Culture At Large

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

I recently came across this slate article about a “twitter revolution” in Moldova that turned out to be less liberating than we originally thought.  This article reminded me of how fond Americans are of the idea of revolution. Of course, our own country started with a revolution, so perhaps that explains our affinity.  It’s not just the American Revolution that gets love in our culture. We like French revolutionaries, like in Les Miserables. We like Latin American Revolutionaries like Che Guevara.  In fact, there’s a whole book about how Che has transformed into the centerpiece of profitable marketing.

Of course, part of the appeal of revolutionaries is that it is the ultimate rebellion.  A violent revolution is sticking it to the man in a serious way.  In our culture, “cool” and “rebellious” are pretty closely related. For example, the Truth Campaign, which connects not smoking with sticking it to tobacco corporations, has been very successful as a public health PSA in encouraging young people not to smoke. Plenty of companies make lots of money marketing rebellion to us.

As Christians, should we buy into the revolution?  Should we buy into rebellion?

Thinking about this question has led me to two somewhat contradictory answers. First, being Christian is already being part of a revolution, one led by Jesus. Second, Jesus’ revolution is very different from Che’s or Patrick Henry’s.

On my first point, being Christian is revolutionary in a lot of ways. For one thing, the logic of grace, a centerpiece of Christian theology, defies our cultural logics of fairness and retribution.  Christian practices, though they now seem more commonplace, are also pretty counter-cultural. Taking a whole day of Sabbath, where you neither work nor ask someone else to work seems so revolutionary few of us adhere to that standard. Our most significant sacrament asks us to eat flesh and drink blood. Talk about counterculture!  Jesus was so threatening to the ruling powers of Jerusalem that the Pharisees tried to catch him saying something wrong and had him crucified.  The early Christians were so dangerous they killed them in grotesque ways.  Though American Christians aren’t treated this way, the idea of God’s forgiveness in spite of our sins, and calling us to forgive as well, is pretty radical.

On the other hand, this kind of revolution isn’t exactly the kind of barricade-guarding power-to-the-people song and dance I’m used to seeing in pop culture. It wasn’t what they expected in the first century either. Many commentators note that Jesus riding into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey was the opposite of the kind of messiah Jews were expecting. They were hoping for someone to overthrow the Romans, not submit quietly to humiliation and crucifixion.  Jesus, instead of leading the charge, preached that peacemakers are blessed, that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies.

My understanding of total depravity makes me believe there will always be uneven power distribution and corruption, and the way to fight that is not through violence, but through radical hope, and radical humility. I believe that we can make things better, but the real revolution will be led by Christ at the end of time. That seems a bit less exciting by our culture’s standards. Maybe those standards need to be revolutionized.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Theology, News & Politics, Social Trends