by John Helmeire
My soul dies a little bit every time I see a pastor endorse Donald Trump or hear about his growing support among evangelicals. As a Christian minister I abhor the fact that my faith tradition, which originally centered on Incarnate Liberating Love, is re-centering itself on Incarnate Brutal Capitalism. Yet, empires have always tried to enlist religions in their service. When they succeed and religions become tools for the validation and enforcement of an empire’s values, instead of being wellsprings of creativity and resistance, religions turn out soldiers with unwavering loyalty to imperial agendas. The American Dream sold by this American Empire is the acquisition of unlimited wealth and indisputable dominance. So should we be surprised that an ostensibly Jesus-loving segment of the country has become enamored with a sadistic, narcisstic billionaire? Only if there is an active, visible, and vocal Christian counter-movement.
This Monday, a number of Seattle churches, including the faith community in Hillman City that I serve, are preparing actions intended to contribute to such a counter-narrative. For the sixth year running, we will be celebrating a holiday we made up and dubbed “Table Turning Monday.” Rather than celebrating through song prayer and feasting, we celebrate this holiday by organizing demonstrations and direct actions designed to symbolically overturn oppressive power relations. Table Turning Monday is a commemoration of an event described in the Bible when Jesus walked into the Jerusalem Temple and literally turned over a bunch of tables where moneychangers were set up (money changers were sort of like street level representatives of the banking system). According to Biblical scholar Ched Myers, the Temple was the economic center of Jerusalem and the ruling class– a mix of political, economic, and religious elites, dominated its operations. Jesus’s symbolic actions in the Temple amounted to an attack on the dominant institutions of his society for enriching the powerful and exploiting the poor and marginalized.
The action that my congregation, Valley & Mountain, helped organize is focused on the foreclosure crisis, big banks, and affordable housing. We will be accompanying a local woman who we have worked with for the past couple months and who is facing foreclosure on her home to deliver letters to City Hall, the City Recorder’s Office, and Chase Bank– three institutions that have ignored, misled, or exploited her. In a metaphorical act of turning the tables, we will also be posting foreclosure notices on the front doors of these three institutions. This action starts outside City Hall at 3:30pm on Monday.
Another action taking place this Monday will focus on racism, youth, and the criminal justice system. A constellation of organizations and churches will confront management at Howard S. Wright, the developer who received a $210,000,000 contract to build a new youth jail in Seattle. They will deliver letters demanding a halt to construction of the jail and an investment in alternatives to youth incarceration, especially in light of the vast overrepresentation of Black youth incarcerated in King County. While recognizing that many of the people in the protest are complicit in the racist system they are challenging, the demonstrators will set up and literally overturn a table in the lobby. This action starts at 12:30pm in the Seattle Center.
These actions can be uncomfortable. They can be disruptive. They are not cute or polite. What they provide is a concrete way for people with limited influence to shine a spotlight on injustices being perpetrated by powerful institutions. In the most historically reliable Biblical narrative, Jesus turned over the tables on Monday and by Friday of that same week he was hanging on a Roman cross. This is the seriousness with which empire assesses symbolic actions taken by courageous and creative movements.
So, as the presidential campaign continues to unfold, I expect that we will continue to see high profile Christian leaders give fealty to fascism in order to obtain seats of honor at the banquet table of power. I only hope and pray that we also see an explosion of stories about communities overturning the status quo. For while conformist religion can be used as a bludgeon, alternative forms of religion— subversive, creative, hopeful, non-dogmatic, community-based spiritualities—can be sources of profound liberation and love. If it shows us nothing else, the small movement from two thousand years ago that we’re still talking about, shows us that countercultural acts can be moving enough to unseat rulers from their thrones, to thwart demagogues from amassing power, and to change the course of history.
Note: Articles of Faith is a regular column featuring social critiques from local clergy members of diverse religious affiliations.
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