Thursday, May 14, 2015

FAITH-BASED ACTIVISM: Are there any limits to its potential?

I've just come back from spending a day at the Illinois capitol in Springfield with 500 other faith-based activists from Chicago-area congregations that are members of the Community Renewal Society (CRS).

CRS in Springfield - April 12, 2015 - A powerful group.

I'm enjoying looking at the pictures of the day, thinking back over what we did there, and musing on some questions that have been bubbling up recently in the course of participating in several different faith-based activism initiatives I'm involved with.

(1) What's the right way to talk about power?

CRS members - penetrating the inner sanctums of power.
I'm on board with the idea that power is not a bad word. (I'm also quite fond of the word "effectiveness," too, by the way.)

And that means I'm on board with using "organized people and organized money" (i.e. power) to do good.

And yet . . . .

How do we wield power without forgetting that we follow teachings of Jesus that say that there are values that are more precious than power?

(2) How much of Christian life should consist of social activism?

In the Rotunda: one part rally, one part prayer service.
I have been very back-and-forth about this.

In the past 5 years or so, I have generally felt that the answer is: "as much as possible."

However, I am feeling more and more that a better approach would be to spend significant amounts of time in worship and spiritual development. I have come to believe, in fact, that those activities are a prerequisite for keeping my heart really well-directed when I'm involved in social action.

And then most recently . . .

(3) Isn't the foundation of both social action and spirituality the act of listening?

As is often the case, the real action was in the side conversations.
A turning point for me was a conversation I was involved in about a year ago, described here:  That, together with several subsequent conversations and studies, have led me to ask the simple question: "What would happen if I made myself available to listen?"

I've thought a lot in the past about listening as a means to effective social action.  I'm thinking about it now more as a means to love.

(4) Where's the leverage?

There's an argument that when faith-based activists show up, they benefit from carrying (at least by implication) the authority of their congregations and denominations with them.  This is, of course, more true the more that a significant cohort from the congregation or denomination shows up.

A major focus of the Springfield day was police accountability --
a campaign that many area groups are focusing on now . . . .
But I wonder if there isn't an opposing argument that carries equal or greater weight: when groups of activists include members who come from a faith-based perspective, even if just a few, there is significant opportunity for the hope, commitment, and love that infuse so many faith-based activists to become a guiding light for the rest of the people they are working with.

In other words, the best sign that faith-based activism is powerful is the spirit it provides in abundance to all groups that may be in need of it.

(5) How far should we go?

Die-in in the Rotunda to protest Rauner budget cuts.
The thing I liked about our first public witness on Palm Sunday in 2012 -- "Occupy Palm Sunday!" -- was that it was informed by the spirit of the Occupy movement, i.e. it was all about asking questions about what holds us back, what we could accomplish if we were to venture out, and what cues we are to take about this from Jesus' ministry.

Our Palm Sunday public witness in 2015 -- with the input of activists at ARISE Chicago -- helped us push the envelope as part of the #Fightfor15 campaign to get McDonald's (and others) to raise service workers' wages.

The New York Times (and McDonald's) took notice, and it felt like our efforts to challenge boundaries was well-fitted to the needs of the situation.

Related posts

I believe that once the Church comes out of the closet -- that is, once we start speaking quite openly about the difference between the world as we find it and the world as we believe God wishes it to be -- there is no way this old world will be able to stay the same.

(See Let the Church Out of the Closet )

Can there be any more clear illustration than the one at left to remind us that the work of the Church is liberation?

(See Christian "Church"? How about Christian "Liberation Organization"? )

I believe when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and said "Remember me this way," he was much more interested in encouraging us to keep having conversations -- conversations that really matter -- with others . . . and finding ways to be in relationship with our neighbors  . . . all the while reminding us "never underestimate the power of food"  . . .

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))

Faced with chorus of voices saying, "Isn't it time for you to tone it down? Can't you be more reasonable? What is it you want, anyway?" Jesus kept right on doing what he was doing. And that was a sign to us about how to live our lives . . . .

(See WWJD? Occupy! )

Pastor Mitri Raheb emphasizes that people who are Christians, and people who care about Palestine, and people who fall into both categories, all need to care about the problem of Empire -- because that is the context in which Jesus found himself and because that is the context of Palestine.

(See How Shall We Live in the Face of Empire? (Reading Mitri Raheb) )