While the problem of full humanization (that can only come with being a Christian) has always, from an axiological point of view, been a central problem of Christianity, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern. Concern for full humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality. And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if full humanization in our churches of today is even a viable possibility. Within Church history in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as a diminished Christian conscious of their being diminished.
But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the vocation for one to be a fully functional person of God. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, Suppression, and the mental and spiritual violence of the Preeminent Suppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the suppressed for freedom and equality, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity.
Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose true humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. This distortion occurs within the history of the church; but it is not an historical vocation. Indeed, to admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation would lead either to cynicism or total despair. The struggle for humanization, for the emancipation of the laity, for the overcoming of alienation, for the affirmation of men and women as equal persons in Christ would be meaningless. This struggle is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders spiritual, emotional, and in some cases physical violence in the Suppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the suppressed.
Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the suppressed to struggle against the Preeminent elite who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the suppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become Suppressive or unloving of the Preeminent, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.
This, then, is the great Biblically mandated and historical task of the suppressed: in reliance upon God’s wisdom and strength, to liberate themselves and their Suppressors as well. The Suppressors, who Suppress, exploit, and spiritually and emotionally damage those they refer to as “their flock” by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the Suppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the suppressed, who realize they must rely upon God’s guidance and strength, will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the Suppressor in deference to the weakness of the suppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt rarely if ever goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the Suppressors must perpetuate a form of injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity,” which is nourished by those God refers to as warriors in the battle to reach the world for Christ (Ephesians 6:10-17), who instead have been squeezed into the role of spectator and monetary benefactors of the Suppressors. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.
True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of an equal life in Christ,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands—whether of individual Christians or the entire assembly—need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become liberated human hands which work and, working, transform the world for Christ and his Kingdom.
This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the suppressed themselves and from those who are truly solidary with them. As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of their true humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity. Who are better prepared than the suppressed to understand the terrible significance of a suppressive Christian hierarchy? Who suffer the effects of suppression more than the suppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the suppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the Suppressors who have unthinkingly usurped the preeminence of Christ, thus creating a lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity.
But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the suppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become Suppressors, or “sub-Suppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be dynamic men of God; but for them, to be so requires being Preeminent Suppressors. This is their model of humanity. This phenomenon derives from the fact that the suppressed, at a certain moment of their existential experience, adopt an attitude of “adhesion” to the Suppressor. Under these circumstances they cannot “consider” him sufficiently clearly to objectivize him—to discover him “outside” themselves. This does not necessarily mean that the suppressed are unaware that they are diminished by those who have usurped the Preeminence of Christ. But their perception of themselves as suppressed is impaired by their submersion in the reality of Suppression. At this level, their perception of themselves as opposites of the Suppressor does not yet signify engagement in a struggle to overcome the contradiction; the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole.
In this situation the suppressed do not see the “new liberated man” as the person to be born from the resolution of this contradiction, as Suppression gives way to liberation. For them, the new man or woman themselves become Suppressors. Their vision of the new man or woman is individualistic; because of their identification with the Preeminent Suppressors, they have no consciousness of themselves as persons or as members of being a part of God’s flock where Christ is the “only” Preeminent one. It is not to become free from the restrictions imposed by the Preeminent Suppressors, but for them to become the Preeminent bosses over other believers. It is a rare suppressed believer, who, once “promoted” to a Preeminent position, does not become more of a Suppressor towards his former fellow spectators within the church than the Preeminent promoter himself. This is due to the context of the suppressed situation, that is, Suppression, remains unchanged. In this example, the newly promoted Preeminent person, in order to make sure of his elevated position, must be as tough as the Preeminent Promoter—and more so. Thus is illustrated our previous assertion that during the initial stage of any struggle for Freedom in Christ, the suppressed find in the Suppressor their model of “servanthood”, a model of one who is doing so much more for the Lord than they ever could, unless they become just like or even “better” than the Preeminent one.
Even a reformation from Preeminent Suppression, which transforms a concrete situation of Suppression by establishing the process of liberation, must confront this phenomenon. Many of the suppressed who directly or indirectly participate in the reformation against Preeminent Suppression intend—conditioned by the myths of the Biblically false order—to make it their private reformation. The shadows of their former Suppressors are still cast over them.
