A Sermon in Shoes: the Activist Pathway

This post is part of a series exploring different ways to connect with God.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” -Dr. Suess

I am pro-life. I have been since…wait for it…birth. I grew up standing in “life chains”–once a year church members line the streets holding signs that proclaimed “Abortion kills children” and “Abortion stops a beating heart.” I had one of those “Smile, your mom chose life” t-shirts and wore it proudly. I marched in parades for political candidates who promised they were “pro-life.” I was told that pro-life meant you loved babies and who doesn’t love babies? I was told that pro-choice meant you wanted to kill babies and who wants to kill babies? It was a simple black-and-white issue. Until I became an adult.

My childhood was filled with a lot of activism and politics mixed with faith. Voting was a sacred privilege and only the vilest sinner would refuse to use that right. My faith was supposed to inform my voting habits, my political choices, and what issues I used my voice to speak out for. It was all very convincing until I started seeing the bigger picture, I started understanding the nuances that make political and theological issues far from black-and-white. Take for example the “pro-life” issue. As a child it was painted as pro-choice equals pro-death. Now that I’m an adult, I understand that pro-choice means just that, pro- CHOICE. Not death, but allowing women autonomy over their own bodies. I’ve begun to understand that abortion rates are impacted by so many more factors that whether or not a candidate says “I don’t support abortion.” Pro-life to me doesn’t mean outlawing a medical practice, but instead working to create a world and a culture that values life in all its stages, from the unborn, to the poor, the immigrant, the gay, the minority, the refugee, the elderly, and even the criminal.

Marching in a parade to support our candidate--me and my best friend before either of us were old enough to vote. Or know better.

Marching in a parade to support our candidate–me and my best friend before either of us were old enough to vote. Or know better.

I don’t like to speak up too quickly or too loudly about it though. When I realized that as a child blind nationalism and party alliance had been skewed by some people to force large numbers of Christians to vote certain ways to support certain issues, I was leery of swinging too far in the opposite direction. I had heard too often (and still hear frequently) “How can a real Christian support _______?” I want to be careful before I allow my faith and my political views to mingle. But does that mean they never should? Should my voting for government leaders be completely separate from my faith?

And this is when I encountered the Activist pathway.

What is it?

The Activist pathway means loving God through confrontation. I means using your voice to advocate for social change, whether that means here at home or halfway across the world. It means speaking out against injustice and calling for fellow Christians to join you in making positive changes.

Although there are sincere people of faith on both sides of some issues, the difference between supporting a political view and activism for change is that activism is based on sincere faith and a desire to bring justice for the oppressed.

Notable examples

The Bible is filled with people who refused to be silent in the face of injustice and called for social change, from the prophets who boldly proclaimed the sin of the people and cried out for repentance to the Apostle Paul who spoke out boldly in his letters to the churches about what changes they needed to make.

This also includes prominent abolitionists and civil rights activists such as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., Angelina and Sarah Grimke–who fought for social change based on deep religious convictions.

I would also add names such as Justin Lee, Mathew Vines, Broderick Greer, Rachel Held Evans, and many others who are fighting for full inclusion of LGBTQ members in the church.

Actions and Reflections

As I said in the beginning, I am pro-life. I no longer define that as anti-abortion, but I do still feel strongly about creating a culture that values life, so when I was invited by a friend to a public hearing on the death penalty, I decided to attend, since I had some understanding of the death penalty, but not a lot. I wanted to understand it better, so I could make my voice heard. In Nebraska the death penalty had been repealed by the legislature in 2015. Citizens who felt strongly about keeping the death penalty circulated petitions to bring the issue to the ballot for the voters to decide. The public hearing was an opportunity for citizens who represented both sides of the issue to articulate their reasons why we should or should not have a death penalty in our state. It was interesting that people on both sides wanted to talk about their faith. They both claimed that their faith in God informed their decision on the issue. They also both claimed a stance of “pro-life” as a reason to both support and oppose the death penalty. Once more I was reminded to keep a humility about my position. I am firmly convinced that the death penalty is cruel, inhumane, unnecessary, racist, abusive, waste of taxpayer money, and above all, not pro-life. I understand that some of my brothers and sisters in Christ disagree with me, so I want to be respectful of them and their faith. Yet, I cannot allow the fact that there are those who disagree to keep me from speaking out on a pro-life issue.

My friend making the case for why we don't need the death penalty in Nebraska.

My friend making the case for why we don’t need the death penalty in Nebraska.

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I got a nifty sticker to state my position: vote to Retain the repeal of the death penalty.

 

Understanding activism as a pathway of worship was an entirely new concept for me. I’ve understood advocacy and activism based on faith, but I had not really thought about it as an act of faith and worship before. Again, I appreciated a new understanding of worship, but I don’t think this one is my main pathway of worship.

Those who find they are closest to God when fighting for social justice may have the activist pathway of worship.

How about you? Do you find yourself closer to God when you are fighting for positive change?

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