How we can disrupt the logic of the dominant narrative

A clergy member holds hands with protesters as they shut down a street in St. Louis on Nov. 23, 2014. Photo by Justin L. Stewart

(RNS) — After the 2014 death of Michael Brown, I had an awakening and began to reimagine what it means to resist, especially as a person of faith.

When you stare down into the belly of a police system that will use pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, flash grenades, profanity and death threats against clergy and peaceful protesters, you begin to see things you could not – or would not – see before.

Most notably, you see that silence, respectability and dutiful adherence to religion will not protect you from an unjust criminal justice system.

However, we are co-creators with the Creator. We have agency and vocation (or power and a mandate) to cooperate with God in “tikkun olam,” the repair and healing of the world. And so, in the era of Trump, it is more important than ever to see as we could not or would not see before — to understand and heed our call to resist.

We are called to disrupt and confront injustice, to resist and tear down dehumanizing structures so that we can create new systems that honor our God-given dignity.

It is with a desire to answer that call that people of faith are taking to the streets in St. Louis, Charlottesville and Berkeley, fully awakening to injustice not only in our communities but in our own stories. We pray with our feet, recounting our own faith traditions – the stories of Esther, Deborah and Jesus – and leaning in on those who came before us. We are moved by a theology of resistance.

It’s a theology that requires us to encounter the realities of the world around us, and to be willing to see that which we could not or would not see before, including state-sanctioned violence, poverty wages, food deserts, predatory lending, deportations and detentions.

In encountering the realities of the world and the impulses in ourselves, in relationships, in systems and structures, we can begin to change or disrupt the logic and dominant narrative that perpetuate injustice.

For me, on the streets in Ferguson, hearing the pain in the voices of the young people disrupted my own understanding of the church, forcing me to recognize how the church that I so loved had perpetuated the pain of those alongside whom I marched.

Disruption allows us the space to reimagine the world, to understand our roles as co-creators seeking to heal the world. Reimagining leads us to action, to resistance. It leads us into streets across the country in protest, and into the halls of power to speak the truth.

After three days together of sharing our stories and our ideas on combating white supremacy, my fellow faith leaders and I found that the key in maintaining a sense of hope and agency is to look above and beyond: to keep mobilizing from the pulpit to the streets, to keep campaigning, to keep working with our leaders and to remain committed to equality.

The role of institutions and people of goodwill is to not just talk about hope, but to be hope and faith in action. For people of faith, in a time such as this, our call to resist injustice and to work so that dignity, abundance and belonging are at the center of how people experience public life has never been more important.

(The Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews is the convener of the Prophetic Resistance Summit in Indianapolis in October, and the director of clergy organizing for PICO National Network, the largest grass-roots faith-based organizing network in the country. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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  • “We are called to disrupt and confront injustice, to resist and tear down dehumanizing structures so that we can create new systems that honor our God-given dignity.”
    Matthew 24:10-12 ESV
    And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.

    1 Peter 2:23 ESV
    When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

  • There was no god people “who figth white supremacy” Good people dont figth with copkillers, drugsellers and looters. Good people have other way to express their wiews than burn down citys.
    A christian (or a resnable) contry is following law and order. Terrorgroups like BLM ignore police butality, but they are fast to misuse situation where black people get killed. Most of their riots was built on lies like hands up dont shoot. If you use the bible as an argument, starts telling the true. Dont steal, dont kill (by drugs or by violence)

  • As a practitioner of windy verbosity I also know it when I see it. The Rev. Matthews might have made his point much more succinctly to be effective. Protest and resistance are legitimate methods, as long as they don’t infringe on someone else’s rights. In the examples cited by the Rev. I could detect few such examples. Our responsibilities as people of faith do not make us “co-creators with God,” we are subordinate moral agents called to respond to the instructions given in His Word, and that call varies for different people. It would not be illegitimate to suggest that the tortured use of the phrase “white supremacy” is its own form of race baiting.

  • I would agree that wordiness got in the way of the apparent answer to the title.

    A couple of questions as to clarification of your comments. How does protest infringe on the rights of others? And can you suggest an alternative phrase you would find more palatable than white supremacy? Only asking because the meaning is generally well understood as an ideology.

    I had problems with the phrase co-creators with God but also the unknown expression Tikum olam.- the original concept Jesus would have been familiar with (according to what I read) as it would have been already codified and also its contemporary use/understandiing.

  • It took that for you to “begin to see” “silence, respectability and dutiful adherence to religion will not protect you from an unjust criminal justice system”? So history 101, world news, stories of the martyrs, or just what happened to Jesus weren’t enough for you to notice that—it had to be something that threatened you directly before you put that together?

    I’m not sure if I’m more appalled at the self-absorption, shortsightedness, or ignorance that demonstrates.

    Kudos to you for noticing, that the church is not really being what it should, but the way you talk about it suggests you’re not really understanding. Maybe it’s an oops of what made it on the page, but what’s on the page is all I have to work from.

  • I was just quoting the same thing you asked Linda below, giving you opportunity to clarify, but since you want me to lean

    Your quote of Matthew 24:10–12, by following a quote from the article’s author, by implication accuses the author of being a false teacher, with the quote of I Peter 2:23 responding as if the article writer is promoting the reviling of others.

