LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Big Tent banquet speaker Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty became an unwitting metaphor Aug. 2 in Louisville. Competing with the din of nearly 1,500 participants eating dinner, her passionate appeal to launch a new movement to elevate the plight of the impoverished was heard only by those who fine-tuned their hearing to her oral wavelength. Only with such effort could those “who have ears to hear,” as Jesus said, tune in to her call to form a Christian community committed to “God’s redemptive mission in this time and space.”
The timing and setting for the speech were unfortunate. Scurrying table servers, clanging forks and knives and varying volumes of table conversation in a hall with gymnasium-type acoustics made for tough competition. But Hinson-Hasty, associate professor of theology at neighboring Bellarmine University, drove her message home with an unrelenting drive to recruit participants in a new movement
Building on the story of Dorothy Day, lay leader who, along with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker movement in the depths of the Great Depression, Hinson-Hasty elevated what she called the “three c’s”:
“The concepts of community, courage and compassion enable us to find a sense of moral gravity and coherence in our time, and could give new shape and form to the way in which we act out God’s mission,” she said.
Hinson-Hasty said those themes motivated Day, at the time a new believer, to join the church – not for its doctrine, its program or its efficiency but because “she believed that it created that space to enact God’s mission to redeem broken relationships and restore a creation and community in distress and turmoil.”
Hinson-Hasty said Day was among those faithful people “who felt a sense of moral incoherence as she heard the word that ‘the poor are blessed,’ ‘do justice, love kindness, walk humbly,’ and that ‘the greatest of these things is love,’ while at the same time seeing people forced out onto the streets, hungry, homeless and pushed to the margins of society.”
Day and Maurin, she said, raised the key question that must be asked again today: “What is God’s mission in a society where the wealth gap is widening, people are being forced into the streets, forced to migrate, unemployment is on the rise, and poverty increasing?”
Hinson-Hasty said addressing such unevenness of wealth distribution should be a matter of first order at the Big Tent, given its theme: “Putting God’s First Things First.”
The divide in wealth and income in the U.S. has only been getting worse, she said. The ratio between average income for the top 5 percent and the bottom 20 percent, she said, grew from 11.4-to-1 in 1979 to 20.9-to-1 in 2005.
Such statistics should sound a moral alarm for Christians, she said, because “we cannot truly live in and experience authentic community, in the sense where we ‘love our neighbor’ as ourselves and ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God,’ when such huge gaps and divisions exist, persist and are on the rise.”
Hinson-Hasty recounted her service over the past four years as a research consultant representing the North American region for the World Council of Churches’ series of consultations on poverty, wealth and ecology. The series generated a “Call to Action” for an “Economy for Life” that emerged from theological and spiritual affirmations that will be presented for action at the WCC General Assembly in Busan, South Korea, this coming October. She quoted the following language from the “Call to Action” document:
Christian and many other expressions of spirituality teach us that the “good life” lies not in the competitive quest for possessions, the accumulation of wealth, fortresses and stockpiles of armaments to provide for our security, or in using our own power to lord it over others (James 3: 13-18). We affirm the “good life” (Sumak Kausay in the Kichua language and the concept of Waniambi a Tobati Engros from West Papua) modeled by the communion of the Trinity in mutuality, shared partnership, reciprocity, justice and loving-kindness.
Metaphors sometimes have a way of breaking through the din of noisy minds to make their point with greater impact than the point could have made unaided. It remains to be seen if the theologian-turned-unintended-metaphor in this crowded and noisy venue succeeded in doing that.