The activist and the persecutor
My last post was an announcement that I would be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Suffice it to say, my novel-writing adventure was cut short by the election. Suddenly, I felt that writing a novel was much less important than being involved in the response to the situation in which we as a country find ourselves. However, the election results did help me flesh out some feelings that are relevant to the book, so consider this post an excerpt.
In the aftermath of the election, I have been relatively silent with my personal feelings due to the fact that others the likes of DeRay McKesson, my sister, and my father have stated my feelings much better than I could, especially given just how emotionally charged all of this has been. Unfortunately I have not found the things I was hoping for in the Church: solace, action, compassion, revolution, etc. The message from these faith institutions has been to sweep the situation under the rug, not addressing it at all; side with the bigotry and hate speech of the president-elect, through complacency, silence, or outright agreement; or attempt to stand in solidarity with those marginalized by the election, while being otherwise ineffective at curbing the racist, sexist, hateful campaign-rhetoric-turned-standard-speech of post-election America.
My parents taught me to be an activist. Part of the teachings of the Church growing up was to be active in my community and stand for those who were unable to stand for themselves. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, give alms to the poor, and always work with mercy and grace toward a better world, where all people are considered equals. Imagine my surprise once I hit the age of reason that I, as a Christian, was surrounded by people who appeared to be living, working, pursuing enjoyment only for themselves. I must have misread the teachings of Jesus somewhere down the line.
I have all the standard markers for privilege in this country: I am a cis-white-hetero male and a follower of Jesus. Knowing that my voice will often be heard by virtue of my privilege, I have always attempted to speak out both in my words and my actions, though true activism (combating racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc.) is always a work in progress. I have dedicated my life to libraries insofar as they work to level the playing field by allowing equal access (in its many forms) and safe places for all.
As a counterpoint to activism, I was instilled with the knowledge that persecution could and does happen to followers of Jesus, especially those that challenge the perceived tenets of American society—capitalism, individualism, and consumerism—and openly decry the greater issues of racism, patriarchy, and marginalization. Anyone who doesn’t think America as a whole is founded on and works under these principles is coming from a position of power, of privilege, of domination and has the liberty (and privilege) to be willfully obtuse.
So if these marginalized groups are the activists in this scenario, who are the persecutors? I believe such a dichotomy exists in everything and I was raised to believe that such is the inherent cost to true discipleship. The persecuted of Jesus’s time were a marginalized minority: the followers of Jesus themselves. Jesus welcomed His persecution with open arms and instructed His disciples to do the same, while fighting for the cause. After Jesus’s death, the followers quickly multiplied and became the majority. One need not look deeply before finding ways in which the persecuted minority became the persecuting majority.
In America, Christians have become the persecutors.
Those that call themselves Christians, in particular the white majority of this country, have become complacent and in constant need of self-congratulatory reminders that they are in power. Those that threaten that power immediately become the “Other” and are marginalized and targeted. The list of others is now too numerous to count and include women and minorities of race, gender, and sexuality. When Jesus walked the Earth, He actively campaigned to His followers to stand with those who were marginalized in all the ways I listed above and more.
This is where I have to take a step back and state unequivocally that I understand my standing as a person within the Christian, white majority. I often identify as a “follower of Jesus” because I truly believe that the Christian faith has been coopted by those that don’t really care what Jesus stood for and are often defensive when Jesus’s words and actions are brought forward to challenge their decisions. However, my distaste and my progressive ideas do not strictly separate me from that ilk; instead, action is what can separate me. I cannot say that I am yet a part of the solution, although I continue to attempt to create equality in my own sphere of influence. I will continue to donate my time, money, and energy to help those who are a part of the solution, as I work to find my place in that movement.
As groups demonstrate in every major city in the United States in solidarity with those who are once again scared for their very existence, I am reminded of what I was taught: Jesus was a poor, ugly, feministic transient, who spent His time in the presence of those that needed help—the oppressed and dispossessed, the marginalized and outcast—and always stood up to those in power. More to the point, He participated in peaceful protest and civil disobedience, spoke out publicly against the religious and political establishment, and was murdered without trial by that establishment as a criminal. Now is the time when the followers of Jesus—myself included—must remember that He would be marching with the persecuted, not mourning a lost political battle and definitely not patting himself on the back for voting a racist, misogynistic, bigoted billionaire into the American presidency.
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The Challenges of 2020
TL;DR: Follow this link.
One of the craziest things about Christianity during the protests of the last few weeks is the fact that there are churches out there not discussing the issues honestly, not taking the time to have the hard conversations, not devoting their Sunday services to betterment of the world and people around them. If you’re church isn’t talking about racism right now, if they don’t mention that black lives matter, instead focusing on platitudes that equate to the “all lives matter” sentiment, it is time to start looking for a new church.
My wife and I meet with my “home” church virtually via Zoom since the pandemic is still a thing. Kimball Avenue United Church of Christ & La Iglesia Episcopal de Nuestra Señora de las Américas (KANSA, together) combined in a collaborative way to create a single denomination focused on the needs of their community. They follow Christ together toward the vision of love, reconciliation, peace and justice. The justice looks like the demolition and rehabilitation of an old church building and its grounds into a community garden and labyrinth open to all who seek peace through contemplation.
I give this elevator speech to mention that COVID has not been kind to faith communities in general. Budgets have been slashed, funding and grants have been cut, and congregations in need are also working to serve those in need, who are less likely to be able to financially support their church in these times. KANSA in one of the good ones. They speak truth, they have the difficult conversations, they preach in a loud voice every Sunday that black lives matter, that racism has no place in the church, that the LGBTQ community deserves respect and support, and that Jesus was a social justice warrior, who fought for the least of these no matter who they were, where they were from, what they looked like.
In fact, Jesus was most harsh to those who had the means to help and decided not to answer the call.
These systems of oppression we are protesting have been around a long time; they have screwed up a lot of lives, they have been the reason for revolution and the downfall of entire civilizations, they don’t work. We need to find a better way to live by supporting each other. And support has to come in systemic, social, financial, and political ways, both national and local.
I am not local to KANSA anymore, but I support their mission, the way that mission manifests in the world, and the simple fact that they follow Jesus no matter how ostracizing that position can be at times. Which brings me to the point:
Thanks to a $10,000 ‘matching gift’ from an anonymous donor, the challenge has become an opportunity. Over the next two months, we plan to raise at least $10,000 to meet the challenge. Through August 31, 2020, every donation we receive toward our “2020 Challenge” no matter how small or how large will be doubled by the matching gift.
KANSA is hurting financially and needs support, they do good work and are unabashedly progressive in their approach to our world. Donate now and see your contribution matched to keep one of the good ones fighting the good fight.
Thank you for your consideration.