Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Our Disorderly Pastor

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
Martin Luther King

On the chilly morning of 9/11, we gathered for prayer at 8:15am in front the of courthouse in downtown Detroit. Our pastor was getting arraigned! Back in July, he (along with 9 others) was arrested for blocking trucks, contracted by the city, that were shutting off water of the homes of residents who were behind on payments. You can watch the 2-minute clip from the local news station here.

But this is nothing new for the 65-year-old Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann. He has been at it for decades. Back in seminary, one of his professors was Daniel Berrigan, a Catholic priest who became known for his own creative peace activism at nuclear weapons factories and military bases. When we met Bill last summer, we asked him how many times he had been arrested for civil disobedience. He responded: "I stopped counting at 50." His latest arrest was for "disorderly conduct." But we must ask, whose conduct is truly "disorderly": the conscientious pastor or the leaders ordering water shut-offs in the homes of poor and marginalized people?

This holy rebel, committed to blocking injustice & violence through creative nonviolent action, is really just a teddy bear. His warm smile & quick laugh are a sense of calm & stability (right: meeting Bill in July 2013 during our 75-day road trip). And like Jesus, Bill attracts those left behind by society because, over and over, he has proven to be a voice for women, people of color, the mentally ill, the abused and addicted, the unemployed and the homeless.

Many people of faith are uncomfortable with a pastor who is willing to get arrested. Some quote Romans 13:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.
But like all Bible verses, Romans 13 has a context: the Apostle Paul was warning these early Christians in the capital city of Empire that they ought not have the license to foolishly do anything they wanted to do. It was still important to be accountable to the rules of cities, counties and nations. Unless, of course, these laws led to dehumanization and destruction.

This is where we find Jesus in the Gospels: breaking unjust social mores by sitting at table with "sinners," exposing unjust religious laws by eating on the Sabbath, resisting unjust economic policy by overturning the tables of the bankers in the Temple marketplace.

And then we have these mugshots to remind us of the "disorderly" actions of our heroes:

We are not planning on getting arrested anytime soon. But we do stand in prayerful solidarity with Bill and other activists who are boldly blocking unjust laws with their own bodies. Bill now has a pre-trial date set for October 29. He is pushing for a jury trial, what he calls "the last vestige of democracy" in a city whose elected leaders (city council and school board) have no power (taken over by a Governor-appointed "emergency manager" two years ago).
*And…check out our article advocating for a more just approach to domestic violence on RadicalDiscipleship.Net here.

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