Prophetic Activism for a New Generation: An Interview With Adam Taylor
If readers take away one thing from Mobilizing Hope, what should it be?
I think the one thing is expressed in the quote from Dr. King that forms the very foundation of the book: his call to "be a transformed nonconformist." King was preaching from a text in Romans in which Paul calls the followers of Christ to "be not conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." He called for Christians to serve as maladjusted non-conformists.
So the one thing I hope people take away is this: our faith really is a radical faith. We follow a radical savior. In the context of following Christ, we are automatically drawn into the struggles for greater justice and dignity and righteousness in the world. That requires us to strive to transform many of the broken patterns and broken relationships we see around us. It only takes a small committed minority of people who are courageous dedicated to a cause in order to overcome and transform some of the most intractable issues and crises that we face. I hope that people are inspired by examples of many who come before us, but also feel empowered to be maladjusted, creative nonconformists in confronting today's injustices.
Is there one story told in the book that really crystallizes what you're hoping to see from young generations today?
Let me choose two, one more domestic and one more international. The first, which is in the book, is about a campaign in Oregon that took on the practice and system of predatory lending that had become very common in Portland but also elsewhere in the state and around the country. It was a coalition of churches and progressive organizations that came together to raise this issue of predatory lending. One of the factors that tipped the campaign over the edge was the involvement of the evangelical church in Oregon. They had been a newer addition to the cause, but a guy named Brian Schwartz, who was the coordinator of the Center for Christian Values up in Oregon, part of a network of churches committed to social justice, really framed the issue of predatory lending as an issue of usury -- drawing on Jesus' condemnation of usury -- and it really lit a fire within evangelical churches to get involved in this broader coalition.
Together they all mounted this David and Goliath campaign in which they were far outspent by the payday lenders, who mounted an extensive public relationships campaign to defend what they were doing. But because the moral appeal was so strong, and the economic injustice and exploitation were so clear, the campaign was very successful in mobilizing public opinion against the inordinate amount of interest that people were charging, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Ultimately they convinced the state legislature to put a limit on the interest that payday lenders could charge, and in effect this put many of them out of business. It's an example of where everyday people in churches were able to use their voice and be inspired by their faith to have a profound impact on people's lives.
The international story I would cite emerges from my own experience, and many others I've worked with were a part of this success story. The Jubilee Campaign for debt cancelation was one of the most successful social movements in the last couple decades. Churches played an instrumental role in putting at the top of the political radar screen an issue that had been buried for many years: the onerous, unsustainable debt that many developing countries were paying off in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the reasons the campaign was so successful was because it took this text from Leviticus, obscure for many Christians, which calls for a Jubilee Year every seven years. God called on the Jewish people to leave the land fallow and forgive debts that were owed to you, and to set slaves free, as a way of righting relationships between people. This difficult principle was applied to the modern-day crisis facing many evolving countries, which is debt. It became a powerful call to action, and Jubilee network became a very broad coalition including churches and environmental and human rights organizations. Through letter-writing campaigns and vigils and demonstrations and lobbying, they made this a bipartisan issue and convinced first President Clinton and then President Bush to forgive a great deal of debt -- first the United States, and eventually the World Bank and IMF put in place a process where countries could get that debