Last week was the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, held this year in Boston. The meeting is a yearly gathering of scholars of religion from all across the country. This year, a select group of scholars drafted “The Boston Declaration”, a statement of Christian values being applied to our dark political moment.
This statement alludes in name and form to the infamous “Nashville Statement”, drafted by conservative evangelicals early this year. That document choose to address itself – admidst hurricanes and war and growing inequality and the presidency of a serial abuser, liar and charlatan – to decrying homosexuality yet again. The Nashville Statement repackaged stale, poorly reasoned arguments against something that the majority of Americans – and the majority of Christians – have accepted and moved on from. More importantly, the Nashville Statement showed the irrelevancy and tone-deaf nature of American Christian evengelicalism, as they ignored pressing issues again to attack LGBT people, and failed to address the admitted sexual misconduct of the president they support so unquestioningly.
The Boston Declaration, on the other hand, is a relevant statement that addresses the real and on-going issues facing all Americans, one that doesn’t denigrate and attack a marginalized group of people, but instead speaks truth to power and applies the words of Christ to liberating people from the oppression they face in their lives today. This is what a prophetic word looks like. Here, in full, is the Boston Declaration, and the attached list of signees.
A Prophetic Appeal to Christians of the United States
As followers of Jesus, the Jewish prophet for justice whose life reminds us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) we hear the cries of women and men speaking out about sexual abuse at the hands of leaders in power and we are outraged. We are outraged by the current trends in Evangelicalism and other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression. Confessing racism as the United States’ original and ongoing sin, we commit ourselves to following Jesus on the road of costly discipleship to seek shalom justice for the least, the lost, and the left out. We declare that following Jesus today means fighting poverty, economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression from the deepest wells of our faith.
This is a time of heightened racist and patriarchal empire where wealth is concentrated at the top. The Living God asks us to make a decision: “Today I offer you the choice of life and good, or death and evil. … Choose life.” (Deuteronomy 31). Following Jesus today means choosing life, joining the Spirit-led struggle to fight the death-dealing powers of sin wherever they erupt. Whenever one of God’s children is being oppressed, we will fight with them for liberation with the power of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. And yet, we live in a moment when death and evil seem to reign supreme in the United States, when those with the power of a uniform or the president’s pen or a position of authority or fame or economic tricks of capitalization and interest or sheer brute force… again and again choose death rather than life. In a moment when too many who confess Christ advocate evil, we believe followers of the Jesus Way are called to renounce, denounce, and resist these death-dealing powers which organize and oppress our world, not to embrace or promulgate them.
We acknowledge the manifold and complicated ways we participate in these systems, even as we are often complicit in them. We confess that the Church, in a variety of forms, has too often failed to follow the way of Jesus and perform the good news. We are people who are still discovering the ways we participate with death and evil, even while we continue to seek the good, to choose life again and again. This declaration is such a choice, hoping and clinging to the God of life and seeking to bear witness to that life in our present moment. Acknowledging our own failures and embracing an appropriate sense of humility should not, however, silence us. While we do not have ready-made answers for all the problems we face, we know something about the pathway we must follow if we are to find those answers, and this is the pathway of Jesus.
Who is our God and What is the Jesus Way?
We believe in a God who holds all difference within God’s own life and in whom there is no one or no people who are distant from God’s justice, merciful love, and presence (Micah 6:8; Acts 10:34-35). We affirm the beauty and humanity of all people in their manifold difference–race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion–as reflecting God’s image through lives of love and hope. We believe the Jesus Way calls us to the possibility of living in a world where all can love and be loved, and live into joy.
The Jesus Way continues through our best, prayerful, honest, and empirical attempts to understand why and how the world has come to be in the shape it is today. This pathway calls us to act in ways that are Spirit-led and strategic in confronting evil wherever evil exists, to combat ignorance wherever ignorance has led people astray and to place our lives and our bodies on the line with whoever is being threatened, beat down, or oppressed in any way, anywhere.
As followers of Jesus who is our Sabbath, who preached and lived Shalom, and who offers the gift of jubilee to the world, we mourn the coarseness of our politics, the loss of compassion for those in need, the disrespect we routinely show each other, and the thoughtlessness with which we use and abuse our planet. We especially mourn the way in which the name of Jesus has been used to support and encourage actions and attitudes that demean others and threaten the community of creation.
