Social movements

Why I am going to “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred” and why you should too

Fabulous Fierce and Sacred Logo

In 2 weeks, I’ll be attending “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred: A gathering of Anabaptist lgbtqa* community” and I think you should too. We’ll be gathering in Chicago at the Cenacle Retreat & Conference Center from the afternoon of Friday, November 21 through noon on Sunday, November 23. It’s sponsored by Pink Menno, Inclusive Pastors and the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT interests I interviewed some of the organizers about why this gathering is so important and here’s what they said:

“There is a widely-felt sense that it is time for a gathering to bring lgbtq people together for celebration, healing, and the sustenance of our vibrant community.” Annabeth Roeschly said, “While some of us have gathered at the bienneal MCUSA conventions, those events bring us together primarily in a spirit of nonviolent resistance and action.”

“Columbus 2009 is when I said yes to the Mennonite Church, when I said yes to being queer and Christian and when I began taking communion again.” said Christian Parks, “I do a lot of work outside of the Mennonite church. I come to this gathering to rest and to renew so that I can be strong. I want to connect to the experience of how resilient queer people of faith are and I want to sink into the story of the people who have come before me. This conference will be sacred space.” (more…)

When There is No Peace: Where are the Saints?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“…the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” W.E.B. DuBois

I traveled to Ferguson, MO from August 21-24 along with two other community organizers from New Orleans, LA. We visited the Canfield Green apartments where 18 year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer and where beautiful memorials had been created. One sign referenced the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4: 8-10 – “And the Lord says: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out.” And indeed, roses lined the street where traces of Michael’s blood were still evident, crying out for those with ears to hear.

We talked with Ferguson residents, including a group camped out in a parking lot across from the police station and some youth camped in the “approved assembly area” in the parking lot of an old car dealership. Both of these groups said they planned to stay until Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown was indicted, and we brought them water and ice and fruit as a way of expressing our support and appreciation for their persistent call for justice.

That evening, we saw how W. Florissant Avenue was closed to all thru traffic beginning at its intersection with Chambers Road, a full mile away from the “approved assembly area.” Anyone who wanted to join the protest had to walk a mile just to get to the protest site and then march in a spot cut off from the rest of the public, where police imposed a “5 second rule” which required protesters to keep moving, breaking up any conversations among groups of protesters who began to gather together.

This was only the most recent attempt to contain and squash people’s cries for justice. Others who had been in Ferguson earlier reported even more intense police repression. Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed people who were in places they had every right to be including their own backyards, driveways and doorways. Purvi Shah of the Center for Constitutional Rights was part of a multigenerational crowd –including a number of children– into which police fired tear gas, with no warning and a full three hours before the midnight curfew that had recently been established. Many first person stories of encounters with police oppression are available if you look for them. What we saw in Ferguson was a community under occupation by police. No one felt safer. The constant threat of violence by police toward protestors was palpable.

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Remembering Our Identity

We are Anabaptists. We are Mennonites. We are distinct from other Protestants and denominations. We care about peace, justice, community. We are a unique and special people.

Many of us feel this way or at least I know, at times, I do. There is a special quality of Christianity that is evidenced in Anabaptism. Yes, we were persecuted by the Holy Catholic Church, but we were also persecuted by fellow Protestants. There is severity and deep conviction in our confession of faith.

Yet, in truth, too often we rest on the laurels of our Anabaptist forebears. We recall or express nostalgia for the countercultural, anti-empire sentiments and actions of those who came before us, all the while colluding with the current empire on many levels in our life. Some of us (even unwittingly) invest in stocks for pharmaceutical corporations and weapons manufacturers, thus endorsing a system that benefit from death and destruction.

Many persons and whole churches have substituted absolute pacifism with Just War Theory. In that regard we have embraced Augustinean Christianity to the detriment of Jesus’ command to love even our enemies who persecute and abuse us. We claim a Mennonite identity, but too often embrace an American identity or political ideology (whether left or right). We fail to recognize the radical calling upon our lives, which is to root ourselves in a Christ identity.

Some of us need a fresh baptism, a next baptism to awaken us to Christ’s calling upon our lives. We may have been baptized in water, but now we need a fire baptism to burn out the iniquity and inequality that pervades our lives. Like a prairie fire that burns the dead things and promotes richer soil, so too do we need the Spirit of fire to prepare us to live more deeply and richly. (more…)

Early Anabaptism as Social Movement, Part 4: Conclusion

This post is the final part of an essay looking at the Anabaptist movement through the lens of social movement theory. See Part III in the series here, which compares the early Anabaptist movement with four stages of social movements.

