Engaging Justice Prior To Movement Status


January 4, 2015

When speaking about the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and asking folk to consider if their life-ministry-vocation is to help the movement by raising their communities awareness of the CDOD’s structural injustice, a question sometimes asked (perhaps it isn’t as much a question as it is a comment), “what movement?”

I think we all have an ingrained desire to participate in justice. Justice may look very different to each of us and sometimes we find ourselves as if across a wall from one another believing ours is the justice side. Regardless of which side of the wall we find ourselves, we want justice for our friends, neighbors, and relations. To make it so, we often prefer being part of a movement. In other words, we want to do justice, but we would a whole lot rather not do it alone.

Not being alone has much to with the question. Though many are engaged in raising awareness of the CDOD, there currently in no single organized movement. There is the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, but most people don’t see themselves related to such a world structure. Then there are churches who have begun asking questions and wondering what change might look like within their own organizations, like the Methodist, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, and Disciples of Christ churches. And there are a few universities with groups who are actively engaged in questioning the CDOD. (No seminaries as far as I know though…) But a major organized movement? There is none. Which can make engaging in the conversation and raising the awareness of others who have never heard of the CDOD, a bit lonely. Meaning, behind the question, is another, “do I really want to be ‘out there’ talking about something no one knows about, and about something many could care less about?”

Lying in the background of the question is fear. One doesn’t get far into the CDOD without understanding the CDOD is foundational to racism in the America’s (and much of the world). Just the word racism makes many folk uneasy and a bit fearful. For instance, so much negative energy is behind the word racism, that even the though the term “anti-racist” is about change and good, few anti-racism organizations lead with the term “anti-racism—e.g., a church or organization might call themselves “Pro-Reconciling/Anti-Racist” rather than “Anti-Racist/Pro-Reconciling” because they know many people do not think of “anti-racist” as a positive. This normalized, fearful, mindset is so prevalent, it makes one deeply question if they should “put themselves out there,” placing their voice alongside American Indians in challenging existing structure and raising societal awareness of the CDOD.

Okay, so there really isn’t as much a CDOD movement today as there are a number of organizations coming together to promote awareness and change. Part of what is getting the way of our engaging the CDOD, raising awareness, and building a movement, is our normalized mindset of what is good and what is wrong.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Howard Thurman struggle with this same issue. During this era, he wondered why it was so difficult for the white population to rise up against legalized segregation (that came as a result of the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson). He answers his wondering in his 1949 book Jesus and the Disinherited.

Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume segregation to be normal—if normal, then correct; if correct, the moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions. [Emphasis mine].

Thurman makes the point that before folk will address the evil of segregation they will first need to question if that which they believe is intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and religiously normal, is justice based. In other words, they must look to the other side of the wall and wonder if justice might be lying over there. The same holds true when thinking about committing oneself to the work of dismantling the CDOD. In the United States, Canada, and much of the world, folk (folk of color, white folk, indigenous folk, etcetera) are assimilated, to one degree or another, and have accepted the normalcy of existing structure (government, business, religious) created by the CDOD. Get on the other side of this normal is like being white in 1930 and getting on the other side of segregation. To have a chance to break out of such normalcy, folk have to place what they think is normal and natural on the shelf, observe it, listen to it, question it, talk with others about it and consider it just might be wrong. Accepting ones normal must be changed isn’t easy, but if accepted, what comes next is even harder…because there is not an organized CDOD movement.

Which gets back to the loneliness factor. “If I know this to be a foundational justice issue, but there are few who currently agree, can I put myself out there?” There is nothing easy about being among the first and the few of the pre or early movement years. After all, when few people understand what you are talking about, the work of informing, raising awareness, and educating is yours. Until accomplished, there are few folk to converse with on the subject. However, those who know and engage in those early years have an integrity not always experienced later. When the civil rights movement finally comes to maturity in the 1960’s, folk knew the voice of Howard Thurman, there had been conversations, and his voice mattered.

In contrast to Thurman’s early years Vine Deloria Jr. grabbles with the story Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tells in his book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? about white liberal involvement leading up to the Meredith Mississippi March.

During the Meredith Mississippi March, when some of the young activists were saying, “We don’t want white,” Bishop Moore of the Episcopal Church said to Walter Fauntroy of the Washington office of SCLA: “I don’t care what they say. That march is protesting a moral evil, an evil detrimental to me and every American. I am going down there whether they want me or not.” [Emphasis added.]

In We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes New Turf Vine Deloria Jr. talks about white fear (of loneliness-of being alone) of early movement years and wonders if Bishop Moore’s voice would have mattered to the young activists had he been an outspoken voice (like Thurman or King) before the popularity of the civil rights movement.

Had Bishop Moore caught the first flight to Montgomery when King began his lonely boycott in 1955, one would have been able to accept Moore’s pietism as a valid expression of moral outrage. History books have left Bishop Moore’s role in the Montgomery bus boycott unrecorded, however. They do record his stubborn refusal to recognize the birth of Black Power during the Meredith March.

Deloria goes on to address the issue of the white liberal and their fear of being among the first (white folk) and their privilege of choosing when to engage in an issue of justice.

Liberals have trodden the path of Bishop Moore for the past decade. When they have become committed to an ideology they have considered it their own private game which bears no relation to the aspirations of the poor, the black, Indian, of Chicano. They have been careful to support only popular movements and have entered the fray only after movements have become popular. (Pg. 70)

Thinking back to these years is helpful in considering what it means for those who choose to engross their life toward the (potential?) CDOD movement. Clearly the work today is much closer to the raising of awareness like Thurman in the 1930’s than it is to the action and movement of Dr. King in the 1950’s and 60’s. However, a moment will arrive when people understand the dismantling of the CDOD is not only about Indigenous rights but the rights and the wellbeing of all Creation. Whether this moment arrives sooner than later is dependent this generations ability to risk, the questioning of their normal, the raising of their voice, and the questioning looks of friends and neighbors. Cleary early or pre-movement times are not easy, but if voices are raised today, then a generation (maybe todays, maybe tomorrows) will arrive when the question is no longer “what movement?” but “where do I join?”


  1. Dave, this is powerful information that those who say they are for justice would do well to consider. If there is to be a movement, count me in. So, to your question, “where do I join?” …Is it Winter Talk 2015? Is it General Assembly 2016? Where? When?
    ~ Bill Blue Eagle McCutchen


    1. Yes, Blue Eagle, I hope joining in is attending Winter Talk 2015 (http://wp.me/P1VACB-5M) and the workshop(s) at Disciples General Assembly this coming summer. I also think joining is working on how to bring about awareness in the venue each person finds themselves (e.g., Instructors (college and seminary) teaching how the CDOD has effected their field of study, and Pastors speaking about how it is embedded in their church and theology).

      Thank you for all you do to help make such awareness real in our time!
      Be well, Dave


  2. Dave,

    Your reflections about the slowness of many people in stepping forward on issues of justice are forthright and accurate. My own life pattern has been marked by the quality (which you don’t name in your essay) of cowardice, as well as by the failure to understand how much I too defend the normal as being right. It is much easier to confess to the sin of racism than to advocate new patterns for how individuals and society should live.


    Keith Watkins Church Historian and Open Road Cyclist Check out my new book http://wipfandstock.com/the-american-church-that-might-have-been.html


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