Continuing reflections after reading Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution, who suggests that the Exodus story is the template for revolutionary movements throughout history. I think there are some lessons here for us today.
Lesson #6—“the liberation process”
I want to strike election and its step-children—predestination and double predestination—from the theological lexicon. I will grant that election can be a beautiful concept but it is too complicated (over 500 pages in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics) and too often misunderstood as privilege or specialness (leading to crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, and other forms of violence).
Walzer has provided me a viable alternative—liberation. For Israel, liberation was a process. Freedom from oppression in Egypt, which was understood as God’s action, was followed by entrance into the testing laboratory of wilderness where the old ways and expectations slough off. It became clear that the escapees had not fully left Egypt. Their murmuring evidenced a psychological and spiritual dependence on the mindset and the values of Egypt. The milk and honey of a known Egypt seemed more secure than the promised milk and honey of an unseen and unknown land. Something further was needed.
At Mt. Sinai that something further was revealed as a covenant with its torah tablets. The covenant was a committed relationship between liberator and those liberated. Moses, on behalf of the community, negotiated that relationship on the mountain top. The torah (law or, better yet, teaching) tablets contained the ethical/moral precepts, grounded in theology, for establishing and maintaining “a land that’s full of milk and honey” [Exodus 3:8 CEB]. Each individual must ratify the covenant relationship by committing herself, himself to the ethical/moral behavior required for milk and honey. The required behavior was, at a later time, described as care for widows, orphans, and immigrants [Deuteronomy] or justice, compassion, and humility [Micah]
Barth tells us that election is all about God. Liberation, on the other hand, is about a relationship between liberator and the liberated, a relationship (covenant) that is framed within a vision (milk and honey), and with a plan (torah teachings of an ethical/moral way of life). In a like manner, the Christian concept of liberation is based on a relationship (with Yeshua) that is framed within a vision (commonwealth of peace and tender justice), with a plan (beatitude and parable teachings).
In the United States, we have the religious and political right that envisions a return to the milk and honey of Egypt (“Make America Great Again”) with its plan to remove restrictions on the capitalist mechanisms, restrict diversity, and prioritize Christianity; while the religious and political left is still wandering in the wilderness and with some fantasized roadmap (without discernible landmarks) supposedly leading to an idealized softer Egypt
If Walzer’s account of the exodus story is truly a template for radical change (and America’s religious and political mechanisms are drastically in need of radical change), then we will not find our milk and honey until we gird our loins, put on our sandals, take up our walking sticks and join together in the valley of slough (wilderness) where our current practices of ideological stalemate, refusal to cooperate, and a community lifestyle that has prioritized violence over life itself will slough off.