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Practicing Congregation: Resistance, by Tim Moore
by Tim Moore
When Martin Luther King and others quoted Theodore Parker, a 19th-century Unitarian pastor, who said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice,” they usually pointed to the frustrating reality that the journey to justice typically takes two steps forward and one step back, or sometimes even two steps back before going forward again. It certainly feels like we are stepping backwards in recent moves by the White House – the threat to remove transgender persons from the military, the declaration that the Justice Department does not think Civil Rights laws protect LGBT persons from discrimination, the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Justice Department’s decision to examine if colleges are discriminating against white applicants, just to name a few.
Michael-Ray Mathews and PICO have been advocating a theology of resistance since the fall of 2014 in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The idea of resistance to a dominant or ruling power is scattered throughout the Bible. From the midwives in Egypt, who refused Pharaoh’s order to kill Hebrew baby boys, and prophets who defied Israelite and Jewish kings by speaking God’s word of justice to them, to the gospels’ declaration that Jesus was Lord, not Caesar, and Revelation’s wildly coded text to persevere against Rome, the Bible is full of passages that call the faithful to resist the unjust actions of Empire.
The idea of resistance is not about engaging in partisan politics. It is about standing with the poor, the outcast, and the immigrant and demanding justice for people made in God’s image. William Barber repeatedly said that Moral Mondays were not partisan events and proudly stated that Moral Mondays began when Democrats held leadership in North Carolina. The last thing progressive Christians need is to be tagged to the Democratic Party in the way that evangelical Christians have sold their souls to the Republican Party.
So, how might your congregation prophetically resist a movement in society, or a government administration, bent on taking one step back?
For privileged churches, composed mostly of middle class and/or white congregants, the first step may be awareness. How aware are white people in the pew of the privilege they are granted in housing, education and jobs simply by the color of their skin? How aware are middle class church members to the plight of the working poor, living paycheck to paycheck though working more than 40 hours a week? One possibility might be to hold group studies in your church using the Alliance of Baptists’ sponsored book, Trouble the Water, as an introduction to the work of racial justice. Another might be to participate in a poverty simulation.
For congregations interested in exploring action steps you may wish to explore Michael-Ray Mathews’ work with PICO, or William Barber’s leadership at the New Poor People’s Campaign, or encourage members to join a local march or protest and report back to the congregation. Or what if your church contacted other like-minded congregations in your area to explore ways you could work to together to resist?
Parker’s statement has often been quoted in hopes of encouraging people to continue to be resilient, to persevere, to endure against the forces which perpetuate the privileges of a few at the expense of many. Our hope is not placed upon a political administration; neither shall one dampen it.
Tim Moore holds the title of writer-in-residence at Sardis Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C., where he was pastor for 19 years. Tim and his wife, Magay Shepard, are the proud parents of teenage triplets, Abby, Hannah and Michael. He holds degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, Alliance partner Andover Newton Theological School, and Mars Hill College. He returns to the Alliance board, where he served in the early 1990s.