Path to resistance may travel through faith

A paper “quilt” of collages depicts numerous approaches to resistance.

There are countless ways to resist the current (and with any luck, temporary) occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Ever since the 2016 election and a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, people across the country have found ways to fight back. To resist.

Almost immediately, grassroots organizing evolved into local Indivisible groups. The thousands of groups across the country are locally based and have local agendas, although the group offers coordinated actions each week. “We’re not the leaders of this movement: you are,” the Indivisible website reminds us. The website also lets users search for local groups and events in their own areas.

Marching; attending town halls; calling, emailing, and pressuring elected officials; running for office; and (especially!) voting and getting others to vote all have been hallmarks of the modern resistance movement. While those tactics are hardly brand new, they have intensified and multiplied. But people have always protested, worldwide.

Some images of protest are burned into our brains. Who can forget the anonymous man who faced down Chinese tanks in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in a huge student-led protest in 1989? The wave after wave of Indians protesting the British salt tax during the 1930 Salt March led by Mohandas Gandhi, only to be beaten and arrested by British troops? And we remember the searing image of Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis as a young man in 1965, joining the throngs going across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on a voting rights march and getting his skull cracked by state troopers’ batons.

This protest photo went viral. (REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman photo)

More recently, there was the July 2016 photo of a calm lone woman who stood up to police officers dressed in riot gear amid the protest of cops shooting an unarmed black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The protestor, Iesha Evans, was detained, and she later took to Facebook to assure friends that she was alive and well. Just as important was her message: “I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel!”

Anyone reading this may or may not believe in a higher power, and even such beliefs may not lead to political activism. But for some, the path to resistance is grounded in their faith.

Throughout history, resistance and protest movements have included people of faith, from every culture and every religion. Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, 500 years ago and set the Protestant Reformation in motion. Gandhi based his movement of nonviolent civil disobedience in the early to mid-20th century in India at least partly on the Hinduism and Jainism he learned from his mother, along with a respect for all religions.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement and protests throughout the South in the 1950s and 1960s. He and a group of 60 pastors and other civil rights leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which he was the first president. Many clergy were involved in the civil rights movement and in protests against the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.

An East German Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Christian Führer, started weekly prayer meetings in 1982 at his church in Leipzig to spread the message of peace during the Cold War. By October 1989, those meetings grew to the point where 70,000 people were on the streets to protest the Berlin Wall; a week later, the wall came tumbling down.

Despite acts of terrorism from Islamic extremists, the vast majority of Muslims around the world have been vocal against those attacks. In June of 2017, 10,000 Muslims gathered in Cologne, Germany, to rally against Islamic extremism. The sponsoring group was called NichtMitUns, or Not With Us. At the same time, some 300 imams in Austria signed a declaration calling ISIS the “black sheep” of Islam.

Today, using faith as a basis of protest is no different. Here are just two examples.

The Rev. John Pavlovitz writes about channeling his faith into the need to resist on his well-read blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said. Besides calling out Trump, he doesn’t shy away from criticizing conservative evangelicals who support him. And he’s unapologetic about resisting.

If you’re waiting for me to apologize for emotionally wounding someone with the suggestion that they may not be all that keen on people of color, or that they’re likely afraid of gay people, or that their nationalism is showing because they defend what’s happening here—it’ll be a long wait.

You may want to ask why you’re more willing to protest those who protest, than you are to speak into the injustice itself; why the only thing you feel burdened to openly resist is our resistance. You may be fighting the wrong battle, here.

If you’re more outraged by the tone of this President’s critics, than by his bigotry, dishonesty, misogyny, racism, and environmental recklessness—you’re enabling him, you’re normalizing him, you’re encouraging him.

