Michael Brown Jr.’s death on Aug. 9, 2014, from bullets fired that day by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., was the impetus for Faith in Action’s Prophetic Resistance Project.
During a week-long training that summer, before the 18-year-old’s death, a cohort of Faith in Action clergy and church elders posed a provocative question: Are you a chaplain to the Empire or a prophet of the Resistance? From their comfortable seats in a retreat center in sunny California, this question led to a lively conversation about the values of the dominant culture, the injustice these values inflict on communities, their complicity, and the call of their many spiritual traditions to resist injustice in its many forms.
After Brown’s death, many of these same spiritual leaders joined dozens more of Faith in Action clergy and organizers in Ferguson at the request of local religious leaders. Their voices joined the cries for justice that young protesters and organizers led in Ferguson. They locked arms, marched in step with the youths, and stared down hostility in the form of tear gas, harassment, and physical violence, from law enforcement officers. The faithful discovered a leadership capacity, both personal and collective, that they had previously never imagined. For many, this experience of radical solidarity and resistance was transformational. To this day, they describe that moment as a clarion call – an initiation into a prophetic experience of resistance.
It was out of this crucible experience, hungry for a theological discourse that could strengthen our capacity to be prophetic voices of resistance, that the Prophetic Resistance Project was born. Since then, clergy leaders and countless others around the country, representing a broad spectrum of religious traditions and spiritual beliefs, have breathed life and spirit into the Prophetic Resistance Project.
Prophetic Resistance is a multi-layered, multi-faith organizing project of Faith in Action that equips organizers and others with the resources necessary to engage thousands of their peers and allies in the awakening of faith and spirituality at the center of campaigns launched to build transformative power, disrupt dominant narratives, and create space for prophetic imagination and action in public life.
Through the Prophetic Resistance Podcast, the Theology of Resistance Narrative Model, and many communities of Prophetic Resistance across the country, we investigate our religious and spiritual traditions of resistance, share the stories of our prophets, saints, and ancestors, cultivate theologies of liberation and resistance, and agitate each other into prophetic action.
Theology of Resistance Narrative Model
At the heart of the Prophetic Resistance Project is a dialogue about how our multiple faith practices inform our shared struggle toward Beloved Community and against injustice and dehumanization. This dialogue occurs by way of the Theology of Resistance narrative and praxis model, a multi-faith approach that propels deep reflection on religious and spiritual identity, convictions, and experiences into prophetic action.
The four key components of the Theology of Resistance model are: Encounter, Disruption, Reimagining and Action.
The model begins by asking us to identify an uncanny Encounter that breaks open a reality and demands that we see the world in a new way.
These encounters Disrupt our complacency in an unjust system and force a confrontation with our self-understanding and our God-understanding.
Disruptive encounters require that we Re-imagine our identity as moral agents in public life. For many of us, this has meant a deepened realization of the power of racism and white dominance in shaping the suffering that is at the center of so many issues we have organized around for decades. This reimagining involves not only the incorporation of a racial analysis in our work, but the commitment to racial justice as a key outcome in our campaigns and leadership formation.
Prophetic Action in public life adds moral and social power to our re-imagining. In teaching, training, preaching, public writing, and congregational organizing we proclaim a new vision for ourselves, our communities and our nation. We expose, in words and deeds, the destructive nature of Empire and declare our commitment to “fight for our freedom” from Empire, to resist it with every spiritual resource at our disposal (#empireORresistance).
This Theology of Resistance tool is used to spur theological and ethical reflection on realizing the Beloved Community and construct counter-narratives to “the Logic and Impulse of Empire” in our federations and national clergy caucuses. It also inspires the Prophetic Resistance Podcast.
Prophetic Resistance Podcast
Launched in the spring of 2017, the Prophetic Resistance Podcast is hosted by the Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Faith in Action’s director of clergy organizing, and serves as a source of inspiration and agitation for our organizing community. The podcast features one-on-one conversations with Faith in Action’s beloved community of freedom fighters, justice seekers and faith leaders nationwide, many of whom are clergy leaders or spiritual elders engaged in organizing with a member federation. Grounded in our diverse faith traditions, the podcast draws from the Theology of Resistance to explore what it means to embody love in the face of fear and to show up like hope in seasons of despair.
Previous guests of the podcast have included Sister Simone Campbell, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Rabbi Sharon Brous, Rev. Mark Charles, Imam Jihad Saafir, Rev. Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, Rev. Jin Kim, and more.
Communities of Prophetic Resistance
Clergy and spiritual leadership is critical to the success of Faith in Action’s organizing efforts. Clergy leaders are chief interpreters of the sacred traditions represented in our work. Through teaching, ritual, and proclamation, they accompany our diverse communities of faith and spirituality in the theological and ethical reflection that integrates faith convictions with aspirations for social justice. Additionally, the network of relationships between clergy and national religious structures help build regional, state and national faith-based leverage that creates pathways to policy change and social transformation.
As the fissures in our national social and political fabric deepen, spiritual leaders as well as organizers have identified the need for a robust and active community of prophetic leaders ready to organize peers, denominations, congregations, and communities for action. Responding to this need, Faith in Action’s Clergy Organizing Team directly supports the formation and development of clergy and organizers across the network via in-person and online trainings, facilitation, coaching, and cheerleading, all rooted in the movement toward liberative spiritual awakening.
Drawing on the Theology of Resistance model for inspiration, Faith in Action federations across the network now organize clergy communities as communities of Prophetic Resistance committed to encounter, disruption, re-imagining, and prophetic action in their communities.