Profane Protest on Sacred Domain: Encountering the Contradictions in Religion and Activism

By Tricia C. Bruce

When wire-cutting and banner-wielding peace activists broke into the Y-12 nuclear plant grounds during the predawn hours of July 2012, the severity of their unprecedented security breach was offset only by its sympathetic protest leader:  82-year-old Roman Catholic nun, Sister Megan Rice.

The image of a plant-protesting, pacifist nun is perhaps no less curious than the crowd of sisters participating in a nine-state “Nuns on the Bus” campaign preceding the 2012 election, or “protest chaplains” staffing prayer tents in the “Occupy” movement, or the financial firepower of the all-Catholic and exclusively male “Knights of Columbus” mobilizing for the preservation of traditional marriage.

Religious people are activists, too.

Indeed, while religion and activism might seem strange bedfellows, the two have long mutually commingled. Congregations served as breeding grounds for the civil rights movement[a] and as abeyance structures during the quieter years of the feminist movement.[b] Religious elites with privileged institutional access revitalized the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America[c] and, more recently, used Islam to frame the grievances forged through the “Arab Spring.”[d]

The 1980s zenith of the “New Christian Right” exuberantly testifies to the political fortitude of strategic partnerships between religion and conservatism in particular.[e]  Evangelicals have championed traditional values in family, sexuality, creationism, abortion, and a litany of other “culture war” battlegrounds.[f] Religious framing serves as a unique legitimizer, imputing moral strength to otherwise “profane” activist goals.

Lest we paint a picture of religion as fueling activism on only one side of the aisle or embedded in one religious tradition, we need only look to numerous examples of religious coalitions occupying both sides of contention in struggles over immigration, the environment, healthcare reform, and the like. Religion’s institutional resources and networks are immense. And in its appeal to the supernatural, religion becomes a powerful persuasive tool.[g]

Activism also happens within religion.

Stephen Haynes illuminates this dynamic in his new book The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation.[h] The 1964 “kneel-in” protests by black and white students at Second Presbyterian Church generated national attention and a painful congregational schism. In social movements as in society, religion can in fact exacerbate inequality, heighten lines of authority, and strengthen symbolic boundaries.[i] Scholarship on religion and activism rarely describes these more debilitating effects.

Civil rights “kneel-ins” are but one example among many of activism that targets religion itself. As a protest site, sacred space can bring increased attention to a cause. The recent, politically-charged performance of the Russian punk band “Pussy Riot” staged inside a Russian Orthodox Cathedral demonstrates this. Religious communities act as breeding grounds for internal change, exhibited by new growth among traditionalist Catholic movements and the formal curtailing of progressive stances taken by U.S. nuns.

Committed adherents can themselves challenge religious elites, instigating changes to the institutions of which they are a part. A decade ago, revelations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and the church’s corresponding cover-up inspired lay Catholics to mobilize. Voice of the Faithful convened last month to commemorate ten years of supporting survivors of abuse, non-abusive priests, and structural change in the church.

Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church traces the movement’s emergence and redefinition of “protest” inside the church.[j] Their activism constitutes what I call an “intrainstitutional social movement,” one that targets a specific, bounded institution and emerges from among that institution’s own established base (e.g. employees, adherents, or members).

Accounting for institutional embeddedness means recognizing the bounded nature of movements’ collective identities, tactics, and outcomes. In the Catholic Church, this means a restricted hierarchy and divinely legitimated lines of authority. Committed to remaining within the church, Voice of the Faithful sacrificed many viable tactical options to protect their authenticity as a Catholic voice for reform.

This tension lies at the heart of the relationship between religion and activism: oxymoronic, at best. By social theorist Emile Durkheim’s mutually exclusive categories, religion is “sacred” and activism “profane.” How can one enact the two simultaneously?

