Taking Disruption to Church: A Lenten Reflection

We’ve decided to approach Lent differently this year. Instead of giving up something, we’re giving back.

Lent is a season of reflection and of repentance. These days, few groups are in as much need for reflection and repentance than white Christians. By now, most of us have learned that 81 percent of white evangelicals who cast their vote did so for Trump. And the same is true of 60 percent of the white Catholics who voted. And, lest mainliners feel off the hook, 58 percent of Protestants, in general, voted for Trump. It is easy to see the ways in which current social injustices reflect the commitments of conservative white Christianity.

Our worst social ills grow from the roots of toxic Christianity. If we are going to work for justice, we must call the church to repentance.

In late February, I wrote an article for Sojourners in which I controversially advocated that we protest churches that contribute to our nation’s most pernicious myths. I wrote:

Let us take an ax to the root. Our nation’s Christian roots aren’t incidental to our imperialism; they are central. The engine of Western imperialism is the quasi-Christian set of national myths that teach us that we, uniquely, embody the good life and should spread that life to the rest of the world. This Christian supremacy has been the justification for the deepest of our national sins.

If we want to confound and disrupt the narratives of oppression, we need to raise our angry voices in the pews as well as the streets.

I don’t mean that figuratively. I’m not advocating that we send strongly worded proposal to our denomination’s national assemblies. I’m not suggesting that we start or join a justice committee in our church. I’m not even suggesting that we withhold tithes until our churches demonstrate a willingness to take the radical message of Jesus seriously (though that last one would be a great start).

I literally mean we should disrupt our churches. Just as Black Lives Matter has employed a politics of disruption to raise the national alarm about racist policing. Just as the water protectors at Standing Rock have created a human barrier against pipeline construction. So too, should we disrupt and confound any and every congregation that fuels militarism, economic exploitation, sexism, racism, Islamophobia, or transphobia.

Words have power, but action is bolder. And so, starting on Ash Wednesday we, along with friends from the Mennonite Worker, Catholic Worker, and elsewhere starting to practice what we preached.

We held vigil outside of the St. Paul’s Cathedral calling attention to the Catholic Church’s reluctance in directly naming the xenophobia and racism that have characterized Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and presidency. We unveiled a banner on the Cathedral building that read, “Speaking up for unborn lives more than black and brown lives is white supremacy #SilenceIsSin”, alluding to the assumption that many of the 60% of voting Catholics who justified casting their ballot for Donald Trump did so because of his “pro-life” campaign promises.

We also made ash crosses on the walls of the Cathedral. The ashes were from burnt copies of some of the Catholic Church’s most racist official documents, including the papal bull Dum Diveras (written by Pope Nicholas V in 1452) which justified slavery.

We placed candles on the Cathedral steps and mourned for those who live in fear…those most impacted by the intensifying climate of white supremacy in this Trump era. As we held vigil, we also recognized our own complacency in the face of systemic racism and for the black, brown, immigrant, Muslim and queer people who represent Christ in our midst.

Next, we shifted our attention to the evangelical church. Last Sunday, as the Loring Park Campus of Wooddale Church ended worship, we unveiled a banner during the close of worship that read, “(Y)our Queerness is made in the image of God. #SilenceIsSin”, confronting the way in which many churches have ignored the epidemic of LGBT youth homelessness and the growing incidents of violence against transgender women.

Seven trans women of color have been murdered so far this year. And 40% of the homeless youth population are LGBT…many kicked out by parents whose actions are inspired by their religious beliefs. Some churches endorse such suffering. A few speak out. But most churches remain silent and silence is deadly.

We offered communion to all willing to engage with us. We gathered at Wooddale Church in Loring Park because, while evangelicals are partly responsible for public attitudes about LGBTQ+ people, Wooddale seems more open to this conversation than most.

We recognize that such aggressive tactics irritate folks. Nevertheless, they provoke conversation by raising to consciousness issues that we tend to ignore. Rather than causing division, they bring to light the divisions that already exist.

All of that sounds good on paper, from a tactical perspective. But I’m a white Minnesotan, and as such I’ve been taught that conflict is bad. To many of us, being impolite or uncivilized is nearly the same thing (or worse) than being immoral or unethical.

Even though I’ve been attending protests and organizing liturgical direct actions for nearly a decade, it feels awkward as heck watching churchgoers look at us with faces filled with confusion or frustration or, on occasion, disgust. Raising difficult truths…particularly those that are submerged beneath a opague veneer of politeness…is uncomfortable. Not only for those who hear the truth, but usually for those who speak the truth as well.

Nevertheless, we’re going to keep going. We hope to hold one more action before Easter. And after that, as we embrace the risen Christ, who knows? Perhaps we’ll feel invigorated to raise the stakes?

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