The “fear of freedom” which afflicts the suppressed, a fear which may equally well lead them to desire the role of the Preeminent Suppressor or bind them to the role of suppressed, should be examined. One of the basic elements of the relationship between the Preeminent Suppressor and the suppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness. Thus, the behavior of the suppressed is a prescribed behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the Preeminent Suppressor.
Note: This fear of freedom is also to be found in the Suppressors, though, obviously, in a different form. The suppressed are afraid to embrace freedom; the Suppressors are afraid of losing the “freedom” to Suppress.
The suppressed, having internalized the image of the Preeminent Suppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with a freedom in Christ that also comes with responsibility. The freedom does not come by a gift from the Suppressor. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. It is not an ideal located outside of the true nature of a believer in Christ. Nor is it an idea that is nothing but a myth. Rather, it is the indispensable condition for the quest for true human completion. A completion that can only occur when freed from any humanistic Preeminent Suppressor to follow the only one who is preeminent and that is Jesus Christ. He created us and he is the one that is working with the Father and the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, transforming and guiding us to be all that God intends for us to be.
To surmount the situation of Suppression, Christians must first critically recognize its causes, so that through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity. But the struggle to be more fully human has already begun in the authentic struggle to transform the situation. Although the situation of Preeminent Suppression is a dehumanized and dehumanizing totality affecting both the Suppressors and those whom they Suppress, it is the latter who must, from their stifled humanity, wage for both the struggle for a fuller humanity; the Preeminent Suppressor, who is himself dehumanized because he dehumanizes others, is unable to lead this struggle.
Note: Satan and those demonic angels that followed him absolutely hate humans and will do everything in their power to dehumanize. The Preeminent Suppressor follows a complementary course as Satan and the demons, thus making every Preeminent Suppressor susceptible to his devices.
However, the suppressed, who have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it, are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires. Moreover, their struggle for freedom threatens not only the Preeminent Suppressor, but also their own suppressed fellow believers who are fearful of still greater Suppression (which can come in the form of ostracism or a type of excommunication). When they discover within themselves the yearning to be free, they perceive that this yearning can be transformed into reality only when the same yearning is aroused in their fellow Christians. But while dominated by the fear of freedom they refuse to appeal to others, or to listen to the appeals of others, or even to the appeals of their own conscience. They prefer the gregariousness of being in the actor/spectator company of people rather than getting to truly know their fellow believers in the freedom of true fellowship which requires dialogue from the position of equality. They prefer the security of conformity with their state of unfreedom to the creative communion and fellowship produced by freedom and even the very pursuit of freedom.
The suppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being. They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically in the relationship God designed. Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear it. They are at one and the same time themselves and the Preeminent Suppressor whose consciousness they have internalized. The conflict lies in the choice between being wholly the person God intended or being divided; between ejecting the Preeminent Suppressors within or not ejecting them; between true dialogical Christian fellowship or alienation; between following prescriptions or having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of acting through the action of the Preeminent Suppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world. This is the tragic dilemma of the suppressed which their education must take into account.
This book will present some aspects of what the writer has termed the “Pedagogy of the Suppressed”, a pedagogy for Christians which must be forged with, not for, the suppressed (whether individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their true Christian humanity. This pedagogy makes Suppression and its causes objects of reflection by the suppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation. And in the struggle, this pedagogy will be made and remade until the blessed return of Jesus Christ.
The central problem is this: How can the suppressed, as divided, diminished beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be “hosts” of the Suppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the Suppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the suppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their Suppressors are manifestations of dehumanization.
Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new person, viable only as the Suppressor-suppressed contradiction is superseded by the divine humanization of every Christian. Or to put it another way, the solution of this contradiction is born in the labor which brings into the world this new being: no longer Suppressor nor longer suppressed, but fully human in the process of achieving freedom.
This solution cannot be achieved in idealistic terms. In order for the suppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of Suppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform. Only God can fully open the Christians’ eyes to their suppressed condition. This God given perception is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for liberation; it must become the motivating force for liberating action. Nor does the discovery by the suppressed that they exist in dialectical relationship to the Suppressor, as his antithesis—that without them the Suppressor could not exist—in itself constitute liberation. The suppressed can overcome the contradiction in which they are caught only when this God given perception enlists them in the struggle to free themselves.
