Dear Church, Resist Righteously
I am a righteous resistor.
There are a number of passages that could relate to Black History Month, to the struggles that people of color and the marginalized have faced for centuries. I thought about the Ancestors, who were enslaved (but not slaves), who were persecuted, but knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were not abandoned. The Ancestors who survived by their strength and righteously resisted with courage. The Ancestors who called on and called down the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the cloud of witnesses to fortify them on the stony road of injustice they trod. I thought about Harriet, Rosa, Martin, Bayard, James Baldwin, Frederick Douglass, in my own family my great-grandfather, C.C. Robinson, and countless others whose names are not known but who were righteous resisters. These people were strong and courageous and did the work. They righteously resisted, so that those of us who descend from them could be here today. However, I am not going to talk about these people’s heroes and sheroes.
As Maya Angelou reminded the world on an episode of the Tavis Smiley Show in 2009:
We cannot say that these people were larger than life; they were not. They were human beings like you and me. Some terrible things happened to them and some of them failed and some triumphed. You have to let the young people know that these were human beings in extraordinary times who behaved extraordinarily, but they behaved just like you. Their work remains to be done.
These people are you and me.
I am the founding Director of The Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit at Xavier University of Louisiana, Assistant Professor in the Division of Education and Counseling, and serves the university’s Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. By day, I am a social justice and human rights advocate, academic, and higher education fundraiser liaising with local, regional, and national foundations and corporations to meet the growing institutional and educational needs of the Xavier University of Louisiana community.
I thought about righteous resistance and as a researcher, and I did what researchers do: I went to Google! I searched for evidence to back up my claim that resistance could be, and was indeed, righteous.
And because Google knows everything, I came across an article from The Washington Post written by Rachel Held Evans entitled, “The Bible is the literature for the resistance.” She discusses how from the Prophet Amos to the Sons of Zebedee, the Bible is full of stories of resistance and of resistors. She writes:
America’s own prophets have a long tradition of employing the Bible’s resistance literature to advocate for justice. Black abolitionists invoked the words of Moses to Pharaoh — “Let my people go!”—to demand their liberation. [And] Martin Luther King Jr. [drew from] biblical prophets in…his “I Have a Dream” speech drawing from Isaiah (“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain”), Psalms (“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”)
America is no ancient Babylon or Rome, I know that. But it is not a place where justice rolls like a river from sea to shining sea. There is just no denying the very things condemned by the biblical prophets—gross income inequality, mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, the oppression of the poor and vulnerable, and the worship of money and violence—remain potent, prevalent sins in our culture. These sins are embedded in nearly every system of our society, from education to law enforcement to entertainment to religion. We are all culpable, all responsible for working for change.
But the power of faith—the power of our faith—is to believe despite all evidence to the contrary that peace, that justice, that mercy, and that compassion will prevail over the empire’s—the nation’s—ways of violence, exploitation, oppression, and fear.
As Christians, this hope is made real on Easter Sunday, when we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Not Rome – not the Empire—and not even death could kill this hope.
Hope is not a strategy, but a condition of the soul. Or as Dr. Cornel West reminded us, in his lecture at University of Washington:
Hope is not the same thing as optimism. Hope cuts against the grain. Hope is participatory, it is an agent in the world. Optimism looks at the evidence to see whether it allows us to infer what we can or cannot do. Hope says, “I don’t give a darn about what you say or what you think I can or cannot do; I’m gonna do it anyway…”
It is this sense of hope, this prophetic, tenacious, stubborn hope that allows us as a people to survive and even more for those of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans.
Doing the Work
“Do the work, and show your work.” I can hear my teacher-mother’s voice ringing with impatience at the dinner table as I attempted to solve a long division homework problem. It is a lesson learned the hard way, but one I carry with me. To solve the problem, you’ve got to do the work, and show how you’ve solved it.
As a community of faith, we are called to justice. You all know this. I believe very strongly that God is in this work and if God is in the work, love—deep and radical—has to be the foundation of doing the work.
How do I know God is in the work, that God is in the resistance? The resiliency of the human spirit. As Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote in the New York Times Magazine, The 1619 Project:
Still more than any written record, today’s nearly 44 million black Americans are themselves the testimony of the resiliency of those who were enslaved, of their determination to fight and survive so that future generations would have the opportunities that they never would. The story of Black America is one of tragedy and triumph.
But what does it mean to really do the work?
For me, this means showing up, authentically, whole each and every day.
It means combatting false narratives with factual responses.
It means calling out injustice when it boldly makes itself known.
It means understanding that revolutions aren’t complete overhauls, but strategic and tactical maneuvers.
It means knowing which battles to fight and which to win to claim the victory of the war.
It means not being distracted by drama, by overabundance of work, by the praise of friends or the negativity of foes.
It means understanding that the fallacy of race is an effect of power.
It means dismantling power in hopes of setting the captives and the captors free.
For our non-marginalized or differently marginalized brothers and sisters, for our privileged and white brothers and sisters, it means checking yourself.
It means doing the inner work necessary to recognize where you need to shed racists, sexists, homophobic, ableist, xenophobic thinking and practices that have no place in the human family or in the enactment of our faith.
It means building community.
It means practicing love.
It requires we stayed prayed up.
It requires that we take care of our bodies.
It requires that we free our minds.
It requires we tend to our souls.
It requires a responsibility for your life and a realization that there is no Other.
For me and my academic work, it requires a vision of a new human being and a new becoming. A revolutionary human becoming nourished by the warmth, complexity, psycho-social, behavioral, spiritual, and ontologically entangled ethic of radical love.
Love. It always comes back to love.
When I think about love, I think about the Blessed Mother. I think about Mary and my favorite phrase in the whole of the Bible that is read on January 1, Feast of Mary Mother of God.
It is very simple. Galatians 4:4: “…And when the fullness of time had come…”
Love for me is the fullness of time. A recognition of the complete fullness of every moment. The pregnant possibility of the moment and of the opportunity to be-do differently, more and deeper.
It may sound trite, but for me, I resist through love. Not sentimentality or mush, but agape–the unobstructed, unconditional, open force that binds us all in a common humanity. Love is a choice without which justice cannot exist. Love is an action and not a feeling. Love contains affection, respect, commitment, trust, care, and truth-telling. Love cannot exist in systems and relationships of domination.
Perhaps, if we made the choice to Love, things would be alright, I think to myself.
Love is the root of justice. In fact, Dr. West reminds us that justice is what love looks like in the public square. As I have shared with others, I spend a good deal of time thinking about love about sacred love and loves power to, as James Baldwin said to
“take off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within” (1962, p. 95).
In the fierce peace of Christ,
Dr. David Robinson-Morris
Dr. David Robinson-Morris is the founding Director of The Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit at Xavier University of Louisiana. He is a believer that service to, with, and in the community grounded in prayer is the kryptonite of righteous resistance. While a native of Galveston, Texas, New Orleans is his soul. Above all, he is a reconciler.