrection? Resurrection means vindicated the oppressed, rewarding the unpaid righteous. And it means repaying the powerful tyrants as well.

Those in power don’t want a piety that will turn the world on its head.

Similarly our theologically luxurious insistence that true worship, true prayer, has nothing to do with us. This is a mistake that can only be made by people who do not have eyes to see that for God to be “who God is” the world has to be changed. The redemption begun must be brought to completion. The righteous who cry must be answered.

And when God so acts, God must be praised.

If there is one thing that I hope we will learn more and more as we who are white, western, and thus worldly privileged listen to our African, Latino/a, and Asian neighbors it is that our culture of power has distorted our understanding of theological normalcy and theological virtue.

It is only people who know that the world suffers under the hand of the unrighteous who will know that God must make justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream–if, in fact, God is to be God; if, in fact, God will be “who God is” and thus worthy of thanks and praise for it.

And only they will know how to write the songs and pray the prayers that properly praise the God who, in the Gospel of the dead and risen Christ, has revealed God’s righteousness to the world.

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