Introduction

In the weeks following the killing of Mike Brown in August 2014, dozens of PICO faith leaders and organizers converged in Ferguson, Missouri, at the request of local clergy. They joined their voices with the cries for justice wailing from the mouths of the young protesters and organizers in the Ferguson area. They locked arms with the youth, marched in step with them, and stared down hostility from the authorities in the form of tear gas, harassment, and physical violence. They discovered a leadership capacity, both personal and collective, that they had previously never imagined. For many of these faith leaders, this experience of radical solidarity and resistance was transformational. Our leaders described that moment as a clarion call – an initiation into a prophetic experience of resistance.

It was out of this remarkable crucible experience that the Theology of Resistance project was born. Since the Fall 2014, those clergy leaders and countless others around the country - representing a broad spectrum of religious traditions and spiritualities - have breathed life and spirit into this Prophetic Resistance framework. Their contributions profoundly informed this curriculum series, which is intended as an invitation to all clergy and faith leaders to root their commitment to liberation in a shared theological foundation and organizing model.

This model – the Theology of Resistance praxis model – is a prophetic, multi-faith approach to shaping the theological and ethical dimensions of our commitment to collective liberation. We seek liberation from: the hegemony of economic and racial narratives of exploitation; the practices and policies that exclude our people and our communities from being able to realize their power in public life; and the extraction of wealth and resources from our communities and environment. The Theology of Resistance is a conversation about how our multiple spiritualities inform our shared struggle against injustice and dehumanization.     

It is important to note that Theology of Resistance is not a single “theology of PICO.” It is, rather, a cyclical process by which our faith leaders and organizers bring their individual and collective reflections – each rooted deeply in their particular religious formation and identity – on the convictions that propel our organizing and the experiences that call us to prophetic resistance. This process, when engaged thoughtfully and with intention, surfaces multi-faith narratives of transformation that help us understand both the history of and vision for our prophetic resistance.

The four key components of the Theology of Resistance model include Encounter, Disruption, Reimagining and Action.  

Encounter refers to the experiences of awakening precipitated by our encounters with the reality of the dominant narrative at work in the lives of people in our communities (e.g. victims of state-sanctioned violence, detention/deportation, poverty wages, food deserts, predatory lending, underfunded schools, etc.). Disruption: These encounters disrupt our embrace of the dominant narrative and force a confrontation with our self-understanding and our God-understanding.  This moral crisis and revolution is experienced internally, but is expressed externally in our collective decision to say “no” to the dominant narrative.

Reimagining: These disruptive encounters require that we reimagine 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 (e.g. immigration, payday loans, gun violence, education, housing, mass incarceration, Islamophobia, etc.).  This prophetic 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.

Action: The reimagining is expressed in our prophetic action in public life.  In our teaching, training, preaching, public writing and congregational organizing we are engaging in the proclamation of a new vision for ourselves, our communities and our nation.  We are exposing, in our words and deeds, the destructive nature of Empire and declaring our commitment to “fight for our freedom” from Empire, to resist it with every spiritual resource at our disposal (#empireORresistance).

This is a theological discourse in that it draws from the sacred texts, stories, rituals and experiences of our religious traditions and spiritual communities to interpret these disruptive encounters and the reimagining expressed in our articulation and action.  We draw from the examples of key figures in our sacred histories, whose encounters disrupted them and created space for reimagining and articulation/action in the world - action that resisted the dominant narrative and embraced an inclusive, life-giving narrative.

It is a multi-faith discourse because it is not driven by one single sacred text or spiritual history, but is shaped by the multiplicity of spiritual traditions that make up the communities and federations that are the network we call PICO.  It is a conversation that is cultivated daily, as we set the “welcome table,” where our common commitment is not to the same religion, but to the same radical love of our people and our commitment to their liberation.

ABOUT THIS CURRICULUM

This Theology of Resistance curriculum is intended for use by PICO federation clergy tables to: 

  1. Develop faith leaders in their ability to name and claim the theological and ethical imperatives that propel our organizing;
  2. Create space for deep relationship-building across race and faith; and
  3. Advance a shared understanding of the path to our collective liberation.

The curriculum is organized to both teach and embody the Theology of Resistance model, with each session focused on exploring the movements of the model. The curriculum is also designed to embody the praxis movement within the actual session format. Just as the Theology of Resistance praxis model moves from Encounter to Disruption to Reimagining to Prophetic Action, each session of this curriculum will also engage participants in a pedagogical rhythm of encounter, disruption, reimagination, and action.

The resources and stories featured in this PICO curriculum are drawn from our own experiences and learning as this project has developed, but they are by no means an exhaustive representation. Indeed, we hope that - as more and more clergy and faith leaders engage this framework - they (you!) will make their own unique contributions to this grassroots theological project.