The feud finds tinder in recent Missouri legislation dubbed the “House of Worship Protection Act.” With precedent in similar statutes elsewhere, the law criminalizes the disruption of religious services through the use of “profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior, or making noise.” Missouri Senator Rob Mayer (R) asserted content neutrality in the bill’s sponsorship, though the Missouri Family Policy Council lays claim to having developed and advanced it. The council’s newsletter cites numerous offences by the “homosexual rights movement” and anti-war protesters, suggesting that “if there is any place in our culture that should be viewed by all Americans as sacred ground, it should be our houses of worship.”[k]

To contest the law, and bolstered by support from the ACLU, Voice of the Faithful teamed up with other movements whose protest activities frequent religious grounds. Their filed complaint conveyed fear that peaceful yet visible movement activities at religious sites might now be subject to arrest, introducing a chilling effect on the freedom to protest. Their petition was denied.

Thus revives the ghost of Durkheim and the chasm between the sacred and profane: “…the mind irresistibly refuses to allow the two corresponding things to be confounded, or even to be merely put in contact with each other…”[l]

Given this climate of uncertainty, it is not altogether surprising that those claiming both religious and activist identities might instead look to work creatively through existing institutional structures. The rich and difficult irony is that when an intrainstitutional movement adapts to accommodate its perceived target, it may wind up replicating the form, identity, and tactics of the very institution it set out to change.[m]

Studying the tension between religion and activism requires both a cultural approach to social movements[n] and a cultural approach to religion, with a renewed focus on institutional fields, social embeddedness, and fluid identity formation.[o]

Allowing – even forcing – our minds to put the profane in contact with the sacred enables us to encounter and confront the contradictions in religion and activism.

[a] Morris, Aldon D. 1984. Origins of the Civil Rights Movements. New York: Free Press.

[b] Taylor, Verta. 1989. “Social Movement Continuity: The Women’s Movement in Abeyance.” American Sociological Review 54(5): 761-775.

[c] Smith, Christian. 1991. The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[d] Ramadan, Tariq. 2012. Islam and the Arab Awakening. New York: Oxford University Press.

[e] Blee, Kathleen M. and Kimberly A. Creasap. 2010. “Conservative and Right-Wing Movements.” Annual Review of Sociology 36:269-86.

[f] Hunter, James Davison. 1983. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic Books.

[g] Leege, David C., Kenneth D. Wald, Brian S. Krueger, and Paul D. Mueller. 2002. Politics of Cultural Differences: Social Change and Voter Mobilization Strategies in the Post-New Deal Period. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[h] Haynes, Stephen R. 2012. The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation. New York: Oxford University Press.

[i] Edgell, Penny. 2012. “A Cultural Sociology of Religion: New Directions.” Annual Review of Sociology 38:247-65.

[j] Bruce, Tricia C. 2011. Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church. New York: Oxford University Press.

[k] Ortwerth, Joe. 2012. “Missouri Legislature Sends House of Worship Bill to Governor Nixon.” Missouri Family Policy Council Jeff City Update.

[l] Durkheim, Emile. 2008 [1915]. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc. P.40.

[m] Bruce, Tricia C. 2011. Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church. New York: Oxford University Press.

[n] Jasper, James M. 2010. “Cultural Approaches in the Sociology of Social Movements.” In Bert Klandermans and Conny Roggeband, eds., Handbook of Social Movements Across Disciplines, pp.59-109. New York: Springer.

[o] Edgell, Penny. 2012. “A Cultural Sociology of Religion: New Directions.” Annual Review of Sociology 38:247-65.

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Religion and Activism

One response to “Profane Protest on Sacred Domain: Encountering the Contradictions in Religion and Activism

  1. ← Keshe Technologies solutionsRequest to THE international court of justice stop killing sientists →
    Where does the humanity go from here on ?
    Posted on June 3, 2014 by carolinaderoose
    Why are humans fighting for how and who can be nearer to him?

    Why humans use different names for what is the One and the Only in the world of the?

    Why humans would like to be called by different names in the path of reaching him?

    Why do humans think one has to be better than the other by choice of a name of a faith, a person, or statue to be closer to him?

    Why all humans do not use the same name and the same path for and to reach the same creator?

    If they do so, then all humans will be as equal in all levels of their belief and as one race and as one entity, once they understand that names count for nothing, if the truth is hidden behind only names but all have the same goal.

