The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) understood that in order to seek justice we must lay down the idol of victory. The second of their 10 commandments says, “Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks in Birmingham justice and reconciliation—not victory.”
Scores of us who follow Christ applaud this statement. But it takes more than applause for it to sink in and change our behavior. It starts with a candid look at the prosperity gospel within us. Oh, I know. Like you, I’d never walk through the doors of a prosperity-gospel church, and yet that gospel’s tentacles extend and retract within us, telling us to forget that statement before it sinks in. The prosperity-scarcity messages may not seem loud because we don’t actually know what silence is. But the still, small voice of the God of abundance is there, reminding us that justice does not equate to victory.
Victory is a necessary goal for the prosperity-scarcity framework. There must be a winner and a loser, always. Prosperity wins and scarcity loses, always. The framework they offer is seen in arrogance and self-loathing, in those who have billions and those who are barely making it on government support—and the social ladders we see in our mind’s eyes between the groups. It’s seen in the dominance of white culture, the condescending glares toward those who speak another language. There are those who have—in any aspect of life—and those who have not. This framework always leads to violence. Violence is required so that the haves can maintain their position of power.
Violence is also used for upward mobility, for the havenots to have. In order to “have” beauty, a girl starves herself to be skinny. In order to fully belong to a certain group, a man must violently exclude others and become bigoted in doing so. “ . . .Identity can also kill—and kill with abandon. A strong—and exclusive—sense of belonging to one group can in many cases carry with it the perception of distance and divergence from other groups (1).” Violence is a byproduct of victory in the prosperity-scarcity framework, as people are subconsciously taught to seek prosperity at all costs. But seeking justice requires us to lay down our idol of victory. It requires us to consistently self-reflect to see just how far the tentacles have extended in our theology.
The very first commandment of the ACMHR is: “Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.” The nonviolence of Jesus stemmed from a root of abundance. Rather than living as if the prosperity-scarcity framework was the only way to live, Christ embodied abundance. He even tells us in John 10 that he came to give us abundant life. Christ did not care about social hierarchical rules. He conversed with Samaritans, he embraced children, he first told women the good news of his resurrection, he touched lepers, he advocated for just treatment of an adulteress, he invited corrupt tax collectors to eat a meal with him. Judas’ presence at the Last Supper tells us that even those who betray God are welcome at God’s table.
Christ showed us that nonviolence is the mechanism by which the abundant life is experienced. When we give love, cloaks, shoes, conversations, and disruptions of stereotypes to our perceived enemies, we debunk the prosperity-scarcity framework. We practice an inclusivity that no longer requires victors and losers. We become more human. We no longer receive the shame of not measuring up nor are we imagining we are better than another.
Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator and philosopher said, “No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so.” And this is the ultimate issue with the prosperity-scarcity framework. It requires humans to lust for superiority or settle for inferiority, making all of us inauthentic humans as we prevent each other from the fullness of humanity—through litmus tests of accomplishments, belongings, and successes that ultimately lead to violence. But the framework of abundance allows us to accept each other as full and fellow human beings who we aren’t required to compete with.
The God of abundance tell us that our worth does not come from outside of us, but from something given to us at our birth. We are made in the image of God, Genesis 1:26 tells us. The imago Dei imprints upon us and all of humanity an innate worth that cannot be taken, stolen, worked for, or stripped away. What we should be told over and over again, explicitly and implicitly, that we hold innate value because we were created in the image and likeness of YHWH—the Great I Am. If this is the case, we will never need to fight for certain resources that give us worth because our worth is found within us and within our eternal connection to the Divine. This truth liberates us to receive abundant life. This liberates us from seeing violence as a necessary means to an end. Through God’s abundance, we see ourselves as “women and men engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human (2).”
Through abundance, we are able to seek justice and shalom, which brings about the authentic fullness Christ brought. Victory, at its best, reverses the prosperity-scarcity framework so that those who didn’t have now have and those who had no longer have. Ultimately, it’s the same framework while the players move to different categories. Justice, at its best, brings dignity, agency, and opportunity to all involved as everyone in every category seeks the flourishing of the entire group eliminating the need for hierarchical categories.
1. Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny
2. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 66.