The Spirituality of Resistance

Progressive Christian Social Action

The Spirituality of Resistance

Sharon Delgado’s article, The Spirituality of Resistance, appears in the May 2018 issue of Sojourners Magazine.   It is a book review of Principalities in Particular:  A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be by Bill Wylie-Kellerman.   

For decades, pastor, activist, and scholar Bill Wylie-Kellermann has kept alive and furthered a theology of the biblical “powers and principalities” (Romans 8:38; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12), in the tradition of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink. Principalities in Particular is a compilation of his essays, rooted in applied struggle and practice, on these invisible but embodied forces that shape and often dominate human life.

Through stories of engaging specific principalities over time, Wylie-Kellermann brings an abstract concept to life. He explores racism, nuclear weapons, sports, family systems, corporate globalization, slavery, the drug powers, war, the Trump presidency, the global economy, and other principalities, immersing readers in a worldview that perceives not only their outer manifestations, but their inner realities as well.  One example is the corporate-friendly system of emergency management that has replaced democracy in controlling the author’s home city of Detroit and other black-majority cities in Michigan.

Wylie-Kellermann portrays local community struggles as fighting (nonviolently) for the soul of the city. He describes a statue called “The Spirit of Detroit,” which stands near City Hall, providing a focus and gathering place for community activists. In a similar vein, he tells of an interfaith group that drafted letters to “The Angel of Detroit,” calling the city back to its better nature and true vocation in service of life.

Wylie-Kellermann claims that “half of any struggle is a spiritual battle.” What is at stake is not simply a specific desired outcome, but also human healing and liberation. “We are complicit in our own captivity. … The healing of the planet and the healing of ourselves, inside and out, are one.”  Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom.

Principalities in Particular inspires and equips readers to rise to this challenge. The author invites readers into a process of inquiry, especially related to principalities in one’s own neighborhood, and to engagement that may lead to both personal and social transformation: “The struggle before us remains necessarily two-handed or two-edged, fusing social analysis and institutional reconstruction with discernment, prayer, and worship-based action.” Such activism calls for discipline and creativity: “Prayer and fasting and public worship and singing and signs of imagination are among the tactics of any movement that knows it wrestles not merely with flesh and blood.” This book illustrates the difficulties, but also the triumphs, of such engagement.

One of Wylie-Kellermann’s insights is that we humans fall into the trap of seeking justification through the powers, rather than by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). For example, Christians may find identity and worth through their participation in and loyalty to a church. But as the author points out, the church itself is a principality, as prone as any other to seeking its own survival by enlisting human beings in its service. Consequently, churches may endorse belief systems, practices, or policies that further “the powers of empire.” On the other hand, “to be church as exemplary power in this present moment is to be freed of white supremacy, patriarchy, idolatrous patriotism, heterocentrism, mammon, militarism, consumer materialism, all the divisions and ideologies of domination.”

Particularly dangerous, warns Wylie-Kellermann, is justification offered through “the devotion of national populism,” currently exemplified by the presidency of Donald Trump. “Trump’s theology frames justification, mediated by the nation and its leader, as conferred upon ‘the patriotic people’… This justification … goes hand in hand with the unleashing of the dominating spirit. Notably, it is the offer of salvation without repentance.”

The motivation to refuse complicity and resist the powers is a spiritual effect of reading this book. Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom: “Death appears to reign. But it is undone. Live in the freedom of the resurrection. In short, dear friends: Be not awed by anything but the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

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Never Again: Protest is Our Prayer

Progressive Christian Social Action

Never Again!  Protest is Our Prayer

United Methodist Building, Washington, DC

On this Monday of Holy Week, reflections on the events that led to the death of Jesus merge with events that are taking place today.  As in Jesus’ day, today’s ruling Powers are entrenched in control by domination and violence.  People who seek to change the dominant system and make it more compassionate are maligned and persecuted, as Jesus was.  He was put to death after he drove out the money changers from the Temple, challenging the economic system upon which the Roman occupation of Jerusalem was maintained.

Today it is our youth.  Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools.  When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed.  Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report:  Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, and calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police.  They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.

In my own community, many students joined in the nationwide school walkout, some with support of teachers and administrators and some on their own.  I’ve talked with several of them.  One student told me that their school let them make signs, but they couldn’t have words or images related to guns.  Another told me that the teacher said that since it was raining, they could march around the halls, but later relented and they did go outside.  One girl told me how she overcame her personal self-doubt when the marchers she was with turned around and she found herself in the lead.  She didn’t feel like she should be leading the march. She felt like fading back and letting someone else take the lead, but she stayed the course, letting her values guide her instead of her fear.