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Photo by Rachel Friesen

Gaps, Tensions and Overlaps

Though there are apparent overlaps, it is clear by now that there are also gaps where the phases of social movements inadequately describe or leave out elements of the Anabaptist movement. Sociologist Charles Tilly writes, “The employment of invariant models…assumes a political world in which whole structures and sequences repeat themselves time after time in essentially the same form. That would be a convenient world for theorists, but it does not exist.”[1]

One shortcoming of social movement theories is that they sometimes fail to capture the many complex, different stories within an observed movement. They tend to look at movements as a whole, and the four phases are very linear in their approach. While this progress-oriented “bird’s eye view” is often helpful, it misses the contradictions present on the ground. C. Arnold Snyder offers a more nuanced understanding in his way of describing the Anabaptist movement as a polygenesis rather than monogenesis. He highlights the similarities and differences in how Swiss, South German-Austrian, and North German-Dutch Anabaptisms developed, conversed and converged. The polygenesis approach does not lend well to the homogenizing categorization implicit in social movement theories. For example, one may argue that Anabaptism did in fact experience the fourth phase of decline due to eradication by the sword in Austria and many parts of South Germany, though in other places it survived. (more…)

Early Anabaptism as Social Movement, part 3: The Four Stages of Social Movements

This post is the third part of an essay looking at the early Anabaptist movement through the lens of social movement theory. See Part II in the series here, which looks at definitions of social movements.

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Photo by Katerina Friesen, Sainte-Chapelle

The four generally recognized stages of a social movement are emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline.(1) Some social movements never evolve beyond the first two or three stages, and others continue in new forms if they are adapted into mainstream society. The model of four stages of social movements sheds light on elements of the Anabaptist movement, though it has limitations, since, as I have argued, the Anabaptist movement was not a social movement according to modern definitions.

Emergence

The first stage of social movements, emergence, is seen as the time when consciousness of a problem or societal ill is just forming. Collective action has not yet grown out of the discontent that is felt by many people, and organized leadership has not yet emerged though “agitators” may be at work at the grassroots. I believe that both the Peasants’ Revolt and the Protestant Reformation were crucial in this first stage of emergence.

The Peasants’ Revolt (1524-1525) laid the groundwork for widespread social unrest, and raised issues of unjust rulers and the need for social reform. Snyder writes that many early Anabaptists, especially in South German regions, were closely involved with the peasant movement for social reform and shared many of their egalitarian ideals. Hubmaier, for example, started his evangelical reform teachings in Waldshut, which greatly supported the peasants. Snyder also cites other early Anabaptist leaders’ connection or collaboration with the peasants; these leaders included Reublin, Brötli, Krüsi, Grüningen, Hut and Rinck. He writes, “Many of the same religious, social and economic impulses that fueled the so-called Peasants’ War remained issues within the Anabaptist movement well after the peasant uprising had been suppressed. Many of the first Anabaptists were active in these protest movements ‘from below.’”(2) (more…)

Early Anabaptism as social movement, part 2: Understanding the Lens

See part 1 in the series here.

Was the 16th century Anabaptist movement a social movement? There are many parallels between modern social movements and the Anabaptist movement; some writers actually use the term “social movement” to describe early Anabaptism. However, I argue that the Anabaptist movement was not a social movement by definition, though social movement theory can still provide a helpful lens with which to understand the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century. This paper examines the stages and elements of the Anabaptist movement using social movement theory as well as the textbook by C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology. I conclude with reflections on the tensions and opportunities that interacting with social movements offers Anabaptism today, as well as the relationship between movement and mission.

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Photo by Katerina Friesen

Defining Social Movements

It is important to begin with a definition of social movements and a brief survey of theories of social movements. One broadly sweeping definition is, “[Social movements] are voluntary collectivities that people support in order to effect changes in society.” The sociologists behind this definition, McCarthy and Zald, formulated a foundational way of looking at social movements for the discipline, the resource mobilization perspective, which was a response to theories that too-narrowly saw general mass discontent and ideology behind protest activities. The resource mobilization perspective moved away from analyzing the social psychology of the masses toward an emphasis on the resources, such as money, labor, costs and rewards, as well as non-material benefits that draw people into collective action and social movements. Today, some theorists believe that although they laid the groundwork for future theories, resource mobilization perspectives were too scientific and empirical. More recently, sociologists have examined the cultural and emotional elements that drive social movements. This newer, perhaps more inclusive, imagination of the forces behind social movements recognizes that emotions such as moral intuition or “the joy of imagining a new better society” are part of social movements, thus blurring the distinction between rational and emotional motivations for movements.

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Early Anabaptism as social movement, part 1: Movement of the Word, 1525-1535

This is the first in a four part series from my essay entitled, “The Early Anabaptist Movement through the Lens of Social Movement Theory.”

By way of introduction to my piece, I wrote the following poem. I invite you to read it as an exercise of imagining what the emerging Anabaptist movement must have felt like to a new believer.

Dappled Sunlight in Highgate Wood

Movement of the Word, 1525-1535

The word spreads on farms,
in taverns and barns, in sewing circles
the fold grows, stitch by stitch.
Behind the looms we whisper
good news and now dozens come to sit
on stumps and stone, our forest pews.

We dare not learn our leaders’ names,
for fear that tortured tongues might speak;
we know the brothers when they say,
“The Lord’s peace remain with thee.”
‘Til He returns to vanquish our foes,
many join Christ’s agony. (more…)