Knowledge is more unevenly distributed than arms or wealth, yet it is more readily available and makes the difference between oppression and empowerment for all people.
The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, the only female Episcopal bishop in the United States, told more than 50 people at the annual Tanner-McMurrin Lecture that if religious leaders "are to take our responsibility . . . seriously, we would then be attempting to empower people at home and in other places in a knowledge-based way."Her lecture in Westminster's Gore Auditorium Thursday was followed by a seminar and luncheon on Friday and an evening service at The Cathedral Church of St. Mark.
In 1989, the Rev. Harris became the first woman ever elevated to bishop in any of the three major branches of Christianity - Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, which includes the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians consider bishops as successors to Christ's apostles. The ordination in Boston's Episcopal diocese sparked both praise and controversy among Christians nationwide.
"We must help increase knowledge so that people will not be further oppressed," she said. When questioned by a listener about how oppressed people may gain knowledge, she answered that all knowledge isn't academic.
"Knowledge can enable people to see how they are being oppressed," she said. Knowledge can be used by people to organize and empower themselves.
"As our knowledge broadens and becomes accessible to all kinds of people, we are going to see people using it as power," the Rev. Harris said. "People can begin to see things in new ways and realize what collective strength they have in changing conditions."
Churches have focused more on survival and charity than on justice, she said. The difference is that charity is usually passive - "a Band-Aid approach" - low risk and selective. Justice is usually active in bringing about change and is non-selective, long-term, high-risk and political.
"We don't need a liberating theology that is politically correct but unworkable," she said. Instead, one that "actually changes the lives and conditions of the people."
As an example, she used the biblical account of Christ feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. Such acts are a one-time shot. Hungry people need food three times a day, 365 days a year, she said.
"I'm suggesting," she said, "that we need to move toward ministries that empower people."