John Gehring: It’s Time to Revive Religious Civil Disobedience

Dozens of Roman Catholic protesters are arrested at the U.S. Capitol on July 18, 2019. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.” The views in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

The Catholic nuns who occupied a revered place of awe and fear in my childhood psyche never talked about the the holy tradition of civil disobedience. But these resolute women, who seemed much more concerned with instilling respect for authority, also taught me about justice. Perhaps unwittingly they planted the subversive seed in my head that troublemaking is part of being a disciple of Jesus.

I thought about those long-ago teachers last week when I joined hundreds of Catholic sisters, clergy and lay Catholic advocates on Capitol Hill to raise a collective voice against the inhumane detention of immigrant children on the border.

Inside the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, we prayed the rosary, sang and held images of young children who have died in federal custody. And then we refused to leave. Capitol Police pulled out bullhorns and warned us to disperse. Seventy of us were led out in handcuffs. “We have to put our bodies where our mouths are,” a 90-year-old sister who traveled from Chicago for the action told me earlier that morning.

I refuse to be one of those white Christians who either cheerleads for this administration’s institutionalized cruelty, or a Christian who conveniently turns away from the moral stench. At a time when President Trump doubles down on nativism and racism, white Christians have a particular responsibility to challenge his abuse of power. Silence is complicity.

Writing from a Birmingham jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lamented those Christians who “remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” He also spoke to white Christians in ways that remain as relevant today as they were decades ago when he warned about the “white moderate, who is more devoted to order than to justice.”

As a Catholic, I have centuries of social justice teachings at my disposal, but if this remains merely words on a page, I haven’t embraced what Pope Francis calls a “church on the streets” that stands in solidarity with those on the peripheries.

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Source: Religion News Service