We acknowledge and lament the realities we see around us: broken lives, broken homes, a broken social system that incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. We lament a broken and corrupt police system, a broken economic system that prioritizes profits over people, a broken sense of national identity. We lament national boundaries that make our worries about security a pretext for destroying the lives of others, and a broken church that disrespects and marginalizes many people rather than honoring and embracing them. We rebuke the ideologies and idolatries that lie beneath the death we see in our midst and collectively hope to point to ways we might all choose life.
As followers of Jesus, it is vital that we take action when our government seeks to continuously harm life made in God’s image by cutting social safety-nets and forcing the poorest and most powerless among us to spiral into an abyss of desperation. Action on the part of the church is warranted at a time when women, people of color, and various ethnicities, individual religions, immigrants and distinct sexualities are targeted for slander and violence from the highest offices of government. We cannot sit idly by and allow the people and the earth to be accosted with series after series of unjust policies that allow the interest of corporate profits to expunge the future for coming generations of humans and other living species.
We reject the false ideology of empire building and the myth of racial laziness and substance abuse that harms the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the US territories.
We reject the false ideology that peace is achieved through military strength and that violence is the necessary foundation for freedom, safety, or security. We stand against the manufacturing and proliferation of weapons which continue to drown the planet in the blood of millions through global war and the terrorism of domestic mass shootings.
We reject the false ideology of the corporate ruling class that services and supports the US military, dispossess and represses poor communities of color, and which erodes and blocks real empowerment of the most vulnerable of peoples and of any real people’s democracy.
We reject the false ideology of American exceptionalism and the evil of political corruption, calling for integrity in our elected officials and multilateral governance. It is this myth by which moral responsibility is suspended in the pursuit of its interests.
We reject the false ideology of white normalcy and bigotry. We reject the false identification that exclusively binds whiteness with Christianity, true humanity, and United States citizenship. We reject antisemitism, which is driving much of white Christian nationalism.
We reject the patriarchal and misogynistic legacies that subject women to continual violence, violation, and exclusion. We stand strongly against sexual abuse and harassment in the highest offices of power.
We reject violations against the Earth, especially the stripping of her resources and polluting that harms her and the creatures that inhabit her soil and seas.
We reject economic policies that are grounded in an illusion of extreme individualism and favor the accumulation of wealth for a few to the detriment of the many.
We reject Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.
We reject homophobia and transphobia and all violence against the LGBTQ community.
We reject all anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that fail to recognize the contributions of immigrants who have come from every corner of the world to strengthen the fabric of this nation—culturally, economically and spiritually.
Call to Action
“Choose you this day whom you will serve!” (Joshua 24:15)
Today, we as Christian followers of the Jesus Way, call on the people of the United States who call themselves by the name of Jesus, to reject all political and social movements that do not lead to life.
May we live in this world continually welcoming the stranger and “treating the foreigner with love, for we were once foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).
May we bear witness to the hues of difference in God’s life – a God who is neither male nor female and who embraces all people regardless of their identity.
May we not fear the loss of power or certainty when confronted by our very real weakness. May we discover the gift of being creatures not as something to be overcome, but embraced, discovering the fullness of our humanity in the flourishing of all women.
May we embrace a future where the legacies of white supremacy are dismantled. We refuse to dehumanize any individual, reducing their identity to singular markers and possibilities. May we work toward a radical openness for every individual as we fight together for a better today and tomorrow.
May we build not to kill but to enliven. Let us garner all of our economic power to fight desperately for one another’s health, for full stomachs, for equal access to buildings and teachers where we might discover the fullness of our gifts and skills. May our power not be oriented toward empire but towards mutual community.
May we witness to a beloved community where we seek to be with one another as Jesus is with us. May love and mutuality be the marks of our lives together, our community building, our budgets, and our public policies.
May we work together to care for the community of creation, fighting against the influence of the pursuit of petrochemicals and all other earth diminishing, non-renewable and polluting practices that exploit Indigenous and poor peoples, poison our waters and contribute to the extinction of species. We speak for the earth herself and all her creatures, human and non-human, for the preservation of life over monetary gain.
