This is a guest post by Kristen J. Kristen J. is a frequent commentor at Feministe and a former member of several Evangelical churches located throughout the U.S.
Woohoo! We’ve made it to the most important part of this series. Solutions.
I’m a solutions oriented person. Find a problem and fix it, I always say. Okay, usually I don’t say that…I just proceed with the fixing. But, to be honest, I’m not sure there are “solutions” in this particular situation. People are and, in my view, should always be free to believe and to worship as they deem necessary limited only by the principle that they are not permitted to cause direct harm to others. In a pluralistic world the best that we can do is try to convince people to agree with us instead of with them. And it’s my guess that no matter how brilliant our arguments are, there will still be a non-zero number of people who will consider me to be possessed by a demon. The question then is not “how do we stop people from believing things” since…well, I think Hagee said it best:
[Pastor Hagee in a sermon called Faith Tested by Fire – Transcript beginning at 0:59 and ending at 1:10
I want to tell you, in this world in which we live, you can go into a group of people and believe any stupid doctrine you want to believe and they’ll applaud you for it.]
I probably should have put a trigger warning for excessive irony, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.
Rather than trying to convince people that people like me are not enemies of their God, I’d prefer to spend my energy preventing people from causing me and other people harm. The questions is…how the fuck do we do that?
Your guess is as good as mine, but here are a few ideas I’ve had (or that Mr. Kristen has had and I’ve decided to co-opt):
1. Get Organized
Let’s face it. The Progressive Movement lacks much in the way of formal organization. We have trade unions and…MoveOn.org? In part this dearth of organizational structure is a product of what Progressives (often) wish to accomplish. Anti-establishment types typically aren’t big on creating institutions. Instead we work separately to make lives better for people in our own circles of influence. That’s not a bad thing. This non-structure, community activism is the ideal way to address needs in a community, but it isn’t very helpful for combatting a highly organized well-funded opponent.
Like many Progressives, I’m skeptical of formal institutions. In my view, institutions tend towards kyriarchial norms such that even if we were to structure it with the best of intentions, it likely would fail in some way to meet our expectations for an anti-oppression organization going forward.
So what is a possible solution? I think we should better utilize organization like local trade unions. I know in the communities I’ve worked in there seemed to be a social barrier between progressive groups and labor unions. I think it’s time to reach out and work together. Unions have *excellent* organizational and communication tools. In my experience they are already involved in helping people in our communities, and are usually more than happy to help you to do more. Can you think of any other organizational structures we can use?
2. Build a Community
I think it might be helpful to find a way to connect with other progressive groups in your community and with other groups that are facing some of the same challenges. Oftentimes, I think of Feministe as one of those spaces where I can connect with other gender activists. We share ideas and provide support to one another. In that way we’re a community. How awesome would it be if we could manage to build a sense of community within the entire Progressive Movement? If we had an opportunity to talk to each other about the projects we’re working on, share solutions and resources, even provide moral support when things are looking down. Just last summer, bfp shared her experiences in Detroit and I learn a lot about how we might begin to restructure a more cooperative economy. I believe we all have experiences that could help the rest of us in our efforts to create a more just world. Of course, I have no idea how to make that happen. What do you think?
I guess this one is obvious, but progressive turnout for state and local elections often sucks. Big time. But these local elections are wreaking havoc in our communities. At the very least we need to vote. If you have the time and resources, campaign. You’d be surprised how much of a difference a few hours of your time will make in a local election. And if you have some spare time and energy, run for office. No, seriously. I know most of you would – assuming you have the time and energy – make superb school board members or city council members. Imagine what our communities would look like if we had someone committed to anti-oppression work on every city council. Imagine how much safer our schools would be if we had even one person who would stick up for all kids.
4. Let the Sun Shine In
Justice Brandeis (a personal historical favorite of mine) once said in the context of his own battles against better organized and better funded institutions, that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” A lot of what I’ve discussed in this series isn’t known very well outside of the Evangelical Movement. Frankly, I don’t think the Evangelical Movement can stand the sort of scrutiny that would come to bare when its role in politics, health care, etc. are revealed. In my view we saw a bit of the backlash with the Planned Parenthood and Komen fiasco as well as the C Street scandal. By talking about the Movement and highlighting the ways in which they are influencing events in your community, I think we can do a lot to blunt their influence.
5. Stepping Out from the Moral Majority
I glossed over much of the political power of the Evangelical Movement given its extensive coverage in other places, but I do what to address a possible strategy here as well. Part of what gives the Movement its political power is the perception not that it commands a “majority”, but rather that it commands a substantial voting block. The numbers vary greatly depending on who you talk to but the range from 15 to 30 million. However, as Mother Jones uncovered years ago, those numbers are sometimes misleading. In actual fact the Evangelical Movement may be more like 4 or 5 million people. Not an insubstantial number of people, but not an overwhelming force either.
In part these inflated statistics are the result of the spokespersons of the Evangelical Movement to include other Christian sects, including other Evangelicals, in their Movement. For some it’s falsehood used to great political effect, but for others in the Movement, they genuinely believe that other Christians share their belief systems and, although they’ve lapsed, when push comes to shove they would agree with them to ban contraception or prevent people who are gay from adopting. Many churches that preach that if the “Righteous” (that would be them) would rise up to oppose “Satan’s Forces” (that would be Progressives, in general) then all of Christianity would unite behind them.
In other words they draw strength in their convictions from every other person who shares their belief in Christ.
I know that doesn’t sit well with Progressive Christians. And we *could* have another long drawn out discussion about True Christians and coopting, but that conversation is not going to stop members of the Evangelical Movement from claiming you as part of their Movement. What may stop them is you saying to them, to your community and to your church that you do not support their efforts. What may stop them is you organizing your church in support of LGBT youth. What may stop them is your church members standing in front of crisis pregnancy centers handing out factual information. What may stop them is if Progressive Christianity becomes visible. And making that happen is your responsibility.
Those are just a few ideas I’ve had or heard of over the years. What do you think? Do you see another strategy that might be helpful? Do you see weaknesses in these strategies that we can fix or that call for them to be scrapped altogether?
Since this is the last in the series, I want to say thank you to everyone for sharing your experiences and for being so supportive. And thank you to the bloggers at Feministe for having me. See you in the comments!