The same is true with respect to the individual Suppressor as a person. God, opening his eyes to discover himself to be a Preeminent Suppressor may cause considerable anguish, but it does not necessarily lead to solidarity with the suppressed. Rationalizing his guilt through paternalistic treatment of the suppressed, all the while holding them fast in a position of dependence, will not do. Solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is solidary; it is a radical posture. If what characterizes the suppressed is their subordination to the consciousness of the Preeminent one, true solidarity with the suppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these “beings for another.” The Suppressor is solidary with the suppressed only when he stops regarding the suppressed as an abstract category and sees them as equal persons in the body of Christ who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the usage of their time and resources—when he stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love. True solidarity is found only in the plenitude of this act of love, in its existentiality, in its praxis. To affirm that Christian men and women are persons that God works through as equal brothers and sisters in Christ, and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.
Since it is a concrete situation that the Suppressor-suppressed contradiction is established, the resolution of this contradiction must be objectively verifiable. Hence, the radical requirement—both for the individual who discovers himself or herself to be a Suppressor and for the suppressed—that the concrete situation which begets suppression must be transformed.
To present this radical demand for the objective transformation of reality, to combat subjectivist immobility which would divert the recognition of suppression into patient waiting for suppression to disappear by itself, is not to dismiss the role of subjectivity in the struggle to change structures. On the contrary, one cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity. Neither can exist without the other, nor can they be dichotomized. The separation of objectivity from subjectivity, the denial of the latter when analyzing reality or acting upon it, is objectivism. On the other hand, the denial of objectivity in analysis or action, resulting in a subjectivism which leads to solipsistic positions, denies action itself by denying objective reality. Neither objectivism nor subjectivism, nor yet psychologism is propounded here, but rather subjectivity and objectivity in constant dialectical relationship anchored by the absolute Word of God.
To deny the importance of subjectivity in the process of transforming our broken world and the history of that brokenness is naive and simplistic. It is to admit the impossible: a world without people. This objectivistic position is as ingenuous as that of subjectivism, which postulates people without a world. World and human beings do not exist apart from each other, they exist in constant interaction. No critical, realistic thinker would espouse such a dichotomy. Objective social reality exists not by chance, but as the product of human action, so it is not transformed by chance. If humankind produce social reality (which in the “inversion of the praxis” turns back upon them and conditions them), then transforming that reality is an historical task, a task for humanity.
Reality which becomes Suppressive results in the contradistinction of men as Suppressors and suppressed. The latter, whose task it is to struggle for their liberation together with those who show true solidarity, must acquire a critical awareness of Suppression through the praxis of this struggle. One of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that Suppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings consciousness. Functionally, Suppression is domesticating. To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it. This can be done only by means of the praxis: reflection and action upon the world of Preeminent Suppression within the church in order to transform it.
Making real Suppression more Suppressive still by adding to it the realization of Suppression corresponds to the dialectical relation between the subjective and the objective. Only in this interdependence is an authentic praxis possible, without which it is impossible to resolve the Suppressor-suppressed contradiction. To achieve this goal, the suppressed must confront reality critically, simultaneously objectifying and acting upon that reality. A mere perception of reality not followed by this critical intervention will not lead to a transformation of objective reality—precisely because it is not a true perception. This is the case of a purely subjectivist perception by someone who forsakes objective reality and creates a false substitute.
A different type of false perception occurs when a change in objective reality would threaten the individual or class interests of the perceiver. In the first instance, there is no critical intervention in reality because that reality is fictitious; there is none in the second instance because intervention would contradict the class interests of the perceiver. In the latter case the tendency of the perceiver is to behave “neurotically.” The fact exists; but both the fact and what may result from it may be prejudicial to the person. Thus it becomes necessary, not precisely to deny the fact, but to “see it differently.” This rationalization as a defense mechanism coincides in the end with subjectivism. A fact which is not denied but whose truths are rationalized loses its objective base. It ceases to be concrete and becomes a myth created in defense of the class of the perceiver.
Herein lies one of the reasons for the prohibitions and the difficulties designed to dissuade the people from critical intervention in reality. The Suppressor knows full well that this intervention would not be to his interest. What is to his interest is for the people to continue in a state of submersion, impotent in the face of Suppressive reality.
To explain to the suppressed masses their own action is to clarify and illuminate that action, both regarding its relationship to the objective facts by which it was prompted, and regarding its purposes. The more the people unveil this challenging reality which is to be the object of their transforming action, the more critically they enter that reality. In this way they are consciously activating the subsequent development of their experiences. There would be no human action if there were no objective reality, no world to be the “not I” of the person and to challenge them; just as there would be no human action if humankind were not a “project,” if he or she were not able to transcend himself or herself, if one were not able to perceive reality and understand it in order to transform it.
