Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More than Just God the Father: The Trinity as a Divine Model for Human Social Equality

Yesterday, I posted a quote by the African American theologian James Evans that challenges us to recognize how the very nature and character of God is often misrepresented theologically in order to justify racism, classism, sexism, neo-colonialism and many of the other –isms that plague our fallen world. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that theologians representing a variety of historically oppressed groups have attempted to construct theological alternatives to the prevailing racist, classist, sexist, and neo-colonialist images of God that have been propagated by the dominant culture.

The African-American theologian James Cone argues that, in the context of white racist America, “God is Black.” In a similar vein, Gustavo Gutiérrez, a theologian and parish priest from the slums of Lima, Peru, has made the claim that God exercises “a preferential option for the poor.” Numerous feminist theologians have argued that we should image God as both Mother and Father. And finally, the late Caribbean theologian Idris Hamid, in describing the legacy of colonialism and Christianity here in our own region of the world, notes that “we were trained to worship God through somebody else’s experience . . . God is really foreign to us.”

All of these observations lead me to raise the question: Is there an alternative approach to understanding God that allows us to get past images of God that are used to perpetuate sexism, racism, classism, colonialism, and any other –ism that plagues our sinful world? The short answer to that question is “yes” and the alternative that I wish to consider is the ancient doctrine of the Trinity.

Let me explain:

Most Christians are all familiar with the idea that there is one God and only one God as is evidenced in scripture verses such as Deuteronomy 6:4 which declares, “The LORD our God is one LORD” (italics mine). Yet, at the same time we are also familiar with the notion that God is really three distinct persons as evidenced by the use of Trinitarian formulae such as Matthew 28:19-20 where we are taught to baptize new believers “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

For this reason, Christian theology teaches us that we believe in one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Not surprisingly, the seeming contradiction between God’s oneness and threeness has been the source of lively theological debate throughout much of Christian history. For purposes of this discussion, however, I am not going to attempt to offer a theological explanation of the mystery of the Trinity. Instead, I will take the position of the Tanzanian Roman Catholic bishop Christopher Mwoleka who once argued that the Trinity is not a puzzle to be solved but, rather, an example to be imitated.

So what precisely is it about the Trinity that we should be imitating anyway?

Since the eight century, Eastern Orthodox Christians have understood the Trinity in terms of the Greek word perichoresis (per-ee-kor-eesus), which means “being in one another” and from which the verb form literally translates as “to dance around.” The feminist theologian Anne Clifford suggests that if these two meanings are combined, then “we can imagine the Trinity as three persons engaged in a circular dance, circling and encircling one another with unending energy.” By using such a metaphor to explain the Trinity, we are able to image God as three distinct persons that exist in perfect unity and harmony.

The neo-orthodox theologian Daniel Migloire approaches this concept somewhat differently by suggesting that the Trinity is essentially a koinonia—that is a fellowship or community—of three persons in love. He notes that the persons of the Trinity are not isolated and independent selves but have their personal identity in relationship with each other. This is in contrast to sinful human attitudes and practices that rest on fear or hatred of the other and seek to remove or conquer the other. Instead, the Trinity generates and includes otherness in the inner dynamism of the divine life. Such a Trinitarian concept of God, argues Migloire, can provide a new depth and direction to our understanding of the interdependence of human life and renew our commitment to the struggles for justice and freedom for all people.

And finally, Bishop Mwoleka (as quoted by Justo González) explains that, “The three Divine Persons share everything in such a way that there are not three gods but only one God. And in the same way that the three persons of the Godhead are one, Christ’s wish is: ‘That they (his followers) may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be completely one . . .’”

As these theologians have so eloquently suggested, the essence of the Trinity is a life of unity and harmony, a life of fellowship and community, and a life of sharing. Therefore, those of us who profess belief in this Triune God must seek to follow his example.

On one level, this means that we need to work to achieve equality for all people in both our churches as well as society at large by breaking down the barriers of prejudice and discrimination against women, people of other races and nationalities, persons of low social status, and anyone else who finds themselves to be disadvantaged in our society. On another level, this means that within the context of our own churches we need to foster Christian unity and give up the backstabbing, rumor mongering, petty arguments, and personal rivalries that plague so many of our congregations.

But is it really possible for us as human beings to follow the example of our Triune God and live in perfect unity and harmony. The book of Revelation (verse 7:9) teaches us that one day we will stand before the throne of our Triune God and worship him together alongside a countless multitude of others representing every nation, tribe, people, and language. But the book of Revelation doesn’t just give us a glimpse of the future; it also gives us a vision of what the body of Christ can be here on earth right now. For this reason, Jesus himself prayed to the Father (in John 17:23) that we—his followers—would be brought to complete unity to let the world know that God sent his only Son to die for our sins and that he loves us in the same way that he loves his only begotten son.

I believe that we as human beings can find unity and harmony amongst ourselves because our God is more than just God the Father. Our God is . . .

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

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At Wednesday, May 23, 2007 at 9:12:00 AM EST , Blogger Mike Broadway said...

Hey, Daniel,

Some of my theological friends have been discussing a new semi-Arianism that has appeared in certain fundamentalist writings. It posits coeternality but not coequality, saying the Son is eternally subordinate. This enters the discussion in the context of mandating theologically grounded subordination of women to men. The links I received are and So it is still a lively issue. I like what you have written here.

At Friday, May 25, 2007 at 10:00:00 AM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, Mike! The emergence of semi-Arianism should be a reminder that Christology has always been shaped by political and social agendas. In that respect, little has changed since the 4th century. I'll be sure to check out these links.

At Monday, December 24, 2007 at 3:06:00 AM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!



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