In a season where the leadership of the United States claims to be constructing “An Entirely New Political Movement,” many have echoed what activist and filmmaker Michael Moore said after November’s election: “We are going to resist … This is going to be a massive resistance.”
And in fact it has been. The Women’s March was one of the largest in history and provided an entry point for many who were resisting publicly for the very first time. From the loudspeaker in Washington D.C., organizer Tamika Mallory said, “Today is an act of resistance.”
I marched in San Jose with my husband, my daughter, and a friend who was in the streets for the first time. It was a global public display driven by a shared vision that refuses to accept an individualist, fragmented, oppositional agenda. There is a collectivist paradox in the gathering of people whose energies engage a wide range of concerns that are often presented as either-or choices on a limited menu: You can be about the environment or you can be about reproductive freedom. You can be about racial justice or you can be about LGBTQ civil rights.
Beverly Gage explains in the New York Times Magazine that the emerging movement resists such false choices and is “now assembling under one banner: climate change, net neutrality, Black Lives Matter, reproductive and immigrant and disability rights. The post-inaugural Women’s March made this spectacularly visible, with a bright-pink show of defiance intended to put the President on notice.”
Resistance, Gage argues, is a defensive posture. “Resistance names what you don’t want and leaves the vision thing for another, less urgent situation.”
I’m not so sure. Resistance is more than just a response; it is more than simply a defensive move in a long game. This massive resistance is a collective rising, a new and renewed commitment to take action because nothing less than who we are at a fundamental human, collective level is at stake. It is a period in our history where people of conscience can no longer feel satisfied with the comforts of distance from the causes and effects of suffering—or with silence about them. It is a moment that tests what we say we believe.
The Rev. Dr. William Barber, founder of Moral Mondays and a Disciples of Christ pastor, wrote recently, “Scripture is clear that there comes a time when religion that simply blesses injustice is heretical—an offense to the God who has made clear what true religion requires: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.”
And yet not everyone will be supportive of the resistance. Not even religious professionals. After the election, one of my ministerial colleagues received a stern warning from the institutional “higher ups.” It seems there was discontent and complaining about the use of the word “resistance.”
Wait. Wasn’t Jesus all about resistance?
Yes. But resistance is nuanced considerably in the gospels. Sometimes it even appears as unexpected acts of surprise and love. In the well-known “eye for an eye” text from Matthew, for instance, we read a call to not resist when confronted with wrong: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also … ”
Not resisting includes offering, for each act of evil, a particular kind of response that not only acknowledges and in fact stands up to the evil, but also resists compounding it through retaliation. If you’re struck, offer the other cheek—not as a masochistic provocation of martyrdom, but as a gesture that highlights the wrong being done and attempts to provoke reflection and even compassion on the part of the wrongdoer. If a thief wants your coat, give it. If you are forced to go somewhere against your will, go … all the while claiming your power to choose nonviolence and love.
Resistance is not just pushing back on what’s coming at you. Resistance is doing the unexpected by taking any situation and adding more love. Resistance is persistence in radical, transformational love.
As a spiritual leader, an activist, and a mom, I am accustomed to tending to life in the small things. I have seen what persistent, steady, intentional gestures of grace and love over time can do for individuals and a group.
Last week I stood arm-in-arm with a beautiful, random group of people in East San Jose. Our local mosque invited the neighborhood, along with political, religious, and community leaders to join in creating a ring of solidarity. I wept as stories were shared of people being wrongfully detained during the travel ban. A woman wearing a pink pussycat hat offered me a cupcake. “We are all welcome here!” someone shouted as we began to sing “God Bless America.”
Ultimately, faithful resistance is a commitment to speak out and stand up however we can: when immigrants and refugees become scapegoats for our nations’ anxieties and woes; when the earth is damaged and exploited for economic gain; when access to quality education for ordinary children is undermined; when women’s control of their own bodies is attacked; when the availability of affordable healthcare for every citizen is threatened; when free and fair elections supported by an unfettered press are challenged; when lies are regularly spun into assertions of “truth.”
Faithful resistance is persistence in writing letters, and making phone calls, and bringing our bodies to the streets to share God’s dream for the world.
Faithful resistance is the promise to keep the candle of justice burning when others have resorted to disengagement and cynicism. It is putting all of our small and holy acts together in wild hope.
Faithful resistance is standing up and speaking out even when those in power warn, and threaten, and resort to violence. Against all this, “nevertheless we persist.”
We persist because, for people of faith, resisting means surprising the world with love.