Black History Month arrives as a difficult reminder that core ethics of human equality espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King in his DREAM, and called for in the BIBLE, still have not been realized! From Ferguson to Queens to Cleveland to Berkeley, streets are filled with young, angry black protesters joined by brown, white sisters and brothers compelled to mobilize resistance against increased militaristic behavior of police, against loopholes in legal systems, and against a pervasive societal ideology of ‘othering’ that marginalizes based on race, class, sexuality, and faith tradition. These national resistance movements expose this country’s systemic structures of discrimination.
In his provocative 2011book – Punished: Policing the Lives of Black & Latino Boys, Victor Rios’ ethnographic study revealed that poor inner-city kids are targeted, stereotyped, and falsely accused from grade school until anger at such demoralization become self-fulfilling prophecy – demons that provoke bad choices and fuel society’s fear. In reality, by Michael Brown’s age, embedded suspicion of law enforcement, regulatory systems, and a life of economic disparities result in tensions that almost are insurmountable. Across our nation, the land of the free and the brave is far the promise land of human equality–WE’RE NOT THERE YET! Killings increased exponentially since the 2012 assassination of Oscar Grant and the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin. Albeit marred by violent outbreaks, the clamor for justice drew clergy leaders and people of faith to join in overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations of RESISTANCE. They invoked God’s will to resist injustice, amplified by chants and prayers that sustained a call for SACRED RESISTANCE.
Crucial for our self-reflection is to recognize that this landscape of unrest and tension between those with power and those unduly burdened is not a new phenomenon. We are reminded that righteous indignation and RESISTANCE are Biblical. Jesus knew what it felt like to be ‘othered’ – the Nazarene rejected and critiqued for speaking hope into lives of prostitutes, robbers, demoniacs, invalids, and tax collectors. The Messiah proclaimed his prophetic purpose to “ bring good news to the poor, proclaim release of the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”- words in direct resistance to Roman imperial occupation and a Jerusalem power structure designed to maintain the status quo. Jesus spoke against undue burden on impoverished and powerless masses under militaristic enforcement. All the Gospels report SACRED LESSONS in RESISTANCE and mode of leadership development: anointing disciples with sacred authority over unclean spirits to cast out evil; teaching with sacred power to speak life into broken spirits; and taking action to change lives.
The first sacred lesson of resistance was to SHAKE IT OFF and keep moving! “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town”… The act of dust-shaking is the first century parallel to a 21st century act of protest; it is an externalization of a reality of hardened hearts in folks intent to preserve a status quo or afraid to push for change! Jesus’ taught such action was sacramental – revealing or manifesting a spiritual reality that ALL won’t accept the truth that the Kingdom of heaven had come near. The disciples were to mobilize a message of sacred justice and deliverance anyhow and, if rejected by folks, have nothing else to do with them, not even to carry the dirt and grime of close-mindedness any further… BUT SHAKE IT OFF! That very physical action was sacred resistance – Racism, classism, sexism – forms of rejection that ignore God’s love for ALL creation – SHAKE IT OFF!
The second lesson of sacred resistance was to recognize the socio-political landscape aims to silence. “See I’m sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…Beware of them for they will hand you over to councils, flog you… persecute you… and put you to death.” Today’s context is: we might be outnumbered but not outwitted. They will beat you with billy clubs, use tear gas, media-manage your story, while DAs and Grand juries acquit their own in ridicule of you! Is it any wonder that young people of color across the nation reject sound bites and political propaganda that say we live in a post-racial society, while overt and subtle discrimination confront them daily? Is it any wonder that some are disillusioned by silence of the church universal until MSNBC AND CNN cameras appear – and as the ragtag rebels caught national attention, then celebrity clergy arrived with rules and caste systems of who “qualifies” for screen time. Jesus said to be wise as serpents – organize, rally, discern true agendas as you proceed gentle as doves!
Jesus knew that principalities and powers did not WANT change that transformed lives – especially sacred change for those so long oppressed, blinded, and imprisoned in systems of disparity. He knew that his words and deeds led to hateful persecution on the Cross; yet, his third lesson assures us that the POWER IN US is greater than any power that opposes us! “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time: for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you!“ Today, as young disciples strategize and pray, clergy colleagues first-hand in Ferguson, New York, and Berkeley affirm that an abiding power of Holy Spirit anointing is evident when young and old courageously assemble and march.
RESISTANCE to injustice is a necessary action and sacred right… No municipality can stop or silence so many voices. Our foremothers and forefathers in Selma and Montgomery believed the sacred message cannot be quelled: ALL are created in God’s image! ALL lives Matter! Black Lives Matter, Asian Lives, Latino Lives, Muslim Lives – ALL Lives Matter! So today, young disciples still ask: Will we go together with divine authority from community to town to city proclaiming sacredness of life for the least and left-out? Do we still have faith to cast out demons of ‘isms’? As 21st Century disciples, will we challenge normative systems of privilege and share the prophetic message of One who was NOT? Sacred resistance shouts GOD’S demands for JUSTICE. It disrupts routines and sacrifices comfort. It respects and dignifies those different and diverse, yet in whom sacred breath of the Creator flows! To resist injustice, WIPE THE DUST OFF our FEET – and keep moving!
Rev. Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble is Assistant Professor of Ministerial Leadership and Functional Theology at American Baptist Seminary of The West. A womanist theologian, she is also a consulting leader in the PICO National Prophetic Clergy-Women Network.