Toward a Political Theology of Liberating Spirit

I conclude by briefly noting four major lines of inquiry that invite further development, given the partnership of Christian, African, and other spirit discourses of liberating struggle in the revolutionary Atlantic.

Liberation theology in the North Atlantic

The political orientation of this legacy of Christian spirit discourse means that there are vital and longstanding traditions of "liberation theology" in the North

Atlantic that need to be explored. This has two consequences. First, it should blur the distinction often made between so-called first world "political theology" and third world "liberation theology." The traditions of the North Atlantic have long had their liberation theologies among communities of the displaced and poor. Many theological educators in North American settings often view liberation theology as having its primary focus "abroad" in developing countries of, say, Latin America. We need to acknowledge not only the black theologies of liberation and feminist liberation theologies, but also the existence of many elements of liberating spirit at work among communities of the poor in the United States and Europe. It is time for theologians to acknowledge that reality, perhaps following the important work of Andrew Bradstock's study of Müntzer and Winstanley in Faith in the Revolution (1997).

Second, contemporary political and liberation theology stands to be enriched by the content of these North Atlantic spirit traditions. Following in the spirit discourse of the Levellers and Diggers, for example, theologians today might start thinking anew on theological ideas that were crucial to their spirituality of liberating struggle: (a) the antinomianism they cultivated from scriptures like "All things are lawful for me" (1 Cor. 10: 23), which African slaves and abolitionists read as license to foment change for the enslaved and exploited everywhere (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000: 81, 235); (b) the notion of "the glory of God," a bestowal of Spirit that was interpreted as breaking every yoke of oppression, held dear by Africans throughout the revolutionary Atlantic, such as the so-called "Blackymore Maide named Francis" in Bristol, England (pp. 83-4, 99); (c) the belief that "God is no respecter of persons" in the sending of the Spirit, a notion found in the Digger Manifesto of 1649 and in the denunciations against racism by Marcus Garvey in 1926 (p. 100); and (d) the biblical notion of jubilee, which Christian spirituality established as a panethnic and international discourse (p. 320). The message of jubilee was part of a "discourse of deliverance," flowing through the Leveller/Digger liberation theologies and well "fortified by African-American preachers such as Sambo Scriven, who traveled to the Bahamas, George Liele, who went to Jamaica, and John Marrant, who preached in London and Nova Scotia" (p. 268). Historians have good cause to link the biblical "trumpet of jubilee" to the "shell-blow jubilee" of Jamaica and Haitian slave resistance (p. 326).

Intercontinental and intercultural community

The sites analyzed as "spiritual" communities, inviting the work of political theology, need to become intercontinental and intercultural ones. The spirit that thrives among peoples in resistance is associated with their roles as shifting, often forcibly displaced, moving from place to place, mixing cultural ways from continent to continent. This was certainly the case for the spirit at work among the Levellers, Diggers, slaves, and sailors in Africa and the Americas. There is sometimes a tendency to see liberation and political theology through the lens of a kind of contextualism, which links theological discourses to bounded and landed settings. To follow the spirit of resistance, however, theologians will also need to analyze the culturally and continentally hybrid worlds of peoples on the move across lands and seas. Future political and liberation theologies, perhaps especially in the age of globalized culture and power, will need to work from a much more fluid sense of contextuality.

Charismatic and pentecostal groups

The work of this chapter suggests that political and liberation theologies would also do well to intensify their studies of various charismatic and pentecostal groups, especially in communities of the poor, in order to explore new fusions of spirit with liberating politics. Especially in the United States, there has been a tendency to see pentecostal emphases on the Holy Spirit as fusing with politics only on the political right, but the history explored in this essay suggests otherwise. Indeed, for some time now scholars have had to take note of how pentecostal discourses, usually seen as "other-worldly" actually have political functions, including liberating ones. The groundbreaking work of Robert Beckford in Britain - Jesus is Dread (1998) and Dread and Pentecostal (2000) - is just one example. Recent actions by neopentecostal indigenous evangelicals in Ecuador, jousting with neoliberal policies of the transnational market, suggests that this Spirit-led radicalism is alive as a mode of resistance elsewhere as well, and deployed by diverse peoples (Ainger 2001; Batista 2000).

The interreligious character of the Spirit

Finally, the interactive and fluid locations toward which I have sent political theology in this essay require that the Spirit be reflected on, even by Christian liberation and political theologians, in its fully interreligious character. Recall that as the "leveling spirit" arose amid English Levellers and Diggers, and then interacted with political and spiritual aspirations of slaves, indentured servants, sailors, soldiers, and the disenfranchised from around the Atlantic, the "Spirit" or "spirits" invoked rarely belonged to any one religious tradition. They certainly were not simply Christian, Yoruban, Quechua, or Vodun, though all of these could feed the spirit discourse of a mystical politics of resistance. As with Marley's "Small Axe," and the centuries of tradition that lie behind that song's idea, the Spirit of resistance fused its vitality and character by crossing the many religious languages, just as cultures and continents were crossed. The revolutionary Atlantic challenges political theology, then, to enter into the full and creative syncretism of religious expression deployed by communities in struggle for liberation.


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