PROCESS THEOLOGY AND THE POLITICS OF STATURE
Dr. Bruce Epperly
In the wake of the attempted coup on January 6, we need healthy and expansive theologies now more than ever. Many of the insurrectionists who stormed the capital were inspired by absolutist political viewpoints and theologies, characteristic of Christian and white nationalism. Identifying God’s way with nation first politics and seeing Donald Trump as God’s chosen vehicle of national redemption, they separated the world into friends and foes, and good and evil, assuming that God is on their side and all others God’s opponents. Suffering from a lack of theological and spiritual stature, such totalizing theologies lead to polarization and tragically violence and the undermining of democratic institutions.
If people of faith are to play a positive role in a democratic society, we need theologies of stature that embrace diversity and pluralism and look for common ground, even when we must challenge injustice, racism, violence, and despotism. Going from binary polarization and incivility to centered pluralism, affirming the interplay of multiplicity and unity, is the gift of our quest to join spirituality and stature, and humility and conviction. I believe that process theology can help guide a truly democratic and pluralistic political spirituality.
Process-relational theologian Bernard Loomer speaks of stature or spiritual size as an essential spiritual and intellectual and, I believe, political virtue in a pluralistic age. According to Loomer,
By size I mean the stature of a person’s soul, the range and depth of his love, his capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness.
Stature is essential to fostering of pluralistic society and healthy democracy. Following Loomer’s lead, process-relational theology inspires us to become “mahatmas” or large-souled persons, who despite our political differences, can affirm the humanity of those who hold contrasting viewpoints and find common ground among contrasting positions. Recognizing a democracy of inspiration and many paths to truth and justice, based on God’s omnipresence, we welcome and seek to understand diverse viewpoints as potentially contributory to our own evolving understandings of politics and religion. Persons of stature have strong opinions but are also empathetic to persons of equally strong opinions with whom they differ.
While we must counter with law and protest challenges to human rights, traumatizing of children, voter suppression, falsehoods that undergird public and foreign policy, political disrupton, and acts of violence perpetrated against religious, sexual, and ethnic minorities, we still must seek to discern the divine light hidden in those who fear and hate. This approach also applies to our response to the January 6 domestic terrorists. We must protest and listen, even when we take legal action. We must diligently discern and nurture the divine light in those who are traumatized and abused by institutional injustice and lash out with violence. We must also look for God’s presence in those who perpetrate violence based on absolutist theologies and political perspectives.
Mystic theologian Howard Thurman spoke of the wisdom of mystical activism. Thurman, who was familiar with Whitehead’s work, believed that we must be prophetic and also healing in our quest for justice. Motivated by the direct and life-transforming encounter with God, the mystic works for a world in which everyone can experience their holiness and the holiness of the world. The mystic challenges social policies that prevent people from experiencing their full humanity, grounded in the divine image, while recognizing the divinity of those who perpetrate injustice and oppression. They, too, are God’s children. Grounded in a spiritual and theology of stature, our prophetic healing seeks to save the souls of oppressed and oppressor alike.
Process-relational theology affirms the importance of a politics of empathy and compassion. Spiritual stature, enabling us to move from binary opposition to pluralistic contrast, delivers us from the prison of apathy. We can join prayer and protest, grounded in our empathy for the least of these as well as the greatest, seeking a world in which all are pilgrims and none are strangers.
We can be prophets and healers, who both agitate and comfort. We can pray with Jim Manley for a strong spirit of gentleness, a spirit of political and spiritual stature:
Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, Calling and free. Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, blow through my placidness, Wind, wind on the sea… You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes, from the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams, our women see visions, our mean clear their eyes with bold new decisions your people arise.4
+++ Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books, including “Mystics in Action: Twelve Saints for Today,” “Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism,” “101 Soul Seeds for Grandparents Working for a Better World,” “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God,” and “Process Theology and Politics.”
 Adapted from Bruce Epperly, Process Theology and Politics (Gonzales, FL: Energion Publications), 2020.
 Harry James Cargas and Bernard Lee, (Religious Experience and Process Theology. Mahweh, NJ: PaulistPress. 1976), 70.
 Bruce Epperly, Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision of Contemplative Activism (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2020).
 Jim Manley, “Spirit of Gentleness.” (Used by permission.)