By Rev. Brian A. Tillman
There is a lot of discussion about resistance and protest right now with NFL players taking a knee respectfully during the national anthem as a way of shining light on the injustice that black and brown people face at the hands of law enforcement.
Previously, I shared a six-phase process for racial reconciliation. The first phase is resistance. In my view, taking a knee during the anthem is an act of resistance that says, “we are hurting and we want you to participate in our healing.” This is the same goal of the Black Lives Matter movement. Both groups resist so that people can become aware of the injustice of systemic racism, and it is working; many have come to recognition. Yet, others are becoming angry and using more injustice to silence the resistance. Both groups have been viciously attacked for their methods of resistance and many of those attacking them count themselves as Christian. It is frustrating how people can say nothing about racial injustice and refuse to standup to racism, but become emboldened when the oppressed do so.
Resisting racial injustice on a daily basis is enough to drive you nuts! Working towards racial reconciliation is mentally and emotionally exhausting work. If you are on this journey, I would highly recommend that you maintain a good therapist. It is not because you are crazy, but because the world is. If we are not careful, we can easily slip into the methods of those we resist. You need a therapist who has some level of intercultural competence and who will push you to reflect critically on your own thoughts and actions. There are times when it is difficult to be self-critical and the perspective of an objective voice is needed. A therapist can serve as that voice.
I was in my therapist’s office one day discussing my efforts of resisting racial injustice and oppression. I expressed how I often get angry and want to scream or react in ways that I know are not right, but I feel justified in doing so. One of our big jokes in the discussion revolved around a coffee cup. I once described my desire to take the coffee cup of someone who had wronged me and poke holes in it so that their coffee would slowly seep out and spill all over them, and I wanted to be positioned to witness it from a distance. More than that, I wanted them to know that I did it! (For the record, I never did.) After using that analogy a few times, my therapist looked back at me one day and asked the million-dollar question: “Is there a difference between ‘resisting’ and ‘revenging?’” My mouth hit the floor. In an instant, I realized that there were times when my actions were unchristian and veered away from the path I wanted to be on. I had to begin to evaluate all of my actions to determine if they were more in line with resistance or revenge. There is a fine line between the two.
I define “resistance” as standing firm against the powers of injustice and any forms of oppression that work against the kingdom of God. It is a refusal to accept or to participate with injustice. Resistance embodies a hope of leading those on the receiving end of the resistance to “recognition.” The oppressed and their allies use resistance to bring awareness to an injustice. Resistance should be employed anytime one person or group seeks to dominate another or to diminish the personhood of another.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger... [Ephesians 4:26]
I define “revenge” as any action that is a response to hurt and seeks to return hurt for hurt. Revenge cares little about the end result so long as harm is done to the object of its anger. Resistance aims towards community; revenge aims towards more isolation. Resistance aims towards peace; revenge aims towards war. Resistance is a refusal to accept injustice or to participate in it; revenge is an acceptance of injustice as a path, but it leads to more injustice. Resistance is a commitment to equality with the oppressor; revenge is a commitment to dominating the oppressor. Resistance is rooted in love; revenge is rooted in hatred. In short, resistance is a commitment to being angry without sinning [Ephesians 4:26]. The line between these two actions is thin, but must be clearly understood before acting.
As seen with recent movements, resistance comes with consequences: those who resist are often attacked. One of the most disturbing attacks against those who resist injustice and oppression is when those who oppose the resistance to racial injustice try to equate resistance with a lack of love. Every time this is presented to me, I resist accepting that conclusion. My response is simple. If you think that my loving you requires that I allow you to continue oppressing me and that I must be silent about the injustice towards me (or to speak of it softly), then I am not the one who has a problem with love. Silence in the face of injustice is not an expression of love; not even for the oppressor. We must stop lying to ourselves. Resistance is not a lack of love. In fact, the opposite is true.
We must continue to resist if reconciliation is ever to begin. Silence to injustice is complicity. When I look at this nation and the racism present in every system, I am reminded that there is a lot to resist. Rev. Dr. William Barber writes that resistance is needed because “those in power will ignore what they do not want to see as long as we let them.” We must, however, resist in ways that are void of revenge and rooted in love for the oppressed and the oppressors. The path to reconciliation begins with resistance. We must resist to reconcile.
The Rev. Brian A. Tillman serves as the chair of the Commission on Religion and Race in the North Georgia Conference of the UMC and also serves as an associate pastor at Ben Hill UMC in Atlanta. He often hashtags to: #ResistToReconcile
Barber II, W. J. (2016). The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. Boston: Beacon Press, 55.
Posted October 19, 2017