The Revolution We Need Is a Spiritual One

July 21, 2016
Rev. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary

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Rev. Serene Jones

We asked a number of contributors to share their reactions to a post by activist and author Michelle Alexander that we published earlier this month in the aftermath of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Here is a response from the Rev. Serene Jones, the president of the historic Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. You can view all other responses by clicking on the "Building a New America" tag.


The revolution we need is, as with all revolutions that have occurred, a spiritual one — a deep awareness with profound and pervasive material manifestations, a transformation that changes the way we do everything, think about everything and act in the world. We are not the same people.

The revolution will involve a change in the way we understand what justice is and how truth is measured. We need to see the world through a lens of meaning that immediately shows us the deep interconnections and interdependencies among everything that exists, so that we imagine patterns of interaction that enhance and encourage flourishing at every turn.

The revolution we seek is one where we are unable to name hatred, brutality, cruelty and indifference, where we are so repulsed by these forms of diminishment that they become unimaginable to us, impossible inside ourselves and gradually unknown in the world. So much so that we will be bewildered by collective exclusions and expulsions, if and when they happen. To use the words of the prophet, people will build houses and live in them, will grow food and eat it, will make beautiful things that we ourselves adore. And no one, anywhere, will be predator or prey. This vision alone has the power to elevate and save us, deliver us from our worst selves.

The need we have is for a revolution of love. Nothing less will do now. A revolution of love beyond the measuring stick of a justice that forgoes attention to the particular details of life at its best and worst. A revolution of love beyond the reductive lens of a truth that decrees one single answer to the challenge of finding equality and freedom for all.

What we need is a revolution of love where wrestling with the inevitability of our earthbound deaths will be the closest we ever come to despair, and once we fully understand the true adventure of the completion of our lives, the experience will be the topic of deep poetic ponderings, of song, of dance, even celebration — never the subject matter of social protests, of savage deaths lost in the burning streets, of our unawareness of ourselves and our inattentiveness to each other, just another news story that is forgotten with the day.

We need a revolution of love now.

The Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is the 16th president of the historic Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. The first woman to head the 180-year-old institution, Jones occupies the Johnston Family Chair for Religion and Democracy. She is also currently the president of the American Academy of Religion, which annually hosts the world’s largest gathering of scholars of religion. Jones came to Union after 17 years at Yale University, where she was the Titus Street Professor of Theology at the Divinity School and Chair of the University’s Program in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Jones is the author of several books including Trauma and Grace. Follow her on Twitter: @SereneJones.