How to Love Through Resistance

August 7th, 2018

The language of “resistance” has a long history. For many it will call to mind those who’ve marched, stood on picket lines, participated in sit-ins, and put their bodies between trucks, tanks, and other people or cherished land. Used as a political term, resistance is generally understood as a kind of collective civil disobedience, focused on justice and human rights, and embodied in public actions like those just mentioned. 

I’m not a political theorist or activist; I’m a pastor-theologian and a follower of Jesus. Thus, the language of “resistance” for Christians evolves through prayer, conversation, and practice in a different way.

Sacred resistance is a movement, not a moment. While that phrase is certainly a rallying cry to stay engaged in the critical conversations and issues of our time, it also conveys a substantive claim. Sacred resistance is a stance, a way of being in the world, and an ongoing orientation to the world. As followers of Jesus, sacred resistance is at the heart of our being, not just our doing.

This does not mean that we go around being defensive all the time. It doesn’t mean that we will always be angry and argumentative. Rather it means that, as those formed in and by relationship with Christ, our very being is turned toward God and attuned to God’s wisdom and way. Therefore, our inward posture centers on God and resists all that is not God, resists all that is counter to the ways of God revealed through Jesus.

Of course, we get turned around and find ourselves upside down all the time. The point is not that we claim to get it right. The point is that, as those who are in Christ, our call is to be deeply, profoundly with—with God, with other people, and with all the creatures of the world. As followers of the God whose life is poured out for others to bring about wholeness, our call is to find meaning and purpose in doing the same.

This, then, is our way of being in the world: to be with and for God and others and to participate in God’s life of love, justice, and mending. In the traditional language, life is found in the biblical requirement to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 CEB).

"Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent" (Abingdon Press, 2018). Order here:

When we gather for the called General Conference in 2019, my deep prayer is that those like myself who are honored with the responsibility to speak and vote as delegates will come without defensive resistance toward other people, a resistance fueled by preconceived or hardened opinions of one another. Instead, I hope we will arrive committed to “sacred resistance” toward the destructive energies that seek to terminate our communion and to harm those most vulnerable among us. I pray we will arrive energized and fueled by love of God and love of all our neighbors. I firmly believe this is possible—because with God all things are possible!—and that this is the only way we’ll discern a creative way forward that is truly aligned with God’s vision.

Sacred resistance is ultimately creative. To resist hatred and violence is to make a positive, creative choice for the sake of love and tenderness. Where hatred and violence are consumptive, love and tenderness are generative qualities. In choosing to risk comfort, status, or safety to be in solidarity with another, you participate in God’s way, guided by God’s wisdom, empowered by God’s grace. If you are participating in God’s way, you have a share in the creative work because God is always at work creating and re-creating, mending and making new (cf. Isa 43:19; Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 5:17)!

This way of thinking about sacred resistance is a way of being, grounded in the grace of God, which tunes our hearts and minds to the beauty and brokenness of the world—to the beauty of The UMC and its brokenness. Sacred resistance is a way of dwelling in God that provides both a vision to work toward and the traveling mercies to get there. Sacred resistance moves us to action and holds us in the promise of God’s steadfast presence and love as we take risks in solidarity with others.

What would it look like for the United Methodist General Conference of 2019 to collectively trust God in such a prophetic, countercultural way?

If we truly try to follow Jesus, we’ll understand that God’s creative, mending, saving love is extended to the whole world and is particularly focused on the vulnerable and those experiencing pain or injustice. Even a cursory review of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life reveals that he spent most of his energy in the margins, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, confronting injustice, restoring life and dignity to those for whom these gifts had been denied. There are innumerable persons around the world who suffer the indignities of poverty, violence, injustice, and prejudice. Thanks be to God that our denomination is in solidarity and service with so many people across the spectrum of human affliction.

Yet The UMC singles out LGBTQ persons—who daily face stigma and rejection—and labels these human beings “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Among us are persons of deep and thoughtful faith who are unable to reconcile their reading of scripture with the claim that LGBTQ people are just like them except for sexual orientation or gender identity. There are amazing, faithful, Jesus-following LGBTQ leaders and participants across our church at every level. Many of these persons have great compassion for those who struggle with the scriptures, because they have done the same! There are LGBTQ persons called by God to serve in ordained ministry. There are children in our pews soaking up what they see, hear, and feel, and some of them are LGBTQ. And there are countless LGBTQ persons who left the church or will never enter our blessed communion because they know they will not be received as God’s dearly loved children.

In his first letter to the Corinthian churches, Paul described life together: “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. . . . If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:12, 26 CEB). Many years ago, the deep truth of these words pierced my heart. The preacher said simply, “The body of Christ has AIDS.” It struck me as never before: my body has AIDS because the bodies of others suffer from this disease. What affects one, affects all. This is one reason why Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

To love our neighbors as ourselves will require that we see the other persons as human beings, not as walking stereotypes or abbreviations or “issues.” A wise mentor recently reminded me that as soon as a stereotype gets activated, there is no more “personal” connection. The person or group loses any sense of personhood and becomes like an object, a faceless thing without history, dignity, or heart. In our focus on “issues,” people often get “lumped into” a stereotyped identity or perspective. People become faceless blobs in an amorphous, ideological “issue.” I can’t count the number of times a lesbian or gay friend has said, “I am not an ‘issue’!”

My earnest prayer for General Conference 2019 is that we will participate in God’s mending of the body of Christ, rather than choose to do further harm; that we will see one another as fellow human travelers on the way of Christ, and love all our neighbors as ourselves. Even in this difficult moment I am a person of deep hope. I resist because my hope is in God. And, thanks be to God, my resistance draws me near to evidences that hope is not in vain.

comments powered by Disqus