#NeverthelessShePersisted: Rev. Jennifer Butler And The Power Of Nonviolent Resistance Today

07/14/2017 02:30 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2017
Rev. Jennifer Butler arrested at nonviolent protest on Capitol Hill
Faith in Public Life
Rev. Jennifer Butler arrested at nonviolent protest on Capitol Hill

In these times, the Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, as well as other faith leaders, is standing for life and health against the forces of greed that will deal suffering and death for millions under the guise of the new Senate ‘health care’ bill.

As Rev. Butler says, “this is not a health care bill, it is a death bill. We want life, not death.”

This bill is so horrific that some faith leaders are willing to go to jail for nonviolent resistance against this death-dealing legislation.

Rev. Butler and an interfaith group of leaders, were, in fact, just recently arrested on Capitol hill for their peaceful protest against a bill they called “immoral” and “sinful”.

This is the kind of moral clarity religious leaders need to bring to the public square in these times. As Rev. Butler has said,

My faith calls me to challenge powers and principalities that would harm the least of these. Therefore I and others like me must speak loudly and forcefully about the moral basis for our actions. We must not be ashamed or afraid to do so because people's lives and souls are at stake.

This is the time to be exceptionally clear that this Senate bill would deal suffering and death under the guise of providing ‘health care.’

The prophet Isaiah could be describing the need to denounce this travesty of a bill:

Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of my people of their rights. (10:1-3)

Rev. William Barber II, a well-known faith leader for his work with the powerful Moral Mondays movement and now with Repairers of the Breach, who was also arrested with Rev. Butler, brings a similarly prophetic word, saying that the bill, in its “power to take health care [from people], is sin — it’s immoral.”

Actions indeed speak louder than words, however. The act of being arrested for nonviolent witness for religious principle is powerful, and these faith leaders would say, now crucial way to stand against those who would deal death instead of life.

Rev. Barber called on other religious leaders to join him in protest: “We call on clergy all over this country — it’s time for you now to come here. Even if it means arrest while you’re praying in protest. It’s time for us to come here and make our voices heard on behalf of the least, the sick, the broken, and those that will die if this bill [is passed].”

There is a discussion today in the public square about a new ‘outspoken’ religious left. Let us remember that profound religious witness against injustice is not at all new, but in times of crisis it has emerged again and again and often the most formidable of these witnesses have been from the streets and the prisons instead of the pulpits or centers of religious power.

Some of the most important religious witness in the history of the world, in fact, has been from prison.

The German Christian pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, before his execution for his resistance to Hitler, asking if religious leaders like himself were “still of any use?” He wanted to know that because they had been silent and had not resisted Hitler early on.

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

Bonhoeffer had not been silent and he was arrested and eventually executed.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham for participation in a nonviolent protest against the treatment of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama. In response to criticism from eight white religious leaders in the south, he wrote a letter and in that famous public letter he gave an historical view of civil disobedience in principled faith witness.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws.

And Dr. King was later assassinated for his witness.

This kind of public faith resistance takes enormous courage, but silence is worse. What kind of person of faith are you if you don’t speak out when massive harm is being done?

Life and death. Lives and souls. That’s what is at stake.

Rev. Jennifer Butler and these other faith leaders know this.

Do you? Do I ?

CONVERSATIONS