In dialectical thought, world and action are intimately interdependent. But action is human only when it is not merely an occupation but also a preoccupation, that is, when it is not dichotomized from reflection. Reflection, which is essential to action, is implicit in explaining to the suppressed masses their own action, just as it is implicit in the purpose of consciously activating the subsequent development of experience.
To bring the suppressed to a reflection that leads to action is seen not in terms of explaining to, but rather dialoguing with the people about their actions. In any event, no reality transforms itself, and the duty of explaining to the masses their own action coincides with our affirmation of the need for the critical intervention of the people in reality through the praxis. The pedagogy of the suppressed, which is the pedagogy of people engaged in the fight for their own liberation, has its roots here. And those who recognize, or begin to recognize, themselves as suppressed must be among the developers of this pedagogy. No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the suppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the Suppressors. The suppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption from Preeminent Suppression.
The pedagogy of the suppressed, animated by authentic Christian charity, presents itself as a pedagogy of humankind. Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the Suppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the suppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies Suppression. It is an instrument of dehumanization. This is why, as we affirmed earlier, the pedagogy of the suppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the Suppressors. It would be a contradiction in terms if the Suppressors not only defended but actually implemented a liberating education.
But if the implementation of a liberating education requires political or ecclesiastical power and the suppressed have none, how then is it possible to carry out the pedagogy of the suppressed prior to the reformation? This is a question of the greatest importance and will be touched upon later in this book. One aspect to this question can be found in the distinction between systematic education, which can only be changed by political or ecclesiastical power (centered within the Suppressors), and educational projects, which should be carried out with the suppressed in the process of organizing them.
The pedagogy of the suppressed, as a Biblical liberating pedagogy, has two distinct stages. In the first, the suppressed have the world of suppression unveiled and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation. In the second stage, in which the reality of Suppression has already been transformed, this pedagogy ceases to belong to the suppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all believers in the process of permanent liberation. In both stages, it is always through action in depth that the culture of Suppressive domination is culturally confronted. In the first stage this confrontation occurs through the change in the way the suppressed perceive the world of Preeminent Suppression; in the second stage, through the expulsion of the myths created and developed in the old order, which like specters haunt the new structure emerging from the transformative reformation.
The pedagogy of the first stage must deal with the problem of the suppressed consciousness and the Suppressor consciousness, the problem of men and women who Suppress and men and women who suffer Suppression. It must take into account their behavior, their view of the world, and their ethics. A particular problem is the duality of the suppressed: they are contradictory, divided beings, shaped by and existing in a concrete situation of Preeminent Suppression that forces them into the primary position of being an impotent spectator within the church or within Christian education.
Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as an equally responsible person in Christ is one of Suppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes a form of violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be the human God intends. With the establishment of a relationship of Preeminent Suppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the suppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as suppressed? There would be no suppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.
Violence is initiated by those who Suppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as equally empowered persons—not by those who are suppressed, exploited, and unrecognized. It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is not the helpless, subject to ecclesiastical constraint, who initiate terror, but the repressers, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the “rejects of life.” It is not the tyrannized who initiate this form of despotism, but the autocrats. It is not those whose true humanity is denied them who negate humankind, but those who denied that humanity (thus negating their own as well). Suppression is used not by those who have become weak under the preponderance of the strong, but by the strong who have emasculated them.
For the Suppressors, however, it is always the suppressed (whom they obviously never call “the suppressed” but—depending on whether they are fellow believers or not—”those people” or “the blind and envious masses” or “the laity” or “parishioners” or “wandering sheep”) who are disaffected, who are “hotheaded,” “subversive,” “deviant,” “ignorant,” “sinners,” or “too emotional” when they react to the Suppressive constraint of the Suppressors.
