An interview with Walt Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann is an Nebraskan doing the askin. An old testament scholar and theologian with important letters and sentences. He’s written more than 58 books but whose counting…

An encouraging and possibly challenging interview.

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Can you give some examples of a consumerist mentality in the church?
That ideological system causes us to be very afraid, to regard other people as competitors, or as threats, or as rivals. It causes us to think of the world in very frightened and privatistic forms. The gospel very much wants us to think in terms of a neighbourhood, in terms of being in solidarity with other people, in sharing our resources, and of living out beyond ourselves. The gospel contradicts the dominant values of our system, which encourages self-protection and self-sufficiency at the loss of the common good. The church is in some ways a reflection of those dominant values.

What are some concrete ways we can be neighbourly?
A paradigmatic example is the conversation that we’ve had about healthcare. Providing healthcare for all of our citizens is a mandate for any workable society. Our resistance reflects our kind of privatised notion that everyone ought to get what they can pay for – and if they can’t pay for it, they ought not to get it. And [that] identifies and fosters a kind of disadvantaged class that is excluded from all of the resources of society. You can watch while the differences between people who have a lot and people who have a little or nothing — that gap grows and grows. You can’t have a viable society if you organize the economy that way. You can take it in terms of healthcare delivery, education, or in terms of housing or any of the social goods. If you do not have a practice of neighbourliness, society becomes unlivable.

Does it bother you that more conservative evangelicals might label such ideas as communist or socialist?
To beat each other up with labels like capitalism or communism or socialism is simply a waste of time. The real issue isneighbourliness. There are many ways to practiceneighbourliness — it requires the private sector being involved, the corporations, the government, the church. Everybody has a stake in maintaining a viable neighbourliness, and to get caught up in abstract discussion about those kind of labels takes energy away from what our real concerns ought to be.

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