Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter, Jesus, and Radical Activism

So, today is Easter. Today is the day that families go to church and eat candy and look for colored eggs, and celebrate this guy, Jesus, who claimed he was the messiah.

Now, I don't really subscribe to the Christian mythology around Jesus being the sun of God and rising from the dead three days after he was killed by the Romans. You know, the whole point of Easter. But, I did grow up in a Christian home, so I have been inundated with these the teachings of the Christian Church my entire life, and you know what? It's not all bad.

In fact, if you really read the Bible, specifically the actions and teachings of Jesus, you might think that this Jesus guy is pretty cool. He was a radical activist who fought for what he thought was right. And, yeah, he claimed he was the Jewish messiah, but that wasn't entirely out of the blue at the time. I think it was a way for him to get a good following, and hey, it worked.

So, when you boil it down, Jesus was a radical activist who went around talking about and getting people fired up and angry about the things in society that he believed needed to change (hypocrisy of the church, poverty, prejudice, racism, etc.). Sound familiar?

So, let's take a look at his teachings, and why they were so damn radical.

Respect for all, including women:
In the time that Jesus lived, women had no rights to speak of. Seriously, none. They were not even allowed in the church. Jesus taught about respect and rights for EVERYONE. Women included. Jesus was a feminist.

Hypocrisy of the Church:
Jesus felt strongly that the leaders of the church were not doing their job. He used vandalism as a way to make a point about it by turning over the tables in the temple, claiming that the Pharisees of the temple were a disgrace to God. Jesus questioned authority, no one did that back then. He was a radical.

Turn the other cheek:
When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he did not mean that we should lay down and take it or be complacent. The thing about the way that a person in power would hit a subservient, culturally, is with the back of their right hand. If you were to turn the other cheek, they would have to punch you, which is not culturally acceptable. This would enrage the person who hit you. The point was to enrage the oppressor, in the same way that boycotts during the civil rights movement did. Piss them off, make a point.

Go the extra mile:
Same principle as turning the other cheek, make the rules work for you. The law said that a servant was only allowed to carry a soldier's bag for one mile, so going an extra mile would get the soldier in trouble. It's a pretty goood way to call someone on their shit.

All of this, plus Jesus had Community Organizing down to a science. I mean, look at where the Christian Church is now. Yes, many of his teachings are taken out of context, but at one time the church operated much like a civil rights movement. At one time, it was illegal to be a Christian, so they had a sort of underground highway of information. What they were doing worked.

So, were the techniques used within the original Christian Movement? Things that we can take and apply to our own community organizing in social justice movements.

Community Building: Jesus's disciples were not just there because they had big 'ole man crushes on Jesus. They were there because they were his community and support system. And this support system was not just the disciples, but their families and friends as well. Support systems are so so so important in social justice work, partly because they keep everyone involved sane, and partly because they are there to do the work. Nobody changed the world on their own, change takes people power. People to support, people to spread the word and recruit new people, people to cook, people to house protesters right before a big demonstration, people to do whatever needs to be done. People and community are important. This is why we're called the "queer/LGBT community." It's not just a convenient term for sociology classes.

Training: Jesus was smart when he chose 12 people to be his core group of followers, save for maybe Judas who screwed him over. He chose these people because he knew that they had the passion and drive to lead the movement after he was gone. He trained them, and then they trained other people. They built churches, or small movements in other parts of the country, creating a national movement.

Large Demonstrations: Jesus made a huge ruckus with his activism. He tossed tables around and gathered large groups of people and talked to them. He got a lot of attention, and he got the word out. Without social media, or media at all. No newspaper was writing about the sermon on the mount, there was no facebook event for it, but people still showed up. Word of mouth had a lot to do with this, but also, he was a loud guy who talked a lot, about revolutionary ideas that no one had heard before. Of course people wanted to listen to him, it was refreshing. And the more people he got, the more the word got spread, until his following was massive. Radical ideas that make sense, that's how you get a following.

So, Jesus, maybe not the messiah, but he did know his activism 101, and there's a lot to learn from him, regardless of your religious affiliation. I would encourage you to read the Bible, not because I want you to convert, but because there is a whole lot of good stuff in there that we can learn and apply to this social justice movement. Because, it's always good to learn new tecniques.


  1. wrt turning the other cheek

    You know, I see this a lot, and I don't think it holds water. Luke 6:29 reads "If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them." and is followed by Luke 6:30 "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back."

    Contextually, I think it's pretty clear that turning the other cheek is about giving in to authority and power. This portion of the Sermon on the Mount is about not fighting injustice because those who are persecuted in this life will be rewarded in the next.

  2. I am going to disagree with you, I don't think that Jesus would preach to not fight injustice, because if Christian means Christ like, then to be like Christ one would have to follow his actions. Jesus fought injustice in his everyday life, so regardless of the life to follow, Jesus would want you to do what is right in this life, and that means to fight injustice, as he did.

  3. We really only have one example of Jesus actively fighting against injustice, the cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21:12-17), and I'm not at all sure that that's intended to be an action literally performed by him (there's certainly no record of it outside the Gospels).

    Jesus' ultimate act against injustice was not to fight it, but to surrender to it utterly on the cross. An act which, by some miracle not understood by anyone in full, is supposed to have defeated the forces of evil.

  4. I like your thinking, Jo. I've actually been studying that in my devotional and it makes me even prouder to be a gay Christian, because I'm living the way Jesus did--true to myself and to my Creator. (Sorry didn't mean to get all Bible thumpin on ya) :)

  5. I just wrote a post about how Jesus was a rock star. I'm not too worried about bible thumping. As far as being true to yourself, that is exactly the way that Jesus would have taught you to be.

    God created you the way you are, in his own image, therefore you have no reason to not be proud of who you are.

    Also, you should look up some of Dan Choi's speeches. We had him on campus for queer symposium and he took us to church. That's what inspired this post.