Yet it is—paradoxical though it may seem—precisely in the response of the suppressed to the constraint of their Suppressors that a gesture of love may be found. Consciously or unconsciously, the act of rebellious reformation by the suppressed can initiate love. Whereas the constraint of the Suppressors prevents the suppressed from being fully human, the response of the latter to this form of violence is grounded in the desire to pursue the right to be truly human. As the Suppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights as an equal brother and sister in Christ, they themselves also become dehumanized. As the suppressed, fighting for their God-given humanity, take away the Suppressors power to dominate and Suppress, they restore to the Suppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of Suppression. In other words, God has never directed any human being to usurp his Preeminence. So any Preeminent person in the Body of Christ has lost his God-given humanity and like with Peter who attempted to usurp Jesus’ position by rebuking him, Jesus told him to “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
22Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Matthew 16:22-23
It is only the suppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their Suppressors. The latter, as a Suppressive class, can free neither others nor themselves. It is therefore essential that the suppressed wage the struggle to resolve the contradiction in which they are caught; and the contradiction will be resolved by the appearance of the new man: neither Suppressor nor suppressed, but man in the process of liberation. If the goal of the suppressed is to become fully human, they will not achieve their goal by merely reversing the terms of the contradiction, by simply changing poles.
This may seem simplistic; it is not. Resolution of the Suppressor-suppressed contradiction indeed implies the disappearance of the Preeminent Suppressors as a dominant class. However, the restraints imposed by the former suppressed on their Suppressors, so that the latter cannot reassume their former position, does not constitute Suppression. An act is Suppressive only when it prevents people from being more fully human. Accordingly, these necessary restraints do not in themselves signify that yesterdays suppressed have become today’s Suppressors. Acts which prevent the restoration of the Suppressive regime cannot be compared with those which create and maintain it, cannot be compared with those by which a few men and women deny the majority their right to be truly and fully human.
However, the moment the successful reformation hardens into a dominating “Church bureaucracy” the Biblically reformative dimension of the struggle is lost and it is no longer possible to speak of liberation. Therefore, the authentic solution of the Suppressor-suppressed contradiction does not lie in a mere reversal of position, in moving from one pole to the other. Nor does it lie in the replacement of the former Suppressors with new ones who continue to subjugate the suppressed—all in the name of their liberation.
But even when the contradiction is resolved authentically by a new situation established by the liberated spectator Christians, the former Suppressors do not feel liberated. On the contrary, they genuinely consider themselves to be suppressed. Conditioned by the experience of Suppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like Suppression. Formerly, they were paid to travel to Suppressor seminars or meetings, they would stand behind a pulpit and direct people when to stand, to sit, to sing their sanctioned music, to recite words, to pray, and when and how to have communion. They would direct their movement and time: setting the time and place to teach or preach, always with little or no dialogue; allowing little or no ability to question or contradict their words. While the vast majority of the spectator masses did not stand behind a pulpit and direct people when to stand, to sit, to sing their sanctioned music, to recite words, to pray; did not direct their movement and time; did not teach or preach to them with little dialogue or ability to question or contradict their words; did not dictate when and how to have communion. Any restriction on this way of life, in the name of the rights of the body of believers, appears to the former Suppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights—although they had no true respect for the congregation of believers that suffered from the Suppression. For the Suppressors, “human beings” refers only to themselves; other people are “things.” For the Suppressors, there exists only one right: their right to Preeminence, over against the right, not always even recognized, but simply conceded, of the suppressed to be good and obedient spectators, especially if they dutifully fill the offering plate coffers. And they make this concession only because the existence of the suppressed is necessary to their own existence.
This behavior, this way of understanding the world and people (which necessarily makes the Suppressors resist the installation of a reformation movement against Preeminence) is explained by their experience as a dominant class. Once a situation of Preeminent Suppression has been established, it engenders an entire way of life and behavior for those caught up in it—Suppressors and suppressed alike. Both are submerged in this situation, and both bear the marks of Suppression. Analysis of existential situations of Suppression reveals that their inception lay in an act of violence—initiated by those with Suppressive power. This violence, as a process, is perpetuated from generation to generation of Suppressors, who become its heirs and are shaped in its climate. This climate creates in the Suppressor a strongly possessive consciousness—possessive of those men and women within their purview. Apart from direct, concrete, material possession of the world and of people, the Suppressor consciousness could not understand itself—could not even exist. The Suppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people, people themselves, time—everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal.
In their unrestrained eagerness to possess, the Suppressors develop the conviction that it is possible for them to transform everything into objects of their purchasing power; hence their very materialistic concept of existence. Power, popularity, and material things (including large church structures) become the measure of all things. For the Suppressors, what is worthwhile is to have more—always more—even at the cost of the suppressed having less or having nothing. For them, to be is to have and to be the class of the “haves.” Just look at how the big mega-churches of today are raved upon and let’s not forget the massive cathedrals of past ages. Plus, think of how many are so impressed by the pastors who fly around in their private helicopters or private jets.
