Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. – Acts 4:13
I’m relatively new to activism. Although I’ve always been involved in service, I’ve only recently begun to take the additional step of participating in organized events to speak out for causes I believe in and for groups who are marginalized.
As I explore this new frontier of activism, I’ve been wondering: What can I learn about activism from Jesus?
We don’t have a mild-mannered Lord. Jesus went head to head against the Jewish leaders who maintained their power in the delicate balance of Roman occupation by keeping order. Jesus caused disruption that threatened their power in more ways than one. He dared to break the Jewish rules by touching lepers, healing people on the Sabbath, and not condemning a woman caught in adultery. Jesus overturned tables. He called out hypocrites. He talked boldly and walked his talk.
When Jesus spoke, large crowds would gather to hear him. Jesus spent time with children and invited women into his ministry. He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and fisherman and sick people and the poor. I wonder who he would hang out with today. Maybe he would hang out with refugees and transgendered people and food stamp recipients and formerly incarcerated people and people of color.
Jesus’ followers were expecting a political ruler – a king or a military commander. But Jesus chose a non-violent route. He taught the good news about God’s love for mankind. He tried to get them to understand through parables and metaphors that God’s kingdom is completely upside-down compared to the way things usually work in our world. In God’s kingdom the powerful are last and the powerless are first. God’s kingdom is the great equalizer.
Although many people followed him, many others were threatened by him. The upside-down kingdom seemed like losing power to the powerful. They plotted to kill him hoping to end the disruption, to disperse his followers, to warn against new followers. But that’s not what happened. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus was resurrected. To me there is no greater proof in the resurrection than the transformation of the doubting, bickering, denying disciples into bold, outspoken activists. Jesus’ message spread like wildfire, eventually enveloping the very Roman Empire that so vehemently attacked his early followers.
I think in the past, I didn’t get involved in activism because I was worried about what people thought of me. I didn’t want to share strong opinions because they weren’t “friendly.” I thought I didn’t know enough about the world to speak out. I wasn’t sure I could make a difference. And, frankly, it was easier to mind my own business. Jesus wasn’t worried about any of that. He wasn’t worried about being friendly; he was concerned with bringing about God’s kingdom now. Jesus wasn’t worried about criticism; he was worried about people living abundantly today and in the days to come. Jesus was perfect, and his perfection didn’t save him from crucifixion. So why am I stressing about waiting for the perfect way, the perfect time, the perfect cause?
This year marked a change for me. Over the summer, I marched in the Pride parade with members of my church to proclaim our love and inclusion for the LGBTQI community. I marched in New Orleans with Black Lives Matter following the police killing of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling. And last Saturday I walked with my sisters in the Women’s March in New Orleans. I’m new to this journey, so I want to be patient with myself as I explore how I can be effective as an activist. But I also want to challenge myself, and I want others to challenge me not to be complacent and to explore causes and methods for activism where I’m not as comfortable.
I like the new activist version of myself. It feels like me but braver and less concerned with others’ opinions. I believe when I march, when I organize, when I challenge structures and people in power, I’m following forward in Jesus’ footsteps.
Do you consider yourself an activist? For what causes and in what ways? Do you have any tips for a newbie activist like me? Thanks for reading!