The Rev. William Barber II has built a movement around Moral Mondays. Barber, who also served as president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, started Moral Mondays in 2007. What started as a move to protest actions by the North Carolina Legislature on issues such as voting rights and living wages has turned into a national movement. A Washington Post story about Barber described what’s behind his activism:

Barber’s admirers say his sermons and speeches, which have intertwined the religious tenets of love, justice and mercy that exist in all faiths with an American vision of morality baked into the Constitution, steal the moral high ground long claimed by political conservatives. …

Between 2013 and 2014, more than 1,000 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience orchestrated by Barber at the state house in response to legislation.

Barber was one of the first in handcuffs.

He believes that the image of religious leaders getting arrested in full garb fired up like-minded people and was impossible for the media to ignore.

And if newspapers wrote about the arrests, they had to write about the reason behind the arrest.

Those supporting Trump aren’t afraid of using their faith as a basis for that support, even when that support is hypocritical. Eighty-one percent of conservative evangelicals backed Trump in the 2016 election—a figure that has dropped by a mere three percentage points despite continued revelations about Trump’s obviously nonreligious lifestyle. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Trump “gets a mulligan” for his alleged affair with and payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels. And don’t discount religious “influence” from foreigners: The National Prayer Breakfast in Washington had more than three times the number of Russian attendees this year than it usually does.

I recently returned from a weekend retreat with some 60 women from two Chicago-area churches. Our theme for the weekend was “Resistance and Hope.”

We were more than ready for it. Many in our group—women ranging from college-age to those in their 90s—joined the Chicago Women’s Marches in both 2017 and  2018. Our involvement in political activities varies greatly, and, while many felt energized by the Women’s March, some wondered exactly what the best direction for all of that energy should be.

The Rev. C.J. Hawking

Our retreat leader was the Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, a faith-based organization that addresses workplace injustices. She is also a pastor specializing in social justice at another Chicago-area church and an adjunct instructor in labor and social movements. One of the first things we learned is that resistance can be defined many ways and take many forms.

“Resistance,” C.J. told us, “is an outward expression of the inward longing for all of us to be united as one human family.” She told of times in the labor movement when she had been arrested (14 times!) and described instances of wage theft where workers later found justice. For instance, a couple working at a car wash weren’t being paid a fair wage and didn’t get paid when there were no cars to wash in bad weather, even though they had to be at work. When both the father and mother were ill, the owner threatened to fire them if they didn’t show up to work, so their teenage children had to skip school to fill in. Arise Chicago found similar situations at car washes throughout the city. It took court intervention to resolve the injustice.

Resistance can take a faith-based approach, C.J. reminded us. Two of the original resisters can be found in the first chapter of Exodus. In Egypt, Pharaoh worried that the transplanted Israelis were becoming too numerous and made them slaves. He ordered two Hebrew midwives, Shiph’rah and Pu’ah, to kill any male newborns of Hebrew mothers. But they resisted and let the babies live. When Pharaoh demanded an answer why, they told him, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19). It’s just like a man to buy that excuse.

You certainly could say that Jesus was a resister. Even the presence of Jesus on Earth was “to start a movement, not to build up institutions,” C.J. said. She firmly believes the resistance movement has a place for a faith-based contingency.

A 45 RPM adapter to protest the 45th president.

C.J. also gave us all a new protest symbol. If you’re old enough to remember buying singles, or 45’s, you remember the little plastic insert (official name: 45 RPM adapter) that allowed the 45 RPM record to fit and play on a turntable with a thin silver spindle that was designed to play an LP album at 33 RPM.

What better image to serve as a metaphor to adapt and fight the presidency of No. 45?

The path of resistance is different for each individual. Not everyone has the physical health or stamina to march. Taking part in such actions, with the chance of getting arrested, raises red flags for those worried about how an arrest record might affect chances of employment.

So whether your path to resistance takes you through a house of worship or not, that path will be what’s right for you. It’s just as important to protest an injustice at a local workplace or municipality as it is to participate in a national march.

“This isn’t about destroying what we hate,” C.J. said. “It’s about saving what we love.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Feb. 11, 2018.

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