Wednesday, September 06, 2006

activism and the church

Activism tends to irritate me. I am trying to figure out whether activism really belongs in the church at all. Here is a definition of activism: noun 1. the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.

I think many emergent folks look to the left at liberal ideology and get excited. Their thinking is: "If only we had more activism. If only we could use the political system to right the social wrongs." And yet those same folks tend to look over to their right in disgust at the activism happening on the conservative side. They see protests outside of abortion clinics and DaVinci Code movies and shake their head. Their thinking tends to be: "Silly misguided fundamentalists. They just need to sit down and shut up."

But I think the disgust at conservative activism reveals the deeper problem of "activism" in general to which the emergent church is often blinded. For many emergents, activism is good so long as it's a social issue, which is usually a part of the liberal agenda (poverty, environment, individual rights, etc.). But many believe that activism is bad if it is about moral issues, which are usually a part of the conservative agenda (abortion, homosexuality, etc).

Now, overall, I think the liberal/conservative dichotomy is often a false one. As is the dichotomy between "social" and "moral" issues. Usually issues are both moral and social. Usually liberals and conservatives agree on what problems need to be addressed, they just have different solutions. For me, none of this is where the irritation comes from. For me, it comes from "activism" itself.

Why is it that conservative activism is so disgusting to liberals? Why is liberal activism so disgusting to conservatives? I think at the heart of this frustration and irritation is a truth. Activism misses the point.

Activists usually do more complaining than actual "action." Activism is seen as an action in and of itself. But it's not. It is thought that just raising awareness is enough, or even a good thing. But I am struggling to agree with that thinking anymore. Awareness without the tools and resources for action breeds, what I will call, "informed inaction." Informed inaction leads to skepticism and ultimately cynicism.

Conservative activists wave their anti-abortion signs and "Don't take the 10 Commandments out of the courthouse" signs and yet aren't really doing anything. They are neither making our courts more just, nor are they helping the teen with her crisis pregnancy. My conservative friends spend all their energy talking about how corrupt our culture has become. At the same time, they hope I don't find out about their addiction to porn or alcohol or pain killers. They watch O'Reiley and blast the stupid liberals, but they neither tithe nor will they give to causes that help the poor.

Liberal activists march for the environment, for abortion rights and for gay rights. But yet again, they really aren't doing anything by being "activists" accept maybe alleviating a guilty middle-class conscience. Most of my liberal friends love to piss and moan about how terrible big-business is while they stand their in the Abercrombie and Fitch clothes eating their McDonald's cheeseburger. Then they remind me how sick they are of President Bush yet they never voted in the last election. They whine to me about big-oil while we ride together in their gas-hog SUV.

Activism is useless without action. It is not an action in and of itself. Activism has turned into a socially acceptable way to "vent" frustrations, rather than the beginning of action and change. Martin Luther King Jr. could stand up before crowds and preach and he could stand before Presidents and speak because he was at the front of the lines when the water hoses were turned on. For him it was more than bitching and moaning. It was about the transformation of a culture based on the values of the Kingdom of God.

So I am not sure activism has a place in the church. To me, actions speak louder than words, and activism doesn't speak at all. It just breeds cynics. Don't talk to me about how bad "such and such" is or how someone should do something about "this or that." Invite me to do what you are doing to change the world if you are doing anything at all. I will join you in your action. But I will not join you in your activism.


At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

I agree very much! Its the spirit of activism in the emergent church that is as disturbing to me as activism in the conservative church. Something I've been wrestling with too. Thanks for the blog!

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Stacey (Lou) said...

Isn't it true that our activism, specifically in the form of protest, can bring the attention of our representatives to the issue that we are concerned about? I understand that there are other ways of going about this but there must be some validity in these attempts at activism otherwise people really are just pissing and complaining. Yeah?


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