So much has happened in the last week it has been hard for We Talk. We Listen. to catch its breath, let alone find its bearings. Trump’s inauguration was followed by the Global Women’s Marches, which was then followed-up by Trump signing a flurry of executive orders that affected everything from women’s health services, health care, immigrants and refugees – not to mention his constant spats with the media. Prof. Anna Marie Vigen’s contribution for this week, however, ties much of this together – reflecting on much of what has happened in the last 10 days as well as how Christians – especially white Chritians – might respond.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Step One: Take Stock of a Powerful Day
Memory is powerful; it can fuel imagination. So, let me begin by recollecting our Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. My family of three headed to downtown Chicago to join, what we hoped, would be a gathering of 50,000. My nine-year old son chatted happily with friends on the “L”. The excitement exponentially built as marchers filled the car – and every car—to the point of sardines.
Leading up to the Women’s March, I worried: Would too few show up? Would there be paltry news coverage? Would no one notice? However, my biggest fear was this: Would only white women show up and for only a narrow set of issues? Too often, this shoe has fit our foot. Such tunnel vision played a significant role in giving this unqualified man the election as 54% of white women voted for Trump along with large majorities of white Christians (58% of white Protestants, 60% of white Catholics & 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for him).
The night before the march, I struggled with what to write on my sign. I wanted to be clear that I was not marching for white women or reproductive rights alone. I wanted my sign to send the message that white folk especially must see the connections and become allies for others even more at immediate risk. I ended writing: “I March for: Black and Brown Lives; for the Planet; for My Child and YOURS!”
My concerns about size and media evaporated as soon as my face was met by the light of the morning. Our plans to meet others from our church and son’s school were impossible to realize. We happily bobbed along in the middle of a rippling sea of people expressing both hope and conviction, numbering 250,000 or more. The spirit was ebullient—propelled by big smiles, camaraderie, laughter, singing, clever signs, and hundreds of babies and children whose mere presence was enough to showed us plainly why we had come and why it mattered.
Indeed, what most amazed me was the vast constellation of people: youth, elders, students, parents, immigrants, pastors, teachers, healthcare professionals, scientists, etc.—of every color, gender, culture, religion, and sexual identity. Together, for a few shining hours of brilliant blue sky and balmy 60 degrees, we embodied the UNITED States of America. And we did this not only in Chicago, but across the country and even the globe. On this dazzling day, We the People showed up. We showed up to speak out for human rights, for black and brown lives, for healthcare, for immigrants, for reproductive justice, for equality, for the planet, for our children. And the world noticed. And, apparently, so did this new president.
It has been a head-spinning, wretched week of executive orders and bald lies. Each action has taken aim at hard-fought successes of the Obama administration. The targets, to date, include: women overseas in need of reproductive information and medical care; the 20 million Americans newly insured by Obamacare, including that of coal miners and other workers with no employer-based healthcare options; the independent reporting of proven, credible science; Obama’s efforts to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and pipelines; the well-being and rights of Native peoples; new immigrants and refugees and the cities who have pledged to offer them sanctuary.
What are Christians, especially white Christians, to do?
Step Two: Call Out Idolatry
White theologian Stanley Hauerwas named publically what many felt in our bones with each new pronouncement: This administration embodies a powerful, idolatrous faith.
With lightening speed and a shocking disregard for democratic principles and processes, it is feverishly erecting golden shrines to false idols that glorify: unchecked ego and concentrated power; the fear of strangers (whether Muslim or Mexican); a twisted (white) nationalism packaged as patriotism; unlimited corporate profits and gushing fossil fuels (over science and prudence). And this faith is reinforced by a glaringly-white inner circle of advisors and spinners of “alternate facts”.
My language is strong because Christianity has had a prophetic obligation and identity since Jesus started turning over tables and calling out the unjust treatment of women, slaves, gentiles, foreigners… Jesus was a refugee, prophet, and messiah. We are called to be his disciples. A German, Lutheran pastor and pacifist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer bore witness to the idolatry in Nazi fascism. His legacy reminds us that we need to be very clear about the faith and leaders to whom we pledge our allegiance.
Step 3: Become Authentic Allies & Take Concrete Action
As many on social media have proclaimed since last Saturday: “Marches are not Movements”. There is much more, urgent work to do.
In recent weeks, prominent white theologians such as Jim Wallis, Jennifer Harvey, Christian Scharen, Todd Whitmore and Diana Butler Bass, among others, have put a sharp point on how the complacency and flawed assumptions white Christians have put the lives of black and brown people at great risk.
We need to confess this failure. Starting now, we need to start grasping the complex intersections of injustice (race, socio-economic class, religion, geography, sex/gender). As just one example: It is black and brown women and children—in the U.S. and around the world— who are, and will, suffer the most immediate and worst effects of climate change. In Alaska and Louisiana, their families are losing land to encroaching seas. In Syria, China, and in the U.S., they are losing crops to drought. Women and children are among those most vulnerable to hunger and infectious diseases carried by polluted water and viruses carried by mosquitoes. Climate change is, as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes, the largest public health crisis of the 21st century. Women and children are the ones who are already disproportionately losing homes, opportunities for education, and livelihoods due to the disappearance of schools, farming, trades along with increasing civil strife and unstable governments and economies.
In short, those of us with religious, racial, socio-economic, and geographic assets need to become trustworthy and visible allies to those more vulnerable. And we need to do this both out of a moral duty, but also for the sake of our common future. Indeed, how we act now will determine what kind of prospects any of us may have—in terms of pursuing any semblance of liberty, happiness, or life.
For our march, my nine-year old wrote on his sign: “I March for My Future.” Let’s join him. I will continue to act for the sake your children—Christian or Muslim; from a family of new or long-ago immigrants; affluent or impoverished; rural or urban black, brown, white. I ask you to act with my son’s future in mind. All of our children need to know we have their backs.
We owe it to them. Now is the time to be prophetic together.
Aana Marie Vigen is an Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Vigen earned a BA in Spanish, Religion, and Hispanic Studies from St. Olaf College, an MA in Theology and Ethics jointly conferred by the Graduate Theological Union and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Social and Theological Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is a member of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Dr. Vigen is also an active lay member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and served on the national ELCA Genetics Taskforce from 2008–2011. She offers courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.