Social Justice From Below
Recently I made this point elsewhere in another context, but on reflection it seems worth making again here. At times one hears complaints that parts of the Episcopal Church are stressing social justice too much, and especially at the expense of the church's really essential business, its sacramental life. I'm sure there are abuses where, say, the social justice preacher is a closet Zwinglian, but one must be very careful treading over such ground. Treading on the territory of social justice we are NOT merely touching the Ethical, even if the words give that impression; we are touching the Religious, and one ought to take off one's shoes in the presence of God's desire that justice be done.
It does not really seem that difficult to tie concern for social justice to sacramental life, seeing that every normal Sunday Eucharist begins with an offering; i.e. the labor of the church community is sanctified with the Real Presence of Christ and returned to the community, sent out into the world to continue work as the body of Christ.
There are a number of themes integral to the Eucharist and the notion of justice–note how multiple Exchanges and Labor (even Objectification) are essential to the sacrament, how Communication of the Elements could bring up questions of what constitutes a fair exchange, how the collection of the offering implies a notion of common good, how the presentation of the elements imples a notion of representation, etc.
There is no–there cannot be–an apolitical or a politically neutral Eucharist.
Granted, loosey goosey lefty preachers might preach social justice and be too dull to notice the sacramental context in which they preach is soaked with the political. And how could it be otherwise than soaked when God is so clearly The Sovereign in our Eucharistic prayers? Just how could one fail to notice Christ the King?
But there is also a loosey goosey mentality abstracting the Eucharist from the political, as if real labor and real money and real paychecks and real exchanges were not actually involved and actually sanctified, as if it were all just symbolic or even pretend. Surely a priest with such an odd mentality can celebrate a valid Eucharist--no problem there. However, given the essentially political nature of the Eucharist, given that any political/sacramental dualism necessarily fails whatever the celebrants' mentality, given that discerning the body in Faith must carry the weight of a political commitment where witness could make a martyr, it seems fair to ask: what kind of faith goes with such a mentality? To the point: is it possible to be committed to Christ as Lord--as Lord--and Savior and not be politically committed precisely on account of one's commitment to Christ? Sure, insofar as commitment here below isn't simply binary as the question seems to imply. But insofar as discerning the Body must carry political meaning, and one is obligated to discern the Body as a condition of partaking in the Eucharist, an apolitical mentality at the Altar seems out of place.