    Is it not that the Man has lost his path for accepting him, and in trying to be like him and be what he is, which is to be kind, forgiving, generous, correct, compassionate, and so many other things that the man calls his God to be, that the man has forgotten that these are all attributes in himself too.

    Man is all, what the God is, but he is selective to whom he wants to be with one of his attributes.
    Then, why not all men be all that the God is to all men and his creations, then at this point, the man reach’s the level of the creator, non selective and the same to all with all attributes of the God.

    It is the man who has chosen different names for the same creator, to show his superiority over the others, only by his choice of name for him and the path of worshiping the same creator, but if he chooses the same name as others, but in its path serve the creations of the earth and the universe, then the man in himself will find all attributes of the creator.

    The division of the man by religion, color, and race has been the downfall and the cause of the wrong doings of the man to himself and his fellow men and other creatures of God.

    As the man is getting ready to take a permanent residence in space, once in space, then all colors of creation are all colors of the same man and the same God, if one understands this! Then, what is the man doing with all these fighting’s and killings of another man for, and in the name of which creator?
    Then, the man will realizes that all humans will be equal and be one race and
    be one entity, and once they understand that names of the God they have chosen counts for nothing, if the real true intentions and the truth is hidden only behind the facade of just names.

    Call yourselves, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and what so ever; when your heart is not unifying to the path of the creator, your lives have lost their path to reach the position, which it was born for.

    When, humanity realizes that equality and servitude comes from the true richness of thoughts and behavior and from the soul of the man, rather than the choice of a name to be part of the path to the creator, then the man is matured.

    It is time for all paths of worships of the creator on this planet to unite and under the banner of peace and servitude to call themselves one body and one human race.

    We call upon all religion leaders of all sects of the man to denounce war and violence and to participate in these acts to be a punishable offence.
    The punishment will be the distanced from the creator through the soul of the man and not the physicality of the man.

    Then, we shall see who will fight the false wars of today and falsely pretending to serve the humanity, and we shall see who will put all arms down and with servitude to serve the God, rather than the use of guns and swords in different names of the GOD, which the men of greed supposedly are fighting for to defend his name.

    God is capable to protect himself and his name, if need be, and he does not need all these pre-mature killing tools that the man has developed for killing and the physical bondage of other men for the show of their feeble human greed and power, as they claim needed to be near him under different disguises of names of god.

    Then, guns and swords should be exchanged willingly with and to tools of peace of help and facilities to be provided by religious men for servitude, to see who can serve well and better than another being.

    Then, no one shall kill, and no world leader will call the ordinary men that thy are incompetent to control their affairs, that they can rule their way in the false name of god.

    Then, there is a big question mark in the whole structure of the creation of the man, and that is, Man was not worth to be created, if one individual was not capable of choosing his path of belief in his good god by himself, that he needs the control of the name for the man to be slaved by the feeble men of greed.

    May be it is time to call upon the world religious leaders of all names to call all men equal, not according to their physical and financial capabilities and name beliefs, but through the state and level of the souls of all individuals that they can achieve through serving other men truly.

    Then, if one religious leader can say that one soul will be higher than the other soul because of its earthly position and possessions and color and choice of the name of the GOD, then all the present religions and paths of worships are nothing but mirage of wealth making processes and for control of the man by these falsely so called the man of religions.

    Then, if one religious leader can say that his followers are and have better statues and status than other followers of God, then this means that this leader has seen God and seen how God has given different status to different souls of the man, by simply differentiating man by the name that they have chosen to call him.

    I am sure there are no religious leaders, whom can make such a statement, as they all know all man’s souls are equal to the status of the creator.

    If the false claims of these religious leaders are to stand the judgment day of today, then, the lives of all prophets of the past have been sacrificed and wasted for the greed of those, whom are serving not the soul of the man in its path to the real creator, but for the position and profits that the name of the God brings these so called religious leaders and for them in to be who, what robe they dress themselves in and where they are in the false path they have built to show their personal station in the name of God.

