“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” (The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 34)
I asked a young couple this question among others as they brought their infant forward for baptism last Sunday. As I asked it, images of “evil, injustice, and oppression” flashed across my mind: images of death and destruction in the streets of Paris, a lifeless toddler lying on a beach in Turkey, infants held by exhausted and desperate mothers in refugee camps, grimy children walking the demolished streets of Damascus, and on and on and on.
Do you accept … no, do I accept the freedom and power God gives … to resist evil … in whatever forms … ?
To resist evil. What does that even mean? And how is it a “freedom” exactly?
Every member of every United Methodist Church has answered that question in the affirmative. We had to, in order to become members. And having answered thusly, now what?
In the simple questions of our church membership, people who are United Methodist have made a solemn vow, witnessed by God and spoken in the midst of the people, to resist evil, however it appears in the world.
If the agenda and actions of the Daesh group are not evil, then I do not know what is. So in the face of such atrocious acts, what does it mean to “resist” evil?
The word “resist” is from the Latin word resistere, which meant “to remain standing.” It means to withstand or strive against or oppose. It means to take a stand against something, to make an effort in opposition.
We use the word frivolously, as in “I just couldn’t resist eating that delicious cupcake.” But I’m pretty sure the baptismal vows do not mean it in such a shallow way. The word is also used to described armed opposition to an occupying force, as in the French resistance to Nazi forces during the 1930s and 40s. Is that more aligned with what is meant in our United Methodist question?
The scripture I’m preaching on this week includes the following advice: “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). So whatever “resist” means, it seems it cannot mean “repay,” and certainly our response to evil should not involve even more evil. That will get us nowhere fast.
Sometimes, to be honest, I really wish Jesus had included a few escape clauses in the Gospel. Don’t you? Like wouldn’t it have been great if he had said, “Hey guys you should welcome strangers and eat with them, unless of course you think there’s a chance they may hurt you, then you’re totally fine to just keep them as far away from you as possible.” But he didn’t say that. And you know why? Because that’s not just. That’s oppressive. That’s actually kind of evil, in my honest opinion.
We are “to remain standing” in the face of evil, injustice, and oppression. We are to remain standing in the values of the Gospel, the doctrines of love and peace and justice and grace and incarnation and resurrection and everything else that the church is supposed to be about.
Only by “standing” in these places will our response to Daesh and Boko Haram and al-Qaeda and Al Shabaab be grounded in a faithful Christian response. But true resistance must be more than metaphor. To truly resist, we must act.
Only a very few of us who live in the United States can actually go to the places most impacted by the current violence. But by the virtue of our amazing democratic system, we have access to the people who can. We can contact our political leaders and encourage them to stand against evil, to act for justice, to speak with love and compassion for others.
And by the virtue of our amazing connectional church, we are a part of an incarnate Christian presence that is already at work all around the world. We can contribute the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which has a fund designated specifically for refugee response. The full list of projects UMCOR does is impressive.
Resisting evil is global, and also very local. We resist evil every time we take in a foster kid. We resist evil every time we back a food box for a hungry family. We resist evil every time we confront discrimination in our community. We resist evil every time we challenge homophobia and racism and sexism in any of the mealy, insidious forms they show up around us.
And here’s the thing - this resistance is liberating! God has offered us both freedom and power to resist. That means, quite counter-intuitively, that not resisting is actually captivity. Going along to get along is a prison. Allowing evil to continue is a chain, a burden, a weight on our lives that prevents us from becoming who God wants us to be.
In the act of resistance, we are set free.
And so I return to the question. “Do you accept the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” If so, please respond, “I do.”
And if you do, then for God’s sake … do.