A Short History of Resistance

A Short History of Resistance

Author: Lisa Schubert Nowling

Welcome to Resist Harm, where we vow to do no harm as we live into our baptismal vows to resist evil, oppression, and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.

Our aim is to provide tools and resources to help United Methodist congregations and individuals resist the Traditional Plan, which is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe it causes harm by unfairly targeting our siblings who are LGBTQIA+.

While our focus is the full inclusion, affirmation, and celebration in the church of those who are LGBTQIA+, we recognize that confronting this injustice will require further repentance and healing of injustice based on race, age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, culture, ability, and all other forms. We’re grateful you’re joining us on a Wesleyan journey to first do no harm.

Resisting evil, injustice, and oppression is integral to our spiritual DNA as United Methodists. It’s part of our Scriptural story, our church tradition, our Wesleyan heritage, and our denominational future.

Rooted in Scripture

The Word of God tells the love story between God and God’s people, even in the midst of oppression and suffering. In order to love God and their neighbors more fully, God’s people are often called to resist the powers and principalities of this world.

Hebrew Bible

The people of God in Hebrew Scripture consistently resisted the empire, the worship of idols, and the oppression of those who were marginalized like widows, orphans, and foreigners.

  • In Exodus, midwives Shiphrah and Puah prevented a genocide by defying the Pharaoh’s order to kill all newborn Hebrew boys. They told Pharaoh the Hebrew women gave birth so quickly they couldn’t get there in time. In doing so, they spared baby Moses’ life, and he became the liberator of his people (Exodus 1:15-21).
  • Under Babylonian oppression, Daniel refused to pollute himself with the royal food. With God’s covenant faithfulness behind them, Daniel and his friends ate only vegetables and water for 10 days, and they ended up healthier and stronger than those eating the king’s food (Daniel 1). God granted them wisdom, knowledge, dreams, and visions to care for their people in captivity.
  • After Esther won the favor of King Ahasuerus, she plotted with her cousin Mordecai to save the king’s live and then the lives of her Jewish people. When she doubted her ability to resist, Mordecai reminded her: “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

The Gospels

These were the stories Jesus heard as a boy that shaped him as a Messiah who resisted evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they presented themselves, whether that be the Roman Empire or the Pharisaic tendencies of his own religious tradition. He proclaimed a year of Jubilee where debts were forgiven and people set free. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus’ radical resistance:

  • In Matthew 5, Jesus offered creative, non-violent resistance when he tells us to turn the other cheek. In his culture, only equals were to hit someone with an open hand on the left cheek. Jesus gives us courage to stand up to bullies on equal ground.
  • Jesus continually resisted the “table manners” of his day by dining with “tax collectors and sinners.” He healed unclean lepers and the woman with the bleeding issue. He ministered to his “enemies” like the Samaritan woman at the well.
  • In Luke 13, Jesus broke the law by healing a woman on the Sabbath, showing his passion for people over policies and rules.
  • Jesus understood the power of the empire, which is why he advised his followers to “give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors’ and to God the things that are God’s.” He saw our tendency to give to the empire that which is God’s (Matthew 22).
  • He saw that God’s house could become a place of persecution and injustice, which prompted him to drive the money changers from the temple after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21).

In the end, Jesus’ way of creative, non-violent resistance would lead to his death on the cross at the hands of the Empire with the religious leaders and his followers standing by. His resurrection, however, is not simply about our individual salvation. It’s a reminder that even our powers, principalities, and institutions can be redeemed.

Foundational to Church History

Our Christian tradition is filled with examples of “holy rebels” who devoted their prophetic lives to helping us usher in the reign of Jesus on earth as it is in heaven. They have confronted the Church, governments, leaders, and other institutions, calling them to greater love, justice, and peace.

