I think it’s easy to forget that Jesus was a heretic. He did theology on the margins. That is, he was someone who did not “conform to the established attitudes, doctrines or principles” of his day. He challenged the religious authorities, those who were the defenders of orthodoxy, reminding them that God is more concerned with justice than the keeping of age old traditions. Jesus protected the down-and-out from the powerful institutions and authority structures that existed in his time. It was precisely this type of provocation that got him killed by these very powers. The orthodox, that is those in positions of authority and influence, cannot stand the threat of heresy. Those who challenge their telling of the story must be done away with lest their position of privilege be undermined. And so Jesus was crucified.
It’s not without some irony, then, that the Church today sees itself as the keeper of orthodoxy. The community that began as a gathering of the meek and meager of society now finds itself in a position of great power and authority, indeed, the position of power and authority if we narrow our focus to America. In order to defend its power the Church remains vigilant against those dissenters who concern themselves with the propagating of any sort of teaching that threatens the as-is power structure which ensures its current place of privilege. Heretics must be called out and orthodoxy must be protected.
But what we learn from the Jesus story is that sometimes underneath even the most well meaning defense of orthodoxy is a grasping for power by those who are in the driver’s seat.
Thus, to follow Jesus in our own day is to defy our inherited traditions insofar as they are serving as a means of marginalizing the least of these. To follow Jesus is to be a heretic, to do theology on the margins. In order to be faithful to the Jesus tradition we must betray that very tradition (an idea developed by Peter Rollins in his book The Fidelity of Betrayal).
The work of John Caputo is a good example of what a “theology on the margins” might look like. In describing his work, Caputo says this:
I am following the traces of a well-known rogue, a famous outlaw who was turned into the Law itself by the palace theologians, even though my guess is that he would have made them blush with shame, thrown them into a rage, had they met him in the flesh, his flesh. They say his flesh was assumed by an Uber-Being come down to earth for a bit of heavenly business on earth, but I can imagine what they would have called him had they met him in the flesh–a “homosexual,” out to destroy “family values,” a flag-burner, a libertine, a “socialist,” out to raise our taxes–in short, a “curse and an affliction upon the church.” So I gladly take my stand with the outlaw and ask what theology would look like were it written by the outlaws, the outliers, the out of power, the troublemakers, the poor, the rogues. (The Insistence of God pg. 25)