As beneficiaries of a situation of Suppression, the Suppressors cannot perceive that if having is a condition of being, it is a necessary condition for all women and men. This is why their generosity is false. Humanity is a “thing,” and they possess it as an exclusive right, as inherited property. To the Suppressor consciousness, the humanization of the “others,” of the people, appears not as the pursuit of full humanity, but as subversion.
The Suppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more things or more controlling power as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and power and no longer are; they merely have. For them, having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired either through their own “effort,” or by the ordination of God with their “courage to take risks.” If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the “generous gestures” of the Preeminent class. Precisely because they are “ungrateful” and “envious,” the suppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched. And if you don’t think they have their eye on you, just see what happens when you talk to others about the sinful Preeminence within your church.
It could not be otherwise. If the humanization of the suppressed signifies subversion, so also does their freedom; hence the necessity for constant control. And the more the Suppressors control the suppressed, the more they change them into apparently inanimate “things.” This tendency of the Suppressor consciousness to “in-animate” everything and everyone it encounters, in its eagerness to possess, unquestionably corresponds with a tendency to sadism.
Erich Fromm said it this way: The pleasure in complete domination over another person (or other animate creature) is the very essence of the sadistic drive. Another way of formulating the same thought is to say that the aim of sadism is to transform a man into a thing, something animate into something inanimate, since by complete and absolute control the living loses one essential quality of life— freedom. [Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man (New York, 1966), p. 32.]
Sadistic love is a perverted love—a love of death, not of life. One of the characteristics of the Suppressor consciousness and its view of their position in God’s world is thus sadism. As the Suppressor consciousness (in order to dominate, tries to deter the drive to search; deter the restlessness and the creative power which should characterize a life in Christ) it kills life. The suppressed, as objects, as “things,” have no purposes except those their Suppressors prescribe for them.
Given the preceding context, another issue of indubitable importance arises: the fact that certain members of the Suppressor class join the suppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other. Theirs is a fundamental role. It happens, however, that as they cease to be exploiters or indifferent spectators or simply the heirs of Preeminent Suppression and move to the side of the suppressed, they almost always bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices and their deformations, which include a lack of confidence in the people’s ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to the people’s cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the Suppressors. The generosity of the Suppressors is nourished by an unjust constraining ecclesiastical order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity. Preeminent converts, on the other hand, truly desire to transform the unjust order; but because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for a reformation. A real repentant convert from being a Preeminent Suppressor can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle against Preeminent Suppression, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.
Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly. This conversion or repentance must be so radical that it will not allow any ambiguous behavior. To affirm this commitment but to consider oneself the proprietor of reformation wisdom—which must then be given to (or imposed on) the people—is to retain the old ways. The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of reformation yet is unable to enter into communion with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as totally ignorant or incapable, is grievously self-deceived. The convert who approaches the people but feels alarm at each step they take, each doubt they express, and each suggestion they offer, and attempts to impose his “status,” remains nostalgic towards his origins.
Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were. Only through true and equal dialogical fellowship with the oppressed can the converts understand their characteristic ways of living and behaving, which in diverse moments reflect the structure of Suppressive domination. One of these characteristics is the previously mentioned existential duality of the suppressed, who are at the same time themselves and the Suppressor whose image they have internalized. Accordingly, until they concretely “discover” their Suppressor and in turn their own consciousness, they nearly always express fatalistic attitudes towards their situation.
The suppressed Christian begins to get courage to overcome his dependence upon the Suppressor when he realizes that he is dependent. Until then, he goes along with the Preeminent ones and says “What can I do? I’m only a lay person.”
When superficially analyzed, this fatalism is sometimes interpreted as a docility that is a character trait of the way our churches have operated for over 1,500 years. Fatalism in the guise of docility is the fruit of an historical and sociological situation, not an essential characteristic of a Christian’s behavior. It almost always is related to the power of destiny or fate or fortune—inevitable forces—or to a distorted view of God. Under the sway of esoteric knowledge and myth, the suppressed see their spectator role as the will of God—as if God were the creator of this “organized Preeminent hierarchy.”
Submerged in reality, the suppressed cannot perceive clearly the “order” which serves the interests of the Suppressors whose image they have internalized. Chafing under the restrictions of this order, they often manifest a type of horizontal violence, striking out at their fellow church members for the pettiest reasons.