  • Monk Martin Luther was excommunicated in 1521 for his 95 theses, which critiqued the Catholic Church for selling indulgences (remission of sin for deceased relatives) and bankrupting those who are poor. His reform movement gave birth to the Protestant Church.
  • Teresa of Avila, Catholic saint and doctor of the church, was a mystic who believed God was calling her to reform monasticism and establish communities of absolute poverty and renunciation of property. In 1579, she faced the Spanish Inquisition for these reforms before she was eventually acquitted.
  • In the 1850s, Harriet Tubman became a leader in the underground railroad based on her belief God had given her a mission to free slaves. She risked her life on the command of Jesus that you must lose your life to gain your life.
  • German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer criticized Christians for believing in “cheap grace” and called followers of Jesus to love their neighbors and take up their cross and follow Jesus. For him, that meant resistance to the German Nazi party in the 1930s and ‘40s. He was eventually hanged for his involvement in a plot to kill Hitler.
  • The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was America’s foremost civil rights leader and champion of non-violent resistance, which he believed was rooted in the teachings of Jesus and inspired by figures like Gandhi. His protests, marches, sermons, and speeches for Civil Rights extended also to peace in Vietnam. His assassination was mourned around the world.
  • In 1956, 20,000 women descended upon the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, to protest the country’s pass laws that required women labeled as “black” to carry a pass to maintain segregation. While apartheid didn’t fall for another 40 years, their actions continued to add fire to the movement against it.
  • In 2019 in China, the Communist party is arresting Christians and rewriting Scripture. Pastors like Wang Yi are detained while their family remains under close surveillance for being followers of Jesus.

Grounded in Wesleyan Tradition

John Wesley understood that our call as Methodists required both personal piety and social holiness. “The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness,” Wesley wrote. “Faith working by love is the length and breadth and height and depth of Christian perfection.”

From the beginning, Methodists have answered the call to make disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world together. Such transformation often involves resisting evil, injustice, and oppression:

  • The appalling conditions of prisons were of great concern to John Wesley. Many of his thoughts inspired great reforms in the late 18th century.
  • Wesley also founded schools and colleges, especially for those who were poor and had no access to higher education. These institutions were places not only of discipleship and learning, but agents of social reform.
  • In the 1843, Sojourner truth became a Methodist. "The Spirit calls me, and I must go," she proclaimed, as she made her way traveling and preaching about the abolition of slavery.
  • In 1908, The Methodist Episcopal Church took a stand for the rights of workers with a Social Creed that called for an end to child labor, a fair wage, and safety standards.
  • In 1956, Maud Jensen was the first woman to be granted full clergy rights in the Methodist Church after years of resistance.
  • In the 1950s and ‘60s, Methodists marched, protested, sat in, and resisted during the Civil Rights movement. The Committee of Five advocated for the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction in our denomination.
  • Today there are 10 United Methodist congregations that are officially sanctuary churches, offering refuge to those who may be deported because of their immigration status.

Hope for the future

For decades many in the United Methodist Church have been fighting the discrimination legislated against LGBTQ persons and practiced against not only LGBTQ persons but people of color, women, people with disabilities and so many others. We thank everyone who has resisted evil and injustice in all forms in the past and call on all United Methodists to raise their voices and Resist Harm!

The future of the church rests upon the call of God on our lives to faithful, creative, non-violent resistance. We believe that through personal piety and social holiness, we can experience the salvation Jesus intends for all people, communities, institutions, and the entire creation. Please join us as we resist the injustice of the Traditional Plan and build the open, inclusive, welcoming church we believe God dreams for us. 

Recent Updates

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Momentum for removing harmful anti-LGBTQ+ language from our Discipline has been growing, and a wide coalition of delegates from across the diversities of our Conferences have named this commitment. We need your voice now, to help describe why we believe this is a faithful direction for our church. There has never been a more important […]
Resist Harm Movement Gains Momentum toward General Conference 2024
Growing numbers of United Methodists are actively resisting the harm caused by anti-LGBTQ+ policies and practices of the United Methodist Church. With three months until General Conference convenes in Charlotte, North Carolina, the movement is making a difference in communities across the denomination, and for our direction as a United Methodist Church.  As we prepare […]
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In the wake of a postponed General Conference and a continued pandemic, we are urgently called again to the work of Christ – in all the ways we can. Ever more clearly, we discern the disconnect between the logistics of our gathering and the call of the gospel.  The institutional fight to enshrine anti-LGBTQ+ policies […]
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