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Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer: What Would Jesus Do?

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On Friday the verdict will come down on the all female group provocatively named Pussy Riot for the crime of praying in church.

Ok, that is a simplification, but it is still the basic fact.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich entered Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow last February and, uninvited, went on the altar to offer a "punk prayer" to the Virgin Mary. The women asked Mary to save Russia from Putin who was poised to solidify his grip on the country in the upcoming election.

The action lasted all of about five minutes and can be seen below. The girls interrupted the solemnity of the church and the prayers of the pious as they jumped up and down, singing, air guitaring and genuflecting as guards and nuns attempted to stop them.

For this relatively mild and brief disruption, the young women have been imprisoned for the last six months and face a sentence of three more years in jail. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state have taken the action of these three girls very (one might almost say ridiculously) seriously and thereby requiring that the rest of us do the same.

The context for Pussy Riot's action was the Russian presidential election and the looming consolidation of power by Vladimir Putin who has been shutting down freedom of protest and speech in Russia at an alarming rate. The current Pussy Riot controversy is only one more case in point.

The location of Pussy Riot's action was chosen, in part, because Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, had become so entwined with the fortunes of of Putin that he had actually called the presidential candidate a "miracle of God."

This is the same "humble" religious leader who was seen with a $40,000 watch that they later tried to Photoshop out of a picture because of the embarrassment of the religious man's lavish lifestyle.

For a Christian like me, the question that the Pussy Riot action begs is where might Jesus stand in the controversy between the combined power of the Church and State vs. three women who made a prayer for deliverance from it.

On the one hand we have an increasingly repressive government legitimized by the state religious institution. On the other we have three young women who enter what is meant to be the house of God who call upon another young woman named Mary, who lived 2,000 years before.

Mary was a nobody but when she visited her cousin Elizabeth while Jesus was in her womb. She cried out:

My Soul Magnifies the Lord. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

Later, her son Jesus would show that houses of prayer sometimes need to be shaken up. The passage in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 21 reminds us:

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers."

It is clear from the Scriptures that Jesus himself preferred the company of the outcast and that his message was successful because he gave dignity to those whom the established power tried to debase. "Blasphemy" is a charge that has been levied against Pussy Riot by the 'righteous', but it is the same complaint that was said of Jesus.

Pussy Riot may not be believers like I am, but I think God uses all kinds of people to remind us that sometimes true power is not with the mighty wielding brute force; and that the Divine is not always found in hushed gilded rooms.

Sometimes it comes from three young women in prison who dare to talk about freedom in a time of oppression. If the church is to mean anything going forward it must be on side of liberation.

In her final statement before the court at their trial, Maria Alyokhina, one of the three, said, "I am not afraid of your poorly concealed fraud of a verdict in this so-called court because it can deprive me of my freedom. No one will take my inner freedom away."

Preach it sister. God be with you.