For the past couple months the Bloggernacle has been ablaze with a spirit of activism. For a variety of reasons, I have kept my participation in these threads to a minimum, but I thought it might be nice to weigh in with a few considerations which seem to have either been taken for granted or side-lined from discussion. But before I get to these considerations, I probably need to address a few caveats in order to anticipate potential reactionaries, trolls and other replies which tend to bog down rather than forward the conversation.
Caveat 1: I am not anti-change. No doubt, somebody will insist that since I am anti-activist, I must be pro-status-quo. But being anti-activist is not the same thing as being pro-status quo. I fully embrace change, but not in the way or sense that activists embrace it. Indeed, only a severely (or willfully) limited imagination would hold that embracing activism or defending the status-quo are the only two options available to us. Change, both within the church and without, is not only possible – indeed inevitable – but is beneficial if done in the right way.
Caveat 2: This post is only about activism within the church. While I am, for the most part, anti-activist in general, this post is simply not about activism in general. I’m not talking about writing letters to congressmen, attending rallies and other activities aimed at political legislation outside the church. My target is activism which is aimed at change within the church.
That said, here are a few brief points against activism which I wish to submit to discussion:
Consideration 1: Activism is the pursuit of ideology rather than prophecy. Activists assume that even if their ways aren’t quite God’s ways, their ways are still closer to God’s ways than the church is. Whereas one of the main tenets of ideological activism is that we know certain things, one of the main tenets of prophecy is that we don’t know those things. We do not know where we are going, which path is best and what the cost/benefit constraints are along the way. We simply have no clue how God wants his church organized apart from what he has revealed to his prophets. What we do know, however, is that the Lord greatly prefers a false consciousness to a false prophet.
Consideration 2: Activism de-legitimizes the priesthood. The whole point of the steadying the ark story is that a person’s ideas and intentions do not authorize them to act for God in any official capacity whatsoever. Enlightenment values (the democratization of rationality, truth, etc. along with the de-legitimization of appeals to authority and tradition) have very little place in a church based on prophecy and priesthood. As an example, feminist activism does not destroy priesthood authority by (potentially) placing priesthood authority in women’s hands, but by circumventing – and thereby de-legitimizing – the priesthood authority altogether. Activism thus seeks to give an authoritative voice to anybody with an opinion and a base of support. Such a bottom-up power structure is, however, in obvious conflict with the organization bequeathed to us from above.
Consideration 3: Activism encourages pride and criticism. Activism follows Karl Marx in measuring the status-quo against the unrealized ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. This perspective pridefully assumes that we know where we are going and how to get there. It then proceeds to criticize organizations inasmuch as they do not measure up to these ideals as if they were holding people back from realizing their infinite potentials. The prophets, on the other hand, encourage us to measure the status-quo against the benchmark of chaos, death and perdition, knowing that without the church which the Lord has given us we would be utterly lost. This second perspective acknowledges that without the church organization we would be nothing, thereby inspiring a sense of humility and gratitude. Whereas the activist sees the church organization as a leash which prevents individuals from soaring into the heavens, the prophets sees it as a hard-wrought edifice by which we lowly creatures are together able to rise ever-higher through our organized labors.
To recap, I have presented three considerations against activism within the church:
- The activist does not have the knowledge necessary to change the church.
- The activist does not have the authority necessary to change the church.
- The activist does not inspire the virtues valued within the church.