Prophetic Activism

Prophetic Activism: Progressive Religious Justice Movements in Contemporary America

Helene Slessarev-Jamir
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 287
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  • Book Info
    Prophetic Activism
    Book Description:

    While the links between conservative Christians and politics have been drawn strongly in recent years, coming to embody what many think of as religious activism, the profoundly religious nature of community organizing and other more left-leaning justice work has been largely overlooked.Prophetic Activismis the first broad comparative examination of progressive religious activism in the United States. Set up as a counter-narrative to religious conservatism, the book offers readers a deeper understanding of the richness and diversity of contemporary religious activism.

    Helene Slessarev-Jamir offers five case studies of major progressive religious justice movements that have their roots in liberative interpretations of Scripture: congregational community organizing; worker justice; immigrant rights work; peace-making and reconciliation; and global anti-poverty and debt relief. Drawing on intensive interviews with activists at all levels of this work-from pastors and congregational leaders to local organizers and the executive directors of the national networks-she uncovers the ways in which they construct an ethical framework for their work. In addition to looking at predominantly Christian organizations, the book also highlights the growth of progressive activism among Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists who are engaged in reinterpreting their religious texts to support new forms of activism.

    Religion and Social Transformation series

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0870-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 An Introduction to Prophetic Activism
    (pp. 1-34)

    All religious traditions have certain sacred holidays that embody their core narratives. Within Judaism, Passover commemorates the Israelites’ flight from bondage into freedom, while within Christianity, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. The weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday are an extremely busy time, yet in 2008 nearly 1,000 people gathered at Disneyland in southern California to take part in aposada. Posadas are Mexican celebrations of Jesus’ birth in which people go from house to house in remembrance of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. This posada had been organized by Clergy and Laity United for...

  6. 2 Identifying the Qualities of Prophetic Activism
    (pp. 35-66)

    In everyday parlance, “prophetic” is often defined as “telling the future,” which in some translations of the Hebrew Bible takes on the meaning of a fortune-teller.¹ Within the Abrahamic religious traditions, prophets were messengers from God. There is no commonly agreed-upon meaning of “prophetic” among contemporary religious activists, although when asked many will define it as “speaking truth to power.” In the context of this book, which focuses specifically on progressive prophetic activism, that is a somewhat inadequate understanding. Conservative Christian religious activists are as likely to use the same phrase to describe their work. Thus, in this chapter we...

  7. 3 Organizing in Borderlands Communities
    (pp. 67-96)

    Today congregation-based community organizing is one of the most powerful forms of prophetic “insurgent citizenship” within borderlands communities. It is estimated that congregation-based organizing now exists in at least 180 cities in the United States and involves more than four thousand congregations.¹ Taken as a whole, it is the most compelling grassroots response to the negative consequences of urban restructuring and the withdrawal of resources from marginalized communities. It has effectively given power to thousands of marginalized, voiceless people, some of whom are not yet American citizens. They have been transformed into skilled leaders with the ability to organize their...

  8. 4 Religious Organizing for Worker Justice
    (pp. 97-130)

    Workers’ basic rights are flagrantly violated on a daily basis in the United States. For example, a 2008 union campaign to organize car-wash workers in Los Angeles revealed that a group of laborers familiar to most Angelenos were working under horrible conditions. They were being paid $40 a day, well below the minimum wage, had no protection against exposure to hazardous cleaning chemicals, were denied rest breaks, and were constantly harassed on the job. “They are the most dispossessed workers in the formal economy!” declared Rev. Bridie Roberts, the program director for the CLUE affiliate in Los Angeles.¹ As with...

  9. 5 Immigrant Rights Activism
    (pp. 131-166)

    During a meeting of a small group of religious activists in attendance at a national conference on immigrant rights sponsored by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) the discussion centered on the emerging “New Sanctuary Movement.” During the gathering, Flor Crisóstomo, a young Mexican woman, stood up and spoke tearfully of her decision to enter sanctuary at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. “I just want to be an instrument and send a message. Elvira [Arellano] left this movement in my hands. My children are fine—they’re with my mother in a free country. I ask you...

  10. 6 Peacemaking
    (pp. 167-198)

    In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, a resurgent Christian triumphalism successfully reframed the U.S.’ policy options in the context of a civilizational battle between good and evil. In its most polemical form, the situation was portrayed as a battle between morality and immorality; between the light of freedom and the darkness of dictatorship. President George W. Bush’s speeches were sprinkled with biblical images depicting his perception of this cosmic struggle. These references served as coded messages to Bush’s solid base of supporters among Christian conservatives who had come to embrace the Republican Party as though it...

  11. 7 Global Justice Organizing
    (pp. 199-230)

    On January 12, 2010, a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, leveling the metropolitan capital city of Port-au-Prince and burying an estimated 250,000 people under the rubble. In the days and weeks afterwards, all the issues related to globalization, foreign debt, and free trade were laid bare for those who had eyes to see it. The American news media repeatedly reminded its viewers that Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, yet it rarely delved into the complex causes of that poverty. The day immediately after the earthquake, the conservative Christian TV talk show host Pat Robertson publicly...

  12. 8 Conclusions
    (pp. 231-236)

    By taking a broad comparative approach to the study of religious activism, this book greatly expands our understanding beyond earlier research that either focused on individual movements or was situated in specific social locations. It provides readers with a fuller sense of the richness and diversity of religious activism as a very significant and distinctive presence in American public life. The organizations we have examined represent a wide spectrum of religious activism, yet, in every case, they seek to ameliorate the most negative consequences of economic globalization and the politics of empire upon highly vulnerable populations. In some cases, they...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 237-260)
  14. Index
    (pp. 261-276)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 277-277)