29 June 2018

Sowing in tears, part two: Red Hens, resistance, and love

BI's paper clip monument (now in Oslo). Source.
Wearing paper clips was a symbol of resistance
in German-occupied Norway.
(Part one.)

Lili Loofbourow writes,

...Confused by the fever that’s seized it, the country has spent days debating the “civility” of a restaurant [Red Hen, Lexington, Virginia] owner  who asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, after she had defended the president’s policy of putting children in cages as a “deterrent” to other migrants. He called sitting members of Congress “crazy” and pettily insulted that same restaurant’s cleanliness. But Trump’s own discourse somehow doesn’t factor into this earnest discussion of civility.

Vann R. Newkirk II comments,

As has so often been the case, the demands for civility function primarily to stifle the frustrations of those currently facing real harm. But protest is not often civil. In fact, in the long tradition of American protest, it’s incivility that has served as an alternative to violent resistance, and it is what has functioned best as an antidote to the violence of oppressors.

For me, it's far too easy to divide the Red Hen debates into pro-civility and pro-rage, and as a white Protestant pacifist, anxiously weigh in on the side of civility.

And while I'm weighing, I notice a couple of things:
  • Observing the mass behavior of the human animal, aggressiveness often begets aggressiveness. The prophet Hosea [8:7; context] warns a corrupt Israel, "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind." If you mistreat people long enough and badly enough, like it or not, they'll respond with something other than sweet reasonableness. (And thank God for that, if the alternative would be fatal passivity.)
  • Furthermore, to the utter frustration of the civility advocates who warn us to stay calm, some of the original aggressors will welcome those violent responses, because the aggressors include sociopaths, excitement addicts, would-be heroes, egged on by very wealthy backers who are financing their mobilization channels. Expect escalation.
  • There is no such thing as a last laugh, or a last word.
There's a huge difference between mass responses to aggression, one the one hand, and a spontaneous eruption of resistance from a few restaurant workers, or a few passengers glimpsing an EPA chief on an airplane. If I were in a line with the Homeland Security chief, it would be very hard to resist asking "How do you live with yourself?" Isn't there an integrity to a direct confrontation like this?

The same action writ large -- convincing hundreds or thousands of people to confront specific officials -- raises ethical questions that I don't see in these spontaneous encounters. To what extent do the organizers of such resistance resort to authoritarian or manipulative tactics, exaggeration, false witness, objectification of their opponents, for maximum effect -- just as their opponents do? What would the use of such mass tactics do to our souls, our capacity to see our opponents as bearers of the image of God just as we are?

However, passivity may not be an option. Let's look at what hazards we might be facing as a country: a decline in American democracy, and its replacement by authoritarianism, abetted by civil religion, degraded by massive corruption, made ever more poisonous by race-baiting, and all in a context in which labor, trade, and fiscal policies may have disastrous economic consequences. If this might be our near future, it seems beyond foolish to advocate nothing more than spontaneous, individual responses. Our individual targets can usually hide if necessary, and even if they are convinced to resign, they can be replaced. If it's true that the system we confront is driven not just by corrupt actors but by the demons of greed and racism, the Bible explains the stakes involved:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

(Ephesians 6:12, context.)

