Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From Resisting Religion to Resisting Through Religion

The following is an article written by Earth Ministry's Outreach Coordinator, Emily Martin, for our Spring 2017 Earth Letter:

I’ve always had a stubborn sense of right and wrong. As a child, I would drive my mother crazy with demands for her to explain injustices to me (usually about how wrong it was that my older sister always got to sit in the front seat of the car). When I finally exasperated my mom with questions about how she could allow such a thing, she would eventually say, “Sometimes life just isn’t fair,” an answer I could never accept. 

My passion for fighting the good fight eventually led me to my high school’s debate team, then to an internship with the Washington State Legislature, and finally to non-profit advocacy.

This same fire in my belly is why I initially avoided organized religion like the plague. Like many angst-ridden teens, I viewed religion as an anesthetic that kept people numb and passive to injustice in the world. I thought people of faith viewed suffering as a part of God’s plan and that their motto was that call to apathy: “everything happens for a reason.”

A class on world religions exposed me to the history of diverse faith traditions and began to teach me a different story. Each religion is unique but they share common threads, one of which is that they all tell stories of resistance to oppressive systems of power. 

Prophets and other religious leaders have historically been countercultural; the visions they fought for stood in direct opposition to the political status quo of their lifetimes. The most iconic social justice activists of all time were inspired by their faith.

From the earliest Jewish stories of Abraham, Moses, and Deborah to the Hindu non-violent resistance of Gandhi; from the unification of warring tribes under Islam by the Prophet Muhammad to the compassionate yet firm push for Tibetan liberation by the Buddhist Dalai Lama; the histories of world religions illustrate that no oppressive government has stood the test of time once the members of its society collectively realize their power. 

The most powerful revolutions history has ever seen were brought about by those who knew that God does not want us to bury our rage with prayer. God calls on us to harness the fire in our bellies, using its flames to consume injustice and leave nothing but that same fire’s illuminating and loving glow.  

We are called to action. We cannot sit by idly while the health of our brothers and sisters and that of the environment is degraded for profit. Treating each other and our planet with love and respect is not radical, it is necessary if we are to call ourselves people of faith. 

I avoided the faith community for most of my life, thinking that religious folks thought God would take care of everything for them. My exploration of faith has led me to the United Church of Christ where I am a proud member today. My newfound congregation is a justice-driven and advocacy-focused community that both inspires me and moves me to action. I know now that faith groups are the most effective when we recognize that God by any name works through us, not for us. 

-Emily Martin
Earth Ministry’s Outreach Coordinator.

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