Many people, including me, believe that there would be less gun violence if there were stricter gun control laws, background checks, mental health services, and (not often mentioned) greater economic and social equity.  Some people are feeling more hope for the future because of this uprising of student activism. I, too, applaud the spirit of these young people and rejoice that they are awakening to what is at stake and coming into their own power.  Every so often there is an uprising that catches fire and kindles a spirit of hope and activism for the sake of a better world.  Every so often a time comes around when “the politically impossible suddenly becomes possible” (Naomi Klein).  This is such a time.

But adults, now it’s on us.  Youth can take the lead, and they may well be the ones who will change the world.  But we can’t just cheer them on.  We must act as their allies, acting in solidarity with them.  We, too, must show courage.  We, too, must speak out, in our homes, at work, in our places of worship, no matter how entrenched these institutions are in the status quo.  We, too must demand action in our communities, in public spaces, and to our legislators. The kids shouldn’t be the only ones to say “Never Again.” They shouldn’t be the only ones to say “We call B.S.” to the conventional wisdom that weapons of war should be easily acquired or to challenge the paralysis of lawmakers because they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Adults, too, need to extend their support, experience, expertise, and resources to this movement.  We need to join with our young in taking action that will make true the call, “Never again.”

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Lent: A Call to Resist

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent:  A Call to Resist

This post was published at the beginning of Lent last year, 2017, as “A Lenten Call to Resist.”  It is the first post of a Lenten series that offers a progressive Christian understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and post-death appearances.   The links to the other posts in the series are below.

We enter the season of Lent at a time of peril in our nation and world.  People are rising up, some emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump and the ascendancy of the alt-right, and some determined to stand in the way of injustice and oppression in all its forms.  Christians have a particular responsibility, since without the high turnout of white Evangelical voters Trump would probably not be president today.

As Christians, where we stand politically has a lot to do with how we understand the meaning of Jesus’ death.  “The word of the cross” is at the heart of Christian faith.  We might prefer going from the glory of Transfiguration Sunday to the joy of Easter without reflecting on the drama that leads to Jesus’ suffering and death.  But as Dorothee Solle said,

“Naturally one can develop a theology that no longer has the somber cross at its center.  Such an attempt deserves criticism not because it bids farewell to Christianity as it has been, but because it turns aside from reality, in the midst of which stands the cross.”

The execution of Jesus was not a one-time thing.  Christ continues to be crucified as today’s ruling Powers enlist human beings in their service, subject the most vulnerable to abuse and oppression, wreak violence around the world, and plunder the earth for their own gain.  Our goal during Lent is to remember the path Jesus walked and accompany him on his way to the cross, to fully surrender to God as he did, and to act in solidarity with those who are being crucified on the cross of Empire today, as he was so long ago.

My blog postings during this season focus on how people who seek to follow Jesus can throw off despair and complacency, expose disempowering and hate-filled teachings that claim to be Christian, and reclaim the gospel (good news) as a force for peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.  If you follow this blog, please post your comments.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This series, A Lenten Call to Resist, includes the following posts:

Resisting Cultural Possession

Rejecting Theological Sadism

Jesus Was Not Born to Die

The Subversive Jesus

The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified

Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age

God’s Restorative Justice

Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance

Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Beale with crosses

Good Friday at Beale, 2015

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Resistance for the Long Haul

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Resistance for the Long Haul

In this new year, I have been hearing people talk about how bad 2017 was (politically), and hoping that 2018 will be better. Many people who have not been active before have worked hard last year to resist the Trump Administration and the Republican agenda.  The current state of the nation and world makes it almost impossible to focus solely on one’s personal life.

That’s a good thing, because our neoliberal society would have us believe that we are separate and self-sufficient and that we can find fulfillment by escaping into our personal lives, focusing on ourselves, seeking our own comfort, and feeding our own appetites.  This enables the dominant institutional Powers to divide us and discourage us from taking communal action that could disrupt their attempts to dominate the world.  Besides, that is not the way to happiness.

There are hopeful signs.  Many people are refusing to be sidetracked, and are continuing with the struggle.  Several Republicans have been unseated due to election upsets.  This coming Saturday, there will be anniversary marches around the country, recalling the huge Inauguration Day demonstrations that took place last year.

