Interrogating Our Ego in Activism
This week’s Oratio text is based on Michael Vazquez’s workshop entitled “Christ-Centered Activism”, presented at The Reformation Project conference on Saturday, October 20, 2018.
In the Gospel of Mark, two of Jesus’ disciples make a special demand of Jesus; they want to sit at the right and left side of Christ in His glory. They want honor, praise, and recognition. Jesus redirects them and corrects them to understand that what they ask is not something Jesus is able to grant nor is it the thing they should be seeking.
The God of all of the universe, taking on full humanity, sets aside his own authority, his fame, glory, power, and recognition for the purpose to serve humanity; not to be served.
In contrast to the egocentric desires of James and John, Jesus asserts that someone who has the desire for “greatness” would be willing to take the position of the “lowly.” They would be willing to go unrecognized, not honored, not praised, and not exalted for their work because the purpose of the work is not for them. It is for those who are continually in the position of oppression.
The truest essence of Christ-like activism exists for the purpose of loving, lifting up, encouraging, and protecting other people and not ourselves, our platforms, or to buttress selfish desires for success.
We must be willing to interrogate our egos in order to ensure that it is not our self-interest that is being highlighted within the work of trying to remove oppressive structures. Focusing on our self interests remove us from the true essence of the work which is meant to highlight and uplift people who are crushed by oppression.
James and John may have been interested in being involved with Jesus’ liberating and salvific work to love all of humanity, to free them from the bonds of oppression and discrimination, but they also had self-interests within that work which would entail recognition for them, a seat of honor, and self-glorification. Jesus, however, who had every right within his own divine authority to take a seat of honor, sacrificed that honor for the sake of the other. Jesus could have been a person who received glorification on earth, received authoritative and systemic power residing within culture and government, but instead, he humbled himself to play the role as servant so that the marginalized, the ones who needed it most, could be in that position instead of him.
Jesus states, “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The essence of activism is the last being the first and the first being the last. Within our desires to be engaged in activism, we must ask ourselves how we utilize our platforms for the sake of the other.
In addition, we must be aware of folks within the movement of faith and justice, even “progressives,” who claim to be activists on the behalf of POC and the LGBTQ+ community, but who try build self-glorifying platforms built of their co-opting of other’s oppression.
In Michael’s workshop speech at The Reformation Project, he notes how POC and LGBTQ+ activists who are on the ground and pouring out their blood, sweat, and tears are further oppressed by “progressive activists” who claim to have a stake in the movement of liberating our communities, but who risk nothing as they sign book deals.
The real stories of oppression never get heard because the “progressive activist” is too busy self-promoting their contribution and soaking up the glory. They eat up our space and “fetishize” our oppression for their own sakes while the oppressed still remain oppressed. We have to grovel and beg for “progressive activists” with thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers to retweet our stories or to set themselves aside for a moment to uplift those of us who need it, those of us who do not have book deals, thousands of social media followers, white privilege, and money.
“The stories of the people who are actually getting stuff done in the movement of justice, are the ones which are not elevated.”-Michael Vazquez
If we are to assume the role of activist with the intention of liberating and loving LGBTQ+ persons and POC, one of the ways of deciphering our positions in that movement is to interrogate our egos. For some of us that means we must get out of our own ways so that others can take their seat at the table.
Grace and peace,
Co-Executive Director, Brave Commons