Jonah the prophet did not get his way. The people repented and God saved them from destruction. “Why shouldn’t I save them?” God said. “They are humans too.” This is Jonah’s, and De La Torre’s, internal conflict: God saves those who are not part of those Jonah and De La Torre think God is supposed to save. It’s not right!
De La Torre is a Baptist minister, Associate Professor of social ethics at Illiff School of Theology, and author of many books dealing with those living on the margins of society. As a follower and advocate of liberation theology he is convinced that the prime locus of salvation is among the dispossessed and poor – God’s chosen people. Jonah, of course, is a Jewish prophet who believes God protects and saves his people, the Jews. Jonah sees God save the people of Nineveh. De La Torre wrestles with the possibility that God also saves those in the establishment.
He takes up the challenge of this possibility from the theological perspective of the poor, the displaced, and the dehumanized. What he sees is challenging to all, original to some, and possibly confusing to many. Some of his presuppositions are: that the book of Jonah is a tale of the interaction between empire and those on its margins, that theology is to be done from the perspective of those on the margins, that all standards and methods formulated outside that perspective are suspect, and that, naturally, he has the ability to theologize and prophesize from that perspective while being a college professor. There are many more presuppositions but these are foundational to this review.
Salvation, justification, justice, and reconciliation are all joined in the real world of ethics, which is a communal theology of doing, not abstract thinking. Reconciliation is “…restoring harmony to a situation that is disjointed or in conflict.” It is a process of arriving at a new state of being called salvation which is brought about through reconciliation. This reconciliation is between the Euroamerican culture (the empire, usually white males) and those on the margins of this empire. They were placed on the margins of the empire through genocide (Native Americans), enslavement (Black Africans), and dispossession (Hispanics). The challenge is to describe in a particular way, because universals are suspect, how these two groups are to engage in reconciliation. His description occurs in five chapters: 1) How to read the book of Jonah; 2) Who Jonah and Nineveh are today; 3) Appropriate views of God, the role of scapegoats, Christ, and reconciliation; 4) How to do reconciliation, especially the role of forgiving, forgetting, justice, and history in doing this; 5) Pitfalls to avoid when doing this, such as allowing the empire to define key actions such as reconciliation, forgiving, justice, multiculturalism, identity, assimilation, peace, and hope.
Today’s empire is founded upon the economic dominance provided by neoliberalism (capitalism, globalization and free trade). Neoliberalism finds its home in the United States as a consequence of its historical role in marginalizing all those who reject such economics and providing a home for the corporations who now dominate the world. Most Christian denominations unthinkingly support neoliberalism because they habitually favor those in power. Since the moment Christianity accepted Constantine’s offer to come in from the margins (313 C.E.), it has sided with the political powers of the time and become part of the problem rather a promoter of a solution. It is this empire, supported by its churchs that must reconcile with the two-third’s world, i.e. everyone else.
He provides wonderful reflections on the role of forgiveness (don’t be too fast to forgive and forget), historical scapegoats who were used to delay reconciliation, the need for both empire and those on the margins to develop an entirely new way of dealing with their mutual problems of economics, identity, and survival. Hopefully I have provided you with a taste of the riches available in this book.
Sometimes, however, in the author’s rush to provide us with these riches, he overlooks current events and logical necessities. As China grows and large U.S. corporations are bought by European, Mid Eastern, and Japanese billionaires, it becomes difficult to locate the empire in the United States. As a woman and African American man run for President, interpreters of the American scene need to provide a new consciousness raising event to make white males the only holders of power. Two examples provide a logical challenge to reading the book: the categories and their respective definitions are too encompassing. When a word can mean anything you want it to mean, then it means nothing. Empire, neoliberalism, personal and social identify are some examples of this. The use of words and their definitions are many times the responsibility of academics. In identity-theology, which this many times becomes, academics provide a voice for those on the margins and categorizations for whom that voice represents. With that power, seldom included in discussions of identity-theology, they demand everyone to bow before their vision of contemporary life and its sinfulness. De La Torre often confesses his limitation but seldom recognizes the power he wields when taking up the role of spokesperson.