It is possible that in this behavior they are once more manifesting their duality. Because the Suppressor exists within their suppressed lay members, when they attack those fellow believers they are indirectly attacking the Suppressor as well.
On the other hand, at a certain point in their existential experience the suppressed feel an irresistible attraction towards the Suppressors and their way of life. Sharing this way of life becomes an overpowering aspiration. In their alienation, the suppressed want at any cost to resemble the Suppressors, to imitate them, to follow them. This phenomenon causes many to yearn to be equal to these Preeminent men and women.
Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the suppressed, which derives from their internalization of the opinion or perceived opinion the Preeminent Suppressor has of them. This could include an opinion of being theologically ignorant, lazy, or unproductive. They feel inferior to the Preeminent Suppressor because he or she seems to be the only one who knows things and is able to run things. In the end, all of this combines to convince them of their own unfitness.
Almost pridefully, they call themselves ignorant and say the Pastor or Priest is the one who has knowledge and experience and to whom they should listen. The criteria of knowledge imposed upon them are the conventional ones. Knowledge that goes through the certification process of “ordination” by the system that supports and grooms the Preeminent Suppressors.
Almost never do they realize that they, too, “know things” they have learned in their relations with the world; dialogically with other women and men; with their own studies, both secular and Biblical. Given the circumstances which have produced their duality, it is only natural that they distrust themselves.
Not infrequently, the suppressed in educational projects begin to discuss a Christian theme in a lively manner, then stop suddenly and say to the educator something like: “Excuse us, we ought to keep quiet and let you talk. You are the one who knows, we don’t know as much as you when it comes to the Bible.”
This self-depreciation can quickly change if there becomes a significantly positive change in their Suppression. But, as long as their ambiguity persists, the suppressed are reluctant to resist, and totally lack confidence in themselves. They have a diffuse, mystical belief in the invulnerability and power of the Preeminent Suppressor.
The suppressed must see examples of the vulnerability of the Suppressor so that a contrary conviction can begin to grow within them. Until this occurs, they will continue disheartened, fearful, and severely diminished. As long as the suppressed remain unaware of the causes of their condition, they fatalistically “accept” their exploitation. Further, they are apt to react in a passive and alienated manner when confronted with the Biblically directed necessity to struggle for their freedom and self-affirmation.
If God opens their eyes to see their responsibility to break free from the Preeminent yoke, then little by little they may begin to try out forms of actions that will bring on a desperately needed reformation within our Suppressed churches. In working towards liberation from Preeminent Suppression, one must neither lose sight of this passivity nor overlook the moment of awakening.
Within their unauthentic view of the world and of themselves, the suppressed feel like “things” owned by the Suppressor. For the latter, to be is to have Preeminent control, almost always at the expense of those who feel as if they have nothing to offer but their presence as a spectator and their money in the church coffers. For the suppressed, at a certain point in their existential experience, to be is not to resemble the Suppressor, but to be under his control, to depend on him. Accordingly, the suppressed are emotionally dependent.
This emotional dependence can lead the suppressed to a destructive behavior: surrendering to the destruction of the free and fulfilled life that Jesus Christ died and rose for. Such surrender will then end up influencing this same destruction within their suppressed fellow believers.
It is only when the suppressed find the Suppressor out and become involved in an organized struggle for their liberation that they can begin to believe in themselves as fully equal in the Body of Christ. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism but must include serious reflection: only then will it be a praxis.
Critical and liberating dialogue, which presupposes action, must be carried on with the suppressed at whatever the stage of their struggle for liberation. The content of that dialogue can and should vary in accordance with both local and sweeping church historical conditions and the level at which the suppressed perceive reality. But to substitute monologue, slogans, and communiques for dialogue is to attempt to liberate the suppressed with the instruments of domestication. Attempting to liberate the suppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.
At all stages of their liberation, the suppressed must see themselves as women and men engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Reflection and action become imperative when one does not erroneously attempt to dichotomize the content of the full and complete God-shaped humanity from its historical forms.
The insistence that the suppressed engage in reflection on their concrete situation is not a call to an armchair reformation. On the contrary, reflection—true reflection—leads to action. On the other hand, when the situation calls for action, that action will constitute an authentic praxis only if its consequences become the object of critical reflection. In this sense, the praxis is the new raison d’etre of the suppressed; and the reformation, which inaugurates the historical moment of this raison d’etre, is not viable apart from their concomitant conscious involvement. Otherwise, action is pure activism.
