Theology of Hopelessness

By Dee Huey

This past week Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary experienced an abundance of riches in the form of Miguel De La Torre! Dr. De La Torre,professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at Iliff School of Theology,  screened his film Trail ofTerror which documents the plight of Mexican nationals attempting to enter the United States.  In addition, Dr. De La Torre lectured on a Theology of Hopelessness.  Dr. De La Torre’s first hand experience as a Cuban immigrant enables him to bring a challenging and honest perspective to the issue of displacement.

I found Dr. De La Torre’s insights to displacement and the notion of hope very challenging both personally and theologically.  Dr. De La Torre, like the Karen Armstrong and Toft and Philpott readings, suggest hope is a class privilege.  Those who have the audacity to hope are socio-economically located in middle class America.  For the middle class, hope becomes an excuse not to deal with injustice.  As individuals in the U.S. with social status, economic means, and privilege, hope becomes a commodity.  As Dr. De La Torre asserts, for the poor immigrant, hope is not a reality as, “They sit in the reality of Saturday.”  Sunday, the resurrection and the hope of redemption, has not come and they do not know if it ever will.  Dr. De La Torre suggests that we need to accept the reality that, “Some people never get to Sunday!”

This is a challenging and divisive word for Christians living in America today.  Hope will not come?  This goes against everything that I, as a white middle class American, have been raised to believe and have experienced.  Yet, this underscores exactly what Dr. De La Torre and the authors of our reading suggest, the audacity of hope is a class privilege reserved for those who can afford to hope, dream, and plan for a future.  For those who are struggling just to stay alive, they have no time or energy to hope.  These folks are consumed with the activity of finding food, shelter, and safety.  This search for basic survival is not only happening in the desert along the Mexican American border, but in neighborhoods, cities, and families across our nation.

Hopelessness is not restricted to immigrants; it is a reality for folks who are displaced because of their sexuality, education, poverty, and prison system.  It is not simply a state of being but is a way of life.  When all of your energy, time, and resources are focused on staying safe, fed, and alive how and when does one begin to hope or dream?  The fact is, you can’t.

This is more than a political and ethical issue, this is a theological issue that people of faith must begin to address and wrestle with.  The theology of hopelessness is more than a concept, it is a reality that is perpetuated and affirmed by many in our midst…perhaps even ourselves.

So, what are we to do?

First, and for most, I believe we need to Acknowledge our role in hopelessness.  The cycle of colonization, and the hopelessness it brings, must be acknowledged.  Looking historically, one can see the cycle of colonization has brought about disruption and instability, not only in governments, but also in the lives of individuals and families.  Colonization began with the church’s blessing and led to the expansion of the idea that a democratic system was supreme.  This, in turn, advances more militarism and the colonization of economies, militaries, cultures and religions.  The separation of church and state becomes normative and governments follow the European/U.S. examples of democracies by disempowering religious groups and clergy.  Ultimately, the colonized resist these changes and incite revolution.  Each of these steps in the cycle perpetuate hopelessness as people are stripped of their power, culture, heritage, and safety.  This cycle, and our participation in it, must be acknowledged.

Secondly, we must become creative and imaginative in how we respond to hopelessness.  Dr. De La Toree suggests that oftentimes people become so focused on correcting and attacking injustice on a systems level that they lose sight of the importance and benefit of “messing with the everyday process.” He tells the story of meeting with nonprofits along the U.S./Mexican border and discussing how slowing down and distracting the border patrol can be beneficial as it allows people to cross into safety.  Activities such as bringing jugs of water and food into the desert for those who are traveling to find and chaining themselves to the buses carrying arrested immigrants to jail may not attack the problem on a systematic level, but it does bring about awareness and benefits.  Therefore, thinking creatively and imaginatively about how to disrupt the system is a key step.

Finally, I believe an attitude of hospitality and love  is essential.  Seeing displaced people as people, not a problem to be solved, an issue to be rectified, or an agenda to be pushed is paramount.  We must begin to claim there are disenfranchised people in our midst to whom we are responsible.  We too must begin to claim this disenfranchisement for ourselves, for to claim this is to selectively place ourselves as oppressed and marginalized.  Our job, as Christians, is to go into every dark place with the oppressed and marginalized and sit with them.  We must simply BE with them…sit with them…love them…even in the hopelessness…until they see light.

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