To my eyes, resistance relies on the passion and conviction of the individual – you can’t legislate resistance, you can’t force it, you can’t conjure it out of thin air, and you can rely on larger systems of power for reassurance or support for it. There is a real temptation to turn to existing, powerful institutions to act alongside us, or on our behalf – perhaps because we’ve been brought up to believe in the power and morality of the state, the church, the media, the corporation, we abdicate power and responsibility, or seek tacit or active approval, from the structures we hope represent us. However, to my eyes, it so often turns out that the real acts of resistance – those rooted deeply in love and peace – come from individuals and small groups, often acting independently, and often in direct conflict with the institutions they are a part of.
A stunning recent example of this is found in the words and actions of Revered Christopher Senyonjo. Senyonjo is in Uganda, and continues to affirm and support the LGBT community there, despite the recent laws banning homosexuality in the country. By being openly supportive of the LGBT community in Uganda, Senyonjo has made himself exceptionally vulnerable, and it is the most vulnerable that he has aligned himself with. Senyonjo could be sent to prison for many years because of his open resistance to institutionalised hate and fear. While such powerful institutions, like the Ugandan state and church, support the ‘kill the gays’ bill – the original legislation pushed for the death penalty for open homosexuals – we can look to defiant individuals like Senyonjo for courage, for a story of hope. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that the Kingdom of God is ‘now or never’; for me, there is little that resonates more than that than the brave actions of people like Christopher Senyonjo.
Another example – in recent months, John Dear has written powerfully on his reasons for leaving the Jesuit order; because of his regular and ongoing actions in pursuit of peace and justice, those in positions of authority and power have first sought to silence him and his peace work, before he finally took the decision to leave. Rather than being supportive of his work, it seems Dear experienced active opposition from the very institution that he joined, presumably for nourishment and leadership. Instead, he tells a story of an institution that succumbed to pressure from those who opposed his work, who he believes were ’embarrassed’ by it. And yet, there is real hope to be found in Dears’ refusal to be silenced, to act in a way that upholds his own convictions to love and peace.
In these – and so many other – stories, I see a common theme about acting with integrity, and passionate commitment to an order of peace and justice, despite the personal risk, and very understandable fear that so often blinds and neuters us. We are all on a similar journey, of finding ways that allow us to act, not without fear, because fear is something that is natural and normal, and exists for very good reason, but to act in a way that acknowledges, even loves our fear, and then finds a way to remember that there are other motivations to root our actions in, too. Our other sources lead us to acts of love for the persecuted and marginalised, to put our bodies in the way of the machines of war and death despite the risk of arrest and prosecution when we do that, to remember that we speak and act for something other – beyond – the dominant narratives of greed, power and violence that sometimes feel like they dominate our world.