May we stand in solidarity against anti-semitism and the use of any language and actions that threaten the lives of our Jewish sisters and brothers while standing with the plight for human rights with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
May we stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers and all immigrants, fighting against Islamophobia and xenophobia. We denounce any legislation that discriminates against people on the basis of their religion, race or ethnic identity.
We welcome and seek the wisdom of all people of all faiths and those who confess no faith, believing that God’s faithfulness breaks into the world in many ways and through many people. May we continue to stand with anyone who calls for justice, mercy, and love in this world.
Original Signatories of the Boston Declaration
Amey Victoria Adkins, Boston College
Efrain Agosto, New York Theological Seminary
Macky Alston, Auburn Seminary
Gelky Alrvelo, New York Theological Seminary
Cheryl B. Anderson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Cara Anthony, University of St. Thomas
Ellen T. Armour, Vanderbilt Divinity School
Sarah Azaransky, Union Theological Seminary
Brian Bantum, Seattle Pacific University
William Barber II, Repairers of the Breach
Eric D. Barreto, Princeton Theological Seminary
Angela Bauer-Levesque, Episcopal Divinity School
Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Moses Biney, New York Theological Seminary
Traci Blackmon, United Church of Christ
Mary C. Boys, Union Theological Seminary
Valerie Bridgeman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Gennifer Brooks, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Stina Busman Jost, Bethel University
Lee H. Butler, Jr., Chicago Theological Seminary
Gil Caldwell, United Methodist Clergy
Leslie Callahan, St. Paul’s Baptist Church
Jamall Andrew Calloway, Brown University
Rosemary P. Carbine, Whittier College
J. Kameron Carter, Duke Divinity School
Cláudio Carvalhaes, Union Theological Seminary
Noel Castallanos, Christian Community Development Association
Choi Hee An, Boston University School of Theology
Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way
Jawanza Eric Clark, Manhattan College
Christian T. Collins Winn, Bethel University
Monica A. Coleman, Claremont School of Theology
James H. Cone, Union Theological Seminary
David W. Congdon, University Press of Kansas
M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College
Kendall Cox, University of Virginia
Shannon Craigo-Snell, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
Brandy Daniels, University of Virginia
Keri Day, Princeton Theological Seminary
Megan K. DeFranza, Boston University School of Theology
Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary
Kelly Brown Douglas, Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary
Kait Dugan, Princeton Theological Seminary
Victor Ezigbo, Bethel University
Nancy Fields, New York Theological Seminary
Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Fordham University
John Flett, Pilgrim Theological College (Australia)
Walter Fluker, Boston University School of Theology
Yvette Flunder, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
Robert Franklin, Emory University
Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Duke Divinity School
Wil Gafney, Brite Divinity School
Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Colby College
Gene Green, Wheaton College
Sharon Groves, Auburn Seminary
Katelin Hansen, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Lisa Sharon Harper, Greenville University and Freedom Road, LLC
Jennifer Harvey, Drake University
Susan Hassinger, Boston University School of Theology
Katharine Henderson, Auburn Seminary
Johnny Hill, Shaw University Divinity School
Peter Goodwin Heltzel, New York Theological Seminary
Michael S. Hogue, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Alice W. Hunt, Chicago Theological Seminary
Douglas “Jake” Jacobsen, Messiah College
Jeffrey Jaynes, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Willie James Jennings, Yale University
Wonhee Anne Joh, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Alfred Johnson, New York Theological Seminary
Paul Dafydd Jones, University of Virginia
Serene Jones, Union Theological Seminary
Sherry Jordan, University of St. Thomas
Namsoon Kang, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, Claremont School of Theology
Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Claremont School of Theology
Catherine Keller, Drew University School of Theology
Jeff Keuss, Seattle Pacific University
Grace Ji Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion
Nicole Kirk, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Shaw University Divinity School
Jennifer Wright Knust, Boston University School of Theology
Deborah Krause, Eden Theological Seminary
Kwok Pui Lan, Emory University
Sarah Heaner Lancaster, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Erik Leafblad, Bethel University
Terri LeBlanc, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies
Bernon Lee, Bethel University
Jacqueline J. Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church
Pamela Lightsey, Boston University School of Theology
Diane H. Lobody, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Tamura Lomax, The Feminist Wire