Rage may have cathartic value ... and (whether we approve of it or not in our calmer moments, or in the security of middle-class privilege) its small-scale or large-scale expression is a risk authoritarians face. But, for disciples of the Prince of Peace who refuse to let rage define our response and mask our values, what are our other options?
  • Demonstrations and mass meetings of all kinds will continue to have a huge benefit: they let us see that we are not alone. And the authorities see that we are not alone. Christians should participate visibly and enthusiastically, to counter the heresies of civil religion and to make evangelistic and pastoral connections with their fellow demonstrators.
  • Tax refusal: it's a time-honored response to military spending, but is it limited to that sphere?
  • Vigils, social exorcisms (example included here), and civil disobedience at the sites linked to injustice, such as detention centers, ICE offices, airports: such actions don't depend on demonizing individuals, they focus on the system.
  • Persistent lobbying, in person as much as possible, demanding accountability.
  • Public celebrations when we make progress, when an unacceptable policy is reversed, when a legislator or bureaucrat makes a humane choice or resigns for conscience' sake, when an ally wins an election.
  • Attending rallies and public-relations exercises of authoritarians and their supporters, with well-focused signs and handouts.
  • Prayer meetings, Bible studies, and nonviolence training as preparation for everything we do. Elders assigned to pray for each action. Each of us participating in risky witness should know who is praying for him or her. This path has direct links to the legacy of the Civil Rights movement.
  • Being always ready to give an account of the hope that is in you. [Context.] Be accessible to news media and inquirers. If it is your gift, become known as a person willing to speak to reporters.
I'm convinced that the USA is in a kind of danger that is new to most of us. But even if our worst fears turn out to be exaggerated, the scale of pain and despair among some (and wicked glee among others) is something that demands a prophetic and pastoral response from all who claim to represent Good News. If the times are as dangerous as we suspect, we could find ourselves tempted to stay in a cycle of sorrow and rage. But one thing I hope we don't neglect: creativity. It's worth putting maximum effort into preparing the messages and organizing the creative divisions of labor that will worthily represent a mobilization of love for our time.

In 1934, Henry Cadbury, Quaker scholar, advocated a civil response to Hitler's anti-Jewish policies.

Benjamin Corey says that the person you'd be in Nazi Germany is the person you actually are now.

Margaret M. Mitchell on the apostle and the attorney general.

What Adria Gulizia learned from Weinstein.

Thank God for Paul McCartney's boyhood choir...

Oleg Navalny is released from prison after completing his sentence.

"I'm going to keep on walking 'til I find my way back home."


Anonymous said...

IMO there is a difference between being confrontational and being uncivil. I think back often to the Civil Rights Movement. Those protesters were confrontational, but IMO, effective and not uncivil. They did get in people's faces but I don't recall ever seeing the vitriol from them that we're seeing today. We don't have to sink to the levels we've been seeing in some.

Patty Quinn
Philadelphia PA

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, Patty. I agree that confrontation doesn't need to be uncivil, and I also agree that systemic evil and violence actually needs to be confronted. Simply reacting with rage is not enough; creative, persistent, value-driven confrontation is needed. Furthermore, uncivil responses are a confusing message; our main point may be lost in the static we generate.

However, I cannot ask those being attacked to refrain from responding as they feel they must. I am more or less in control of my responses, but not of theirs. I can have my theories of effective response and of the Lamb's War against evil in high places, and I can try to convince others to join the Lamb's War, but that's the limit of my choices.

Those who oppose Trump and who care about integrity should not engage in the very tactics they criticize: insults, fake outrage, mocking, false witness, unfair comparisons, and so on. Sadly, in the heat of conflict, our nice "shoulds" tend to get trampled. To me, this is why at least some of us should concentrate on the main confrontation with systemic evil, working to remove the causes of scandal and enlisting as many others as possible in that cause, rather than getting diverted by the need to be sure everyone is as nice as we think we are.

kfsaylor said...

The most powerful of civil activism is this: to wait upon the ever present inshining impulse and energy of the presence of God and to participate in and identity with that Impulse itself in itself. This appearance in the consciousness and conscience, guiding and informing relationships and interactions with people is social activism of a different sort. It is a different way of life and consciousness. For many of us, through the inshining energy of the spirit itself we are come out of a social activism that is guided, informed, and governed by outward political and religious constructs, institutions, and those leaders who promote them. We are come out of the contention and strife that the process of participation in and identification with outward ideological and institutions nurtures by its very nature.

To experience the presence of God in every moment in daily life is the inward witness of awareness or life or identity that is infinite in itself without reference to or regard for outward political and religious contrivances and institutions.

Contention and strife is the nature of a process wherein relationships and interactions are guided and informed through participation in and identification with outward political and religious forms and the leaders and teachers who promote and foster the process. To enter into such a process is to nurture contention and strife. Only through the inward appearance and witness of immanent Presence and identify with infinite life itself in itself is the outward process and cycle of contention shattered in the hearts and minds of people and peace manifested. Such inshinmg witness is the different social activism that is come out of the process of contention and strife and into salvation.