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.1

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.2 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.3

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.4 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,5 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.6 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,7 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.8 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.

  1. What remains astounding to me is the fact that a community that was once able to coordinate outright wars in the name of God can barely get 100 people to speak out against hateful rhetoric, let alone regularly show up for church on Sundays.

  2. While others might take issue with this distillation and attempt to put the onus on a society rooted in a self-preservative thought process, filled with fear, scarcity, and a feeling that not everyone can win, I don’t feel like giving people that much credit currently.

  3. It helps that I work in a library in higher education that allows access to the public. I do not presume to believe that the norm in higher education is equal access and safe places for all, knowing that the majority of higher education institutions are by their very nature exclusionary in the patrons they are willing to serve.

  4. This is not to say that only followers of Jesus can be persecuted nor that they are the only ones to buck the trends identified here. Those that challenge these issues (and possibly at a deeper level because of their own identity), no matter their circumstances, are persecuted by the majority who likely believe these issues either don’t exist or exist as a manifestation of another problem, e.g. those who (wrongly) believe that social issues can only be solved once economic stability is achieved.

  5. And let us make no mistake, white people marching against the president-elect are doing good work and must continue to fight normalization and hate, but they are doing so with little to no risk involved; those people carrying the true fight for justice right now are the marginalized themselves.

  6. This shift was fueled by a treacherous alignment with state entities that provided power and numbers, while sacrificing the higher moral ground. The crucifixion of Jesus was an example of such an alignment between the religious leadership and the political power of the time.

  7. Again, just to be clear, no person who claims to be a Christian is anything but self-proclaimed. Modern day Christianity is often represented by a broad range of personalities, political ideologies, and religious interpretations. The sheer fact that the president-elect was supported by as many so-called Christians as he was speaks volumes to the cognitive dissonance that exists between the teachings of Jesus and the current state of the religious institution named after Him.

  8. Does that sound familiar? It should.

Posted: November 20, 2016

In 2022, I am participating in two leadership training programs. This should be a social experience, so I am writing about it. Check out the full list of posts in the series here.

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