Vanessa Lovelace, Interdenominational Theological Center
Joretta Marshall, Brite Divinity School
Eboni Marshall Turman, Yale University
Jenny McBride, McCormick Theological Seminary
Clint McCann, Eden Theological School
Carolyn McCrary, Interdenominational Theological Seminary
Brian D. McLaren, Convergence Leadership Project
W. Travis McMaken, Lindenwood University
Linda Mercadante, Methodist Theological School of Ohio
Rosemary Bray McNatt, Starr King School for the Ministry
Stephanie Mitchem, University of South Carolina
Martha Moore-Keish, Columbia Theological Seminary
Otis Moss III, Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago
Deborah Flemister Mullen, Columbia Theological Seminary
Susan Myers, University of St. Thomas
Francesca Nuzzolese, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
M. Fulgence Nyengele, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Kate Ott, Drew University
Aristotle Papanikolaou, Fordham University
Joon-Sik Park, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Angela N. Parker, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology
Peter Phan, Georgetown University
David Penchansky, University of St. Thomas
Jim Perkinson, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
Larry Perry, Georgetown University
Adam Ployd, Eden Theological Seminary
Alton B Pollard, III, Howard University School of Divinity
Thomas Porter, Jr., Boston University School of Theology
Andrew Prevot, Boston College
Bradford H. Price, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Jeffrey C. Pugh, Elon University
Marc A. Pugliese, St. Leo University
Luis N. Rivera Pagan, Princeton Theological Seminary
Shelly Rambo, Boston University School of Theology
Erica Ramiriz, George Fox University
Paul Brandeis Raushenbusch, Auburn Seminary
Darby K. Ray, Bates College
Stephen Ray, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Lallene Rector, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Joshua Reno, University of Minnesota
Patrick Reyes, The Forum for Theological Exploration
Kenneth A. Reynhout, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
Kurt Anders Richardson, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics
Joerg Rieger, Vanderbilt Divinity School
Kyle Roberts, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
Gene Robinson, Episcopal Church
Luis R. Rivera Rodriguez, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Timothy J. Scherer, Fuller Theological Seminary
Laurel C. Schneider, Vanderbilt University
Donna Schaper, Judson Memorial Church
Christian Scharen, Auburn Seminary
David Schnasa Jacobsen, Boston University School of Theology
Phillis Isabella Sheppard, Vanderbilt Divinity School
Ry O. Siggelkow, University of St. Thomas
Angela Sims, Saint Paul School of Theology
Andrea Smith, University of California, Riverside
Kay Higuera Smith, Azusa Pacific University
Melanie Smith, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
Patrick T. Smith, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Shannon Nicole Smythe, Seattle Pacific University
Bryan Stone, Boston University School of Theology
Diana M. Swancutt, Boston University School of Theology
Kathryn Tanner, Yale University
Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Seminary
JoAnne Marie Terrell, Chicago Theological Seminary
John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminary
John E. Thiel, Fairfield University
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Chicago Theological Seminary
Linda Thomas, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Julie Todd, Iliff School of Theology
Joseph Tolton, The Fellowship Global
Miguel A. De La Torre, Iliff School of Theology
Cameron Trimble, Center for Progressive Renewal
Emilie M. Townes, Vanderbilt Divinity School
Kirk VanGilder, Gallaudet University
Timothy L Van Meter, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Eldin Villafañe, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Kimberly Vrudny, University of St. Thomas
Mark Wallace, Swarthmore College
Janet Walton, Union Theological Seminary
Nimi Wariboko, Boston University School of Theology
Michele E. Watkins, Iliff School of Theology
Eric Weed, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Sharon Welch, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Jim Wellman, University of Washington
Cornel West, Harvard Divinity School
Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School
Vitor Westhelle, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Andrea C. White, Union Theological Seminary
Tamara Francis Wilden, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Wesley J. Wildman, Boston University School of Theology
David E. Wilhite, Baylor University
Matthew Williams, Forum for Theological Exploration
Reggie L. Williams, McCormick Theological Seminary
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Rutba House
Janet Wolf, United Methodist Clergy
Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman, University of Otago (New Zealand)
Randy Woodley, Portland Seminary/George Fox University
Jessica Wong, Azusa Pacific University
Gale A. Yee, Episcopal Divinity School
Amos Yong, Fuller Theological Seminary
Yvonne C. Zimmerman, Methodist Theological School in Ohio