    World leaders are resigning one after another, be it religious or national leaderships, not for living the path of the servitude, but they think that they can wash away their wrongs doings of the their past, by closing their books of this time.

    May be it is time from now on to see who calls himself the servant to God and thoroughly serve the humanity.
    Then, one should choose no name in the path of serving, but call one self the servant to humanity.

    May be it is the time for all the religious leaders of the world to meet as equal followers of the creator, and through this, world religious leaders meeting, the men of the earth will follow their example in understanding that all are serving the same God and for the development of their individual souls’ and as one collective soul as one race and become as one.

    Let the religious names keep what earthly materials they have collected over past times. As the false wealth collected for achieving the peace, they have brought collectively all men in accepting servitude and equality by all men and this has been worth the suffering that the man has been through in the false names of God.

    That all men are nowadays collectively running away from the names of God as they have realized that the God is the essence of perfection and not the names of the path to him.

    Then, this frustration with the use of names to benefit a few has set the path of the peace and a full payment for these religious leaders times’ and their predecessors times, where in their wrong doings, they have brought all men to where they are today, that through so much unnecessary suffering in the name of God, now all men can accept peace with open arms and unconditionally for the whole of the humanity.

    More wars have been fought in false names of God and protection of the property of the land of messengers of God, than one can mention on this planet, and all these false use of the names have to come to an end, that this is to show the real maturity of the man and the position of the leadership of the religious leaders of this planet.

    The message of all messengers have been to love, to share, and live for and in peace, and not what their followers do today, which is nothing but to fight, to see who collects more earthly possessions, positions and buildings, and they are encouraged to hate each other by using different name for the same God to benefit these leaders.

    Then, for where the man is now, in this stage of killing and justifying it as peace process, then the world religious leaders have failed in their jobs to teach the world leaders and all men by not telling the man the truth about the God and how to be close to and be part of him.

    Religions and their followers have become nothing but collectors of wealth in the false name of God.
    In truth if the religious leaders follow all rules of the God in all religions in their true sense, then there should be no buildings and no wealth in the name of God and in banks and bank accounts of names of God, as all these finances should have been spent to serve the servants of God.

    God needs no bank and no bank accounts as the universe he has created are from the reserves of the creations he has created.

    Then God’s world and work makes the creation of the man, not the buildings of the man and his false use of the name of God to build them.

    God owns and possesses all, which all are in the universe, then! he does not need a house or temple for the man to follow him and worship him.

    The house of God is not in the heart and the body of the man, but the house of God is in the soul of the man and this is what the mankind has never realized.

    The purpose of religions or coming of the messengers of God in any shape or form is that the man of the time could understand that their jobs have been to develop the soul of the man and not his physical statues on this planet.

    Then, I wonder which religious leaders of the time can call themselves the real leaders, where they have failed to understand the true meaning of creation and the created.

    Now, it is time to call upon world religions leaders to come to the house of peace and equality and to the house of knowledge of the coming of time to use the new knowledge as the springboard for a fresh start and the establishment of the world peace in true sense of changing the mistakes of the past.

    Then, it is the job of every man who reads this message to send a copy of this message to the world religious leaders, be it imams, pop, rabbi, priest and all Holly men of this planet to call them for the meeting of all in the clothes of the man as equal and not in their clothes and ropes of the names of god so elaborately they have sculptured to impress the weak and needy over the past times.

    As in the presence of God, they have nothing to be proud of, but that they have failed to achieve and to follow the path of God and in teaching the followers of god the true teaching of the creator, which is equality and servitude.

    Then in front of the God, all men are equal, irrespective of their clothes of shames of their failures to serve the humanity in equal measure to achieve peace.

    Shame on those who find excuses not to be attending this world religion leaders unification and peace meeting!

    Therefore, we call as the human race up on all world religious leaders to meet as matter of urgency to denounce all wars, and put all their resources, which the humanity has offered them over centuries for establishment of peace and development of technologies, which brings all men on to one equal goal and that is the closeness to the creator.

    From now one man will stand higher than the other man only by the level of his serving other men in its true form and not by word.
    Blessed are those souls whom understand the language of the time. M T Keshe


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