Engage: Subversion #3

The Covenant at Sinai subverts the culture of Egypt. Neighborliness subverts elitism. And elites do not take kindly to it. They push back with a counternarrative. And they do it through the use of the dominant word of theit faith and culture: holiness. God is holy; we are to be holy too.

But it is not long before a neighborly holiness (i.e. something equally for all) becomes an elitism that resembles the old Egyptian hierarchy rather than God’s inclusivity. Brueggemann notes, “there came the notion of “graded holiness,” that is, there are degrees of eligibility, so some are more eligible for access than others.” The holy space is divided into three chambers. Brueggemann writes, “The chambers are ordered so that some are admitted only at the edge, fewer are permitted to enter midway, and only one is given access clear to the center. The process is to differentiate between neighbors, some better than others.” The back-to-egypt committee is in charge.

We cannot miss the linkage between than and now. The Christian Nationalists of our day (using Dominionism theology) have counterfeited the word ‘America’ just as the ancients did holiness. The MAGA mantra is a denial of the common good through a concerted effort to erect chambers of separation, with corresponding gradations of privilege and access.

Even the term “great again” is a harking back to elitism that enshrines a largely white-male oligarchy. Along with it, another counterfitting of language is used–people are “patriots” only when they champion a MAGA-fied nation. And as with ancient elitism, contemporary supremacy advances through cultic access, moral ratings, and economic advantages–all of which perpetuate inequality. Brueggemann notes that these injustices put Israel on a “collision course between the neighborly possibilities mandated by the tradition of Deuteronomy and the regimentations of holiness in the Priestly tradition.” The major conflict in the rest of the Old Testament is between imperialism and neighborliness. We will continue our reflections about this next week.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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