Protest as a Spiritual Practice

This is Kara Crawford’s first article posted to this blog. She is graduating this year with a degree in International Studies, while being highly active in Protestant Christian Ministries, Amnesty International, and DePaul Interfaith.

Shhh…don’t tell my pastor, but I skipped church on May 1 for a protest. It was May Day, a day which for over a century has been recognized both domestically and internationally as a day of celebration of the labor movement and a day to rally in support of workers’ rights. Annual rallies on May Day were first called for in 1890, 4 years after what has come to be known as the Haymarket Massacre in 1886, when a workers’ strike in Chicago was fired upon by the police after an unknown individual threw a bomb into the crowd.

In the US, the rallies have expanded to include immigrants’ rights. I went to Chicago’s May Day march with a contingent of students from DePaul; this was my second time attending the march, and I looked forward to it as an outlet to exercise my faith. Since I came to DePaul, I have had many significant opportunities to reflect on the theological imperative for my activism, and it has shaped me substantially.

I am currently serving my second four-year term as a board member of the General Board of Church and Society, the social action board of The United Methodist Church (my denomination), and my tenure on the board has certainly been a learning experience.  In fact, it has radically shaped my life (influencing my choice of majors, International Studies and Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies, and my life goals). It gave me a scriptural understanding of peace and justice, introducing me to the radical implications that my faith can have on my living and being in the world. It has opened my eyes to issues both local and global to which I might not have otherwise had such deep exposure. However, it was my tenure at DePaul University which really caused me to pause and reflect on why I do what I do.

I became involved in activist work on a number of different issues during my time at DePaul, doing international human rights activism through Amnesty International  and working as a student organizer on DePaul’s Living Wage Campaign, so my attendance at the May Day rally was a natural fit. My time to reflect on my activism and service work while at DePaul has introduced me to the Vincentian understanding of this work; here at DePaul, we talk about what we call the three ways of VIA (Vincentians in Action): awareness, dialogue, and solidarity – be aware of the context of the justice/service work, ask questions and talk with marginalized communities on a human-to-human basis, then act on that knowledge and understanding. Additionally, DePaul has given me the framework of human dignity as a rationale for such work; my Christian faith mandates that I respect and work for the promotion of dignity, and my Christian faith leads me to believe that God requires that I seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

As I have come to discover, I found the richness and beauty of my United Methodist and Wesleyan (coming from the tradition of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement) identity mediated through my Vincentian identity. John Wesley cared about and reached out to the poor and the oppressed, the worker and the marginalized. The first Methodist Social Creed (a statement adopted in 1908 by the Methodist Episcopal Church which gave its stance on social issues of the day) dealt exclusively with labor rights, and the tradition continues today through the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church (a document outlining the “official” stances of The UMC on social issues, though agreement with those stances is not a prerequisite for membership), the work of the General Board of Church and Society, and the work of other groups within The UMC advocating for justice for all people. My involvement in and support for labor and immigrant rights is very much part and parcel of my Christian faith.

And this is why I skipped church on May Day. I consider it an opportunity to exercise my faith in what may be considered an unorthodox way, but in a way that is is both personally and socially significant. For as John Wesley said, “there is no holiness but social holiness”, which I believe means that mere self-righteous faith without acknowledging, embracing, and acting upon the social implications of that faith simply misses the mark; in addition to nurturing our own spiritual journeys, we must address the needs of others, and we must advocate both for and with those in need for the sake of justice for all people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *