NazToo is fortunate to count among our number Rev. Rich Shockey, who brings us a particularly challenging post for August. Rich is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and works in non-profit. He feels especially called to advocate for and defend the most vulnerable among us. He mostly joined NazToo for the exit posts and plans to stay until he comes up with a crafty enough one for himself.
“What the church needs is revival!”
It’s a mantra oft-repeated by well-meaning evangelicals. I can imagine this very phrase was common among those early Nazarenes who sought a more embodied spirituality than they found in their Methodist churches.
And I agree. We do need revival. But maybe not how you might think.
Language of revival is endemic to evangelicalism. For the Church of the Nazarene, revival is connected intimately with the holiness camp-meetings and “revivals” that birthed the denomination. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries “revival” in the fledgling Church of the Nazarene came to represent that move of God that calls people to a deeper spiritual life, marked by devotement to God and service to neighbor.
And so it’s no surprise that many Nazarenes today call for “revival” when they seek a greater move of the work of God in the life of the church and the world, recognizing that it is only through the new life given by the Spirit that we can move deeper into the divine life.
But, for many, revival simply means a large-scale wave of consecration, making salvation something highly privatized and disconnected from the wider scope of the Kingdom of God.
Of course, seeing greater devotion among saints and sinners is a noble thing. But I’m not so sure that this fully captures the breadth and depth of the new life that the Kingdom of God proclaims for the world.
Perhaps the kind of revival that God wants to bring is not private, highly individualized, and esoteric, but grand, far-reaching, cosmic, and for us all.
God wants to bring moral revival to God’s creation, and God is calling the church to be the vessel of that revival.
But moral revival threatens to undermine the reigning empires of power, seeing the valleys raised up and the mountains made low–the rough ground made level and the rugged places made straight (see Isaiah 40:4).
Any revival that ignores that our black children are being killed, our brown neighbors are being alienated, and our native neighbors are being further marginalized is no revival at all, for it operates in a culture of death, which is by definition anti-revival.
Real revival is difficult to have while our neighbors—even parts of our own body—are dying.
And this is part of the problem of the way we remember the revivalism of days past (especially in the mid-20th century), one that thinks of salvation only in terms of punching a golden ticket to “heaven,” yet neglects the redemption of our bodies and the social systems that can either hold them captive or liberate them. A revival that calls for escape from this world is a kind of Gnosticism at best.
On the contrary, a true, incarnational revival should draw us deeper into the world, embracing our connectedness, both to one another and to God’s creation. It will recognize that sin is both personal and systemic, and that Jesus is the remedy for both.
Declaring personal freedom from sin is worth little if it speaks no hope for the sinned-against.
And so my pastoral vocation has drawn me further into a much more embodied evangelism, one that requires those of us with power and privilege to use our very bodies and resources to proclaim sight to the blind and release from bondage to the captives.
I first realized that this kind of revival might come with an actual cost to me as I stood with 586 clergy at Standing Rock and bore witness to the state-sponsored harm of both indigenous bodies and the creation itself.
We burned the Doctrine of Discovery in ceremonial fire and repented of the colonialism that declared that white bodies mattered more than any other.
Through clouds of tear gas, cascades of water cannons, and the barking of menacing German Shepherds, I saw that this revival may require a more literal interpretation of giving one’s life for our neighbors than I had ever thought necessary in my comfortable, American-Christian subculture of relative safety.
It seems that more Nazarene clergy than ever are donning their clerical garb and realizing that both their priestly and prophetic dimensions of their vocation are calling them to the streets, speaking “truth to power” and proclaiming that the reign of the Kingdom of God often stands in direct opposition to Caesar and his cult of emperor/empire worship.
This kind of moral revival is decidedly Nazarene, embedded in our DNA of care for the marginalized from the beginning.
This moral revival will require that all of us, called by virtue of our baptism to enter into those waters that drown with Jesus, must recognize that the Spirit of God beckons us to notice the places where God is working in the world: with the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, those affected by war, the immigrant and refugee. It will require us to recognize that being pro-life means using our bodies to defend the life of every person.
And we will have to embrace the cruciform path of the Prince of Peace, laying down arms, prejudices, and our very lives for one another.
So, practically speaking, what can we do? While bickering on the internet with strangers may be fun sport for some, here are a few modest suggestions for us:
- Join the work of the Poor People’s Campaign. This is the extension of the work began by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is their work, led by Rev. William Barber, that first helped me embrace the language of moral revival. You’ll learn about effective use of civil disobedience and how to be arrested in a protest.
- Connect with your local Interfaith alliance. In Kansas, I serve on the board of Kansas InterFaith Action, and we work in both education and advocacy for compassionate concerns in Kansas. Don’t have one in your town? Start one. Find other peace-oriented clergy to join you. Learn the language and culture of protest and find ways to speak out collectively.
- Enter into the stories of the marginalized and help amplify their stories. Use your privilege to be a voice for the voiceless. Bear hope for the hopeless; e.g., find out who oversees the refugee resettlement work in your community and see how you can help. Matt Soerens of World Relief is always an eager partner with the Church of the Nazarene.
So, yes, may God—through the power of the Holy Spirit—revive our hearts, but may God also revive our collective moral conscience, helping the church witness to a kind of holiness expressed in love for others not yet seen.