How faith helps activism

Submitted by Ruth on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 11:01

Making a difference in the world is about small steps – and our faith and spirituality can support our activism. Faith in Action worker Ruth reflects on the importance of these things following a workshop at the recent SCM gathering in Edinburgh.

I led my first workshop for SCM at the Edinburgh Gathering in October. The title of the workshop was ‘Putting Faith into Action: How to make a real difference’. As the aim of the workshop was to get students thinking about ways to make a real difference to seemingly insurmountable problems, you might be surprised that I’m writing a blog about the importance of small things.

As is often the case, there are two sides to every coin. When thinking about large-scale, high-impact activism, it’s important not to lose sight of individual people, whether people close to us, or people from another country that we have never met. During the workshop, one person told us that she finds it helpful to remember to care for those immediately around her, as well as engaging in activism on issues which often seem too large to grasp.

It can often feel like the problems of the world are too big and we must therefore give up doing anything to make a difference, but God encourages us to do something anyway. God knows we cannot change the whole world by ourselves, but God nevertheless expects us to try. Every person is an individual who can be helped by our actions and hindered by our inaction. If doing something only helps one person, it’s already better than doing nothing and helping no-one at all.

Another two-sided coin is the relationship between activism and spirituality. In the workshop group, we discussed how we’ve often seen activists burn out. There are several ways in which our faith can help us with this problem:

  • Contemplation and prayer: By balancing activism with contemplation, we gain perspective and strength to carry on fighting against injustice – sometimes for an entire lifetime. Many great and important activists were/are also mystics, such as Dorothy Day (who started the Catholic Worker Movement) and Richard Rohr (who set up the Centre for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico). Having breathing space to recuperate and also to gain wisdom and guidance from God is incredibly important for our activism.
  • Grace and forgiveness: God encourages us to do our best, but God also expects us to be forgiving and show grace – to ourselves and others – just as God is forgiving and shows us grace. If we can love ourselves, then we will be more capable of loving others. In the world of activism, it is all too easy to judge others and create tensions between people. If we are forgiving and show grace to each other and to ourselves – challenging but never judging, and always putting love and gentleness at the top of our agenda – we are more likely to have healthy, strong friendships and solidarity between activists. This will breed healthy, strong activism, which in turn will make a real difference.
  • Working with God, never alone: Recognising that the things we do to grow goodness and uproot injustice are only a part of the great kingdom project of God helps us to feel less overwhelmed. It also helps us to avoid having a ‘hero complex’, which is unhelpful for our own health, as it puts too much pressure on us, as well as for our ego. Believing in our own ability alone leads to a destructive arrogance. We must always remember that we stand in need of help from others and from God.

Be encouraged in the work of building God’s kingdom of justice and peace! Every act of kindness, however small, has the potential to make a difference, and we are never alone in our activism: God encourages, guides and renews us every day.

Tags: Faith in ActionActivism