Resistance is Never Futile
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of God’s might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
– Ephesians 6:10-13
We’re excited to explore over the next few weeks the theme of “Resistance and Solidarity”—a timely and necessary act given the current climate in this nation. This season cries out for faithful, courageous Christians, and I am thankful that we are committed to this journeying with God to that end, as today we take a closer look at “resistance.”
So how many Trekkies do we have here today? Great. Live long and prosper. Confession: I am not a Trekkie, but have long been familiar with the phrase “Resistance is futile” as part of pop culture. This phrase by the Borg, an antagonist alien race featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation, gives us much to think about in our current social and political climates. Their phrase, “resistance is futile,” speaks to a power that is so pervasive, so persistent that there is no chance of prevailing over it. To fight the assimilation that the Borg demand, to fight their power to subsume and consume those who do not conform to the way of the Borg would be fruitless. Giving in is the easier thing to do when in the end it is certain you will lose. Resistance is futile, they say.
Isn’t that just like evil? I don’t mean the mischievous and sinister acts of a red guy with a pitchfork. I don’t mean the sorts of acts that evoke remembrance of a scene from The Exorcist or Poltergeist, where demonic forces possess and control unsuspecting humans. No, the evil I reference is much less mythical and sensational, but brings about even more discord and harm. It’s the evil that our scripture calls “powers and principalities”—those forces that crush human flourishing; that want to build walls and TRY to institute bans; that demonize and dehumanize brown immigrants and Muslims for political, economic, and white supremacist ends. I’m not talking about a person. I’m talking about powers and principalities that thrive in the midst of narrowing minds and harrowing indifference. It is the powers and principalities of Empire that seek to extinguish the life and light at Standing Rock as much as it tried to at Calvary. It’s those powers and principalities that after wearing us down, tiring us out by the onslaught of fascist strictures and oppressive structures, that tighten their grip and demand our assimilation into its ways of greed and hate-mongering fear and proclaim to us that our resistance is futile.
Well, if there is one thing that the Christian faith teaches us, from its inception to the present day, if there is anything we learn from Christ and our tradition of courageous people led by the Spirit of God, is that resistance is never futile. When the powers and principalities come with their death-dealing policies and principles, we resist and we prove that these acts are not futile, but are in fact the most faithful thing we can do.
Resistance is the word of these days. As Angela Davis said at the Women’s March in Washington DC, “The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance: Resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music.” The alternative is acquiescence. Assimilation to the powers. Assimilation to the principalities. Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us, there is no neutrality is the face of these forces; neutrality means siding with the oppressor.
So as we call ourselves to a time of resistance, we have to ask ourselves an important question: what exactly are we resisting? In a world of alternative facts, its important to be bold and forthright in naming the powers and principalities for when we name them, we expose them, and begin to rid them of their oppressive power. Many will call it complaining or “spreading negativity” or “being divisive.” But our refusal to recognize our reality as it truly is will not save us; yet, God-led and grace-infused resistance to powers and principalities is a good place to start for the saving of our country and our humanity.
Perhaps some of you who have heard the term “powers and principalities” used differently than is being employed today. Maybe you’ve written it off as superstition or an ancient viewpoint that doesn’t have any relevance today. Possibly, you have heard of these powers in a way that spiritualizes oppressions and injustices, causing it to be perceived as something only God and angels can address as we make supplications for God’s superhero-like deliverance. There is a spiritual nature to the powers as well as a very real physical dimension that looks like much of what I’ve described thus far, the power and principalities working through the oppressive structure of Empire—that system that alienates us from one another, that causes us to be directed by dread of the other, rather than prospering in our collective strength. It puts profits over people and worth and value is determined by production—“what do I get out of it?” Empire asks. It centers the able-bodied, white, straight, nominal Christian, well-off male and insists that everyone else fall by the wayside. That’s empire’s powers and principalities. And they must be resisted. Some will say our resistance in protest, boycott, calling our represenatives, being changed by hearing one another’s stories, doesn’t work, but ask the CEO of über—he’s changed his tune. See the stay on the travel ban as a sign of hope. And keep on resisting.
In other instances, evil gets much closer to us than the systematic and structural injustices, and we see our neighbor assimilated into the ways of the powers and principalities. People around us become a micro expression of the macro-empire. These evils translate themselves into ripping hijabs off of Muslim’s women’s heads; refusing to acknowledge that in this society, black lives do not matter; applauding acts of violence toward women and more. This is when the words of this letter to the believers in Ephesus take on extraordinary meaning— that our struggle is not against any one human, but against those powers and principalities to whom they’ve assimilated and whom they’ve let run roughshod through their own lives and the lives of their fellow humans. Don’t get me wrong… acknowledging the source of the battle doesn’t mean there is no responsibility or accountability. We all make choices. And we all deserve to be loved enough to be held accountable when we yield to evil. On the contrary, resistance demands that we face the powers head on and do what we can to stop the harm.
And, then, there’s the sobering truth that we as people of faith and generally “good” people may not want to face, myself included. Inasmuch as the strangling vines of racism and xenophobia and sexism (to name a few) threaten from without, the seeds of those same evils threaten from within. While humans are God’s good creation and we have the capacity for the very best goods, it is also true that we each are tugged on from within by the powers’ and principalities’ alluring promises of safety, of power over another, of vengeance, and even of obliviousness to the ways that we are complicit in the perpetuation of evil. Some of us let the powers and principalities have much more control in our lives– because of upbringing, culture, or this human condition that tends to be self-centered this human condition that tends to be self-centered and loves patterns and habits so that evils tend to reproduce themselves and become so “normal” that they seem right for us, our children, our nation. Still, others of us hold deep within us, hidden from general public view, a secret desire to see our enemies fall and fall hard (without redemption, without transformation). We hold a quietly kept sense of racial and gender superiority. We don’t want to, but we hold a carefully caged aversion to difference and diversity… even a well-guarded abhorrence of the people God loves. Out of our goodness, we keep these seeds from taking root, but every now and then they pop up in times of distress.
And yet, that radical love that God possesses truly belongs to everyone, even the woefully and harmfully ignorant, even those who live evil, even the president. As I reflected on that truth while writing this sermon, tears came to my eyes because I know even if my love fails, it is true that God’s love knows no bounds—which is not a pass, but is a beautiful invitation to be transformed. And, I teared up knowing it is also true that until we are courageous enough to dare to look inside ourselves and see that foothold that the powers and principalities may find within us, we are at risk of duplicating and exacting that same evil against bigots, against conservatives, against our neighbor that we so readily rail against. Yes, we have work to do to resist the evils outside of us. And, the seeds of evil within us.
Fellow followers of Jesus, I leave you with the same sentiments found in the letter to the Ephesians: be strong in our God and in our God’s power. Take on God’s covering, not that of the powers and principalities that oppress and estrange, but rather, with God’s grace, resist: be truth tellers, stand for what is right, seek a positive peace that is the presence of justice, pray with your words and with your hands and feet. Know that your resistance is never futile, know you never walk alone when you walk with your neighbor, and know God will show us the way through the shadows of these times.