I have a sense, though, that people are exhausted.  It’s hard not to be discouraged by the constant barrage of presidential tweets, the acceleration of harm, hate and scapegoating, surveillance and repression, and the ongoing “dismantling of the administrative state.” We face tremendous dangers, and many fear that we are descending into fascism, runaway climate change, or even nuclear war.

How can we sustain resistance for the long haul?  I have found that I need a spiritual foundation to keep going, maintain a positive attitude, and live in hope of both personal and social transformation.  In other words, resistance must have an inner, as well as an outer, dimension.  This involves spiritual and cultural awakening, remembering who we are as children of earth and Spirit, prayer as an “uprising against the disorder of the world,” resistance and contemplation, and the conscious practice of simplicity.

I have written about these themes in the context of progressive Christianity in Resistance and Contemplation, an excerpt from Chapter 17 of Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, first published in 2007.  A revised, updated, and expanded Second Edition will be released later this year.

 

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Standing Rock Trial Update: Court Solidarity Success

Progressive Christian Social Action

Arrested at Standing Rock on Nov. 11, 2016

Standing Rock Trial Update:  Court Solidarity Success

One year ago today, I was arrested at Standing Rock Reservation with three local friends–Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Christy Hanson–and over twenty-five other people at a Water Protectors’ action.  We were taken to several different North Dakota jails, then released on bail.  We all went back to our homes, dispersed around the country, and awaited our trials.  Mine was scheduled for December 8, 2017.

Most of us pleaded “not guilty” to the misdemeanor charge of “obstructing a government function.” We hired our own lawyers or were assigned public defenders, who worked closely with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the group that had given us legal training and paid our bail.  The Freshet Collective also gave us support.  They looked us up and put us in touch so that we could communicate with each other directly.

We refused to consider any offers from the prosecution that did not include us all, and held fast to our right to a jury trial.  By doing so, we were engaging in “court solidarity,” a tried and true legal tactic for practitioners of active nonviolence.  The purpose is to take the struggle for justice to the courts and to act in solidarity with each other to protect the most vulnerable among us from being targeted with disproportionate fines or jail time.  In this case, Indigenous people would have been the most likely to be targeted, but court solidarity also gives a degree of protection to anyone who might be targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, class, age, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, etc.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, as we were beginning to make travel arrangements to return to North Dakota for our trials, we were offered a settlement that looked pretty good.  Many of us who were arrested together consulted together online, and when we were all agreed, we accepted the offer.  It’s called a “pre-trial diversion,” which means that we don’t have to travel back to North Dakota, plead guilty, or pay fines.  We do have to pay the standard court fees of $350, but that mostly means forfeiting the bail that was already paid.  And we each have to donate $100 to a North Dakota Charity.  I sent my donation to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, North Dakota.

We also had to agree to six months of unsupervised probation, with the only stipulation being that we avoid any other criminal charges.  This part of the agreement concerned some of us, who feel it is important to maintain our flexibility, because you never know when strong and courageous nonviolent direct action might be necessary.  But according to my lawyer, it is unlikely that arrests in another state for nonviolent action would be reported to Burleigh County, North Dakota.  Regardless, he said, “You could probably go back to North Dakota and rob a bank and they’d still not renew this case,” because the courts are so ready to be done with the backlog of these cases.  After the six months, our cases will be closed and we won’t have a conviction on our records.

This was a court solidarity success.  But now we all must stand in solidarity with anyone else who faces charges related to Standing Rock.  The authorities can’t deal with all these cases, but they would like to make an example of someone.  Judge Merrick, who was scheduled to be my trial judge, threw a 27-year old man and a 64-year old woman in jail a couple of weeks ago. They weren’t even given time to get their affairs in order, but were remanded to jail immediately.  See more about these cases here.

Meanwhile, Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota who grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation, is being charged with inciting a riot, and he faces five years in jail, despite the fact that Standing Rock was a strictly peaceful and prayerful encampment.  See a short film about his case and sign the petition to drop his charges here.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline was constructed illegally and is pumping oil illegally.  The fight is not over yet.

Thanks to all who gave so generously to my three local friends and I to help us raise money for our legal fees.  Because we don’t have to go back to North Dakota for trials, we have extra money left over, which we will split between the Water Protectors Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective.  If you donate to these organizations, you support other people facing trials for charges related to Standing Rock as well.

As I wrote in Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Regardless of the outcome of the struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native people and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See Sharon’s previous blog posts about Standing Rock and resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

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