    Which is an quite ironic display of ignorance about what reviling actually is and has been.

  • Ha! Ha! My belly laugh for the day! This from a person who lets a book and an imaginary god dictate what is right and wrong though it defies logic and evidence.

  • That is why I suggested you learn to think for yourself.

    You said “lean”, not “learn”—which is quite different—and that’s an imperative, not a suggestion.

    Moreover, if someone is unclear in their speech, requesting clarification is polite and part of communication 101. Your blatant double standards and scoffing at polite opportunities handed to you to repair the hypocrisy is sitting in the seat of the scornful, and it is direct violation of Christ’s command to love others as we love ourselves.

    So, whether you keep trolling or clarify for the sake of actual discussion, ball’s in your court.

  • Conveniently ignoring the possibility of multiple possible meanings and implications in a text when you find it convenient. That or you just lack the ability/training/experience to comprehend such dynamic communication. Not much of a fiction reader, I take it.

  • What gives you any more right to dictate others’ beliefs than they do yours?

    There are plenty of reasons to take issue with Sandi’s comments. Ridiculing Sandi on account of having different beliefs than you do is extremely rude. Every belief system has points where the logic and evidence break down and factors must be assumed true on faith.

  • You learned from you father, I presume, or significant adult, and you try to condemn me for learning from my Father. Also, He does expect us to think for ourselves, or we would be agreeing with you. 🙂

  • You obviously haven’t spent much time sparring with Sandi. Fundamentalists really aren’t allowed much room to think for themselves on matters of religious dogma – they are compelled to take positions that agree with the Bible regardless of any historical or scientific evidence to the contrary. Yet she urged the poster to think for himself – that is what made me laugh.

  • You obviously didn’t check my comment history or notice the contents, which demonstrate quite a bit of familiarity with fundamentalism. (I’m also the one they said that to, by the way.)

    If the double standard is what’s made you laugh, specify that. As it is, you’re jumping to a broad ridicule for choosing to believe the Bible at all, which is handing them fodder to strengthen their self-righteousness.

    Will core extremists invent fodder if it doesn’t exist? Yep. But why hand them fodder? That just makes it harder for the folks who are trapped to find their ways out.

    Is Sandi likely to be convinced? No, but frankly, that’s irrelevant to why I answer them.

  • As it is, you’re jumping to a broad ridicule for choosing to believe the Bible at all,

    I am an atheist. I know the Bible as a former Jehovah’s Witness in my youth but do not believe it. My only real issue with religion is with fundamentalists.

  • Your initial comment ridiculed all who believe a religious text and supreme deity. If you intended to only target fundamentalists, you failed to do so. Perhaps next time you desire to ridicule someone, you might aim the target a little better, eh? Precision has value. 🙂

  • … and to what man or woman on earth do you grant the power of life and death over the earth? By what authority could or would you grant this? God has had his laugh for today.

  • Tikkun Olam was probably first used as a discrete phrase in the second century, during the time when the Mishnah was being compiled. So it’s possible Jesus would have been familiar with the general concept.

  • Painting law enforcement as the enemy with a broad brush is no way to practice tikkun olam. All this will lead to is more brokenness.

  • “Most notably, you see that silence, respectability and dutiful adherence to religion will not protect you from an unjust criminal justice system.”
    My response: I have read several articles on this site with so many “Christian” positions from utra-spiritualists to Christian KKK. I wondered why all this upheaval in society did not cause professing white Christians to have a revelation of error. Then I read this article and felt someone in the white Christian community is getting it right – realizing their silence is wrong. But is taking to the streets the best answer? Did Christ really come to reinforce religious fighting for Judaism like with Barabbas to win leverage for the Jewish side or did He come to show the true ways of God and change the hearts and minds of multitudes of sinners. He proved the error of religious piety and bigotry. Both the Pharisees’ religion and Barabbas’ insurrection were wrong. Teaching the true ways of God, introducing changed hearts (new birth) was the answer He brought; all within the scope of true religion and the power of the church. Jesus really wanted the religious to consider where their heart was (their real spiritual condition) and correct that. Joining Barabbas in the streets was not His answer. He came to save His “own people” who were in error. Opening their eyes brought truth and peace (eventually) to His people (the Jews), the hateful/riotous Jews and the unbelieving Romans. His message was sufficient then; is it not sufficient today as well? The answer is still true religion that changes hearts and minds. KKK Christians are wrong but so are the white super spiritualists waiting on the outpouring, white piety and complacency. I further explored this problem in my recent book: “Christianity and Ethnicity: Is Christ Concerned About Race?” This is the time for all Christians to do some real soul searching and see if their Christianity is real.

  • Protest is an infringement when one fails to allow one’s adversaries the opportunity to make their case (in speech), however improbable, and unsavory it might be. Protest and action (presumably by legal means) to prevent unsavory acts is quite another matter. How ever much I may disagree with someone, I’m always prepared to let them make a fool of themselves as long as demonstrative physical or administrative threat does not arise from it. This is the essence of free speech. “White Supremacy” may constitute a perfectly legitimate term when applied in the proper circumstances, but like any term it can lose its legitimacy when applied to every circumstance in which an offended individual chooses to apply it without discretion.