To achieve this praxis, however, it is necessary to trust in the suppressed and in God’s ability to guide and do his work through them. Whoever lacks this trust in God and his fellow believers will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection, and communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiques, monologues, and instructions. Superficial conversions to the cause of reformation carry this danger.
Tangible action on the side of the suppressed must be pedagogical action in the authentic sense of the word, and, therefore, action with the suppressed. Those who work for reformation must not take advantage of the emotional dependence of the suppressed— dependence that is the fruit of the concrete situation of Suppressive domination which surrounds them and which engendered their unauthentic view of the world. Using their dependence to create still greater dependence is a Suppressor tactic.
Reformative action must recognize this dependence upon the Suppressor as a weak point and must attempt through reflection and action to transform it into independence from the Suppressor to dependence upon God and one another. However, not even the best-intentioned leadership can bestow independence as a gift. The liberation of the suppressed is a liberation of women and men, not things. Accordingly, no one can truly liberate himself by his own efforts, rather only through God’s work and strength and guided by his Word can one be fully freed from the imprisoning power of Preeminent Suppression.
The correct method for reformative leadership to employ in the task of reformation is, therefore, not “reformation propaganda.” Nor can the leadership merely “implant” in the suppressed a belief in freedom, thus thinking to win their trust. The correct method lies in dialogue. The conviction of the suppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the reformation leadership, but the result of their own conscientização.
The reformation leaders must realize that their own conviction of the necessity for struggle (an indispensable dimension of reformation wisdom) was not given to them by anyone else—if it is authentic. This conviction cannot be packaged and sold; it is reached, rather, by means of a totality of Biblical theological reflection and action. Only the leaders own involvement in reality, within an historical situation, can lead them to criticize the Preeminent Suppressive situation and look to God’s guidance and strength in the struggle for the freedom that will come when there is a reformative change that is Biblically grounded.
Likewise, the suppressed (who do not commit themselves to the struggle unless they are convinced, and who, if they do not make such a commitment, withhold the indispensable conditions for this struggle) must reach this conviction as Subjects, not as objects. They also must intervene critically in the situation which surrounds them and whose mark they bear. Mere hype cannot achieve this. While the conviction of the necessity for struggle (without which the struggle is unfeasible) is indispensable to the reformation leadership (indeed, it is this conviction which constitutes that leadership), it is also necessary for the suppressed. It is necessary, that is, unless one intends to carry out the reformation for the oppressed rather than with them. With God, all things are possible, so the leadership in the struggle might bring about the reformation without the body of believers. However that tends to impose reformation on the laity rather than their activism bringing with it ownership.
The object in presenting these considerations is to defend the eminently pedagogical character of the reformation. Reformation leaders of every epoch who have affirmed that the suppressed must accept the struggle for their liberation have also thereby implicitly recognized the pedagogical aspect of this struggle.
It is essential for the suppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanization they also accept, from that moment, their total responsibility for the struggle. They must realize that they are fighting not merely for freedom from a fellow believer usurping God’s Preeminence to be Preeminent themselves, but the freedom to be all that God intended for them to be within the body of fellow believers. That is not a passive freedom, but one that requires each believer to be active and responsible; not a slave to the pastor or priest or merely a cog in the churchianity machine. If they are not freed, then the church’s social conditions will further their existence as automatons, to which there will not be the type of love that brings forth life, but a distancing and coldness that causes the death of fellowship and therefore the true essence of the church.
The suppressed, who have been shaped by the death-affirming climate of suppression, must find through their struggle the way to life-affirming humanization, which does not lie simply in having more activity at the church. The suppressed have been destroyed precisely because their situation has reduced them to things. In order to regain their humanity they must cease to be things and fight as free and equal men and women of God. This is a radical requirement. They cannot enter the struggle as objects in order later to become human beings.
The struggle begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed. Indoctrination, management, manipulation—all arms of Suppressive domination—cannot be the instruments of their rehumanization. The only effective instrument is a humanizing pedagogy in which the reformation leadership establishes a permanent relationship of dialogue with the suppressed. In a humanizing pedagogy the method ceases to be an instrument by which the teachers (in this instance, the reformation leadership) can manipulate the students (in this instance, the suppressed), because it expresses the consciousness of the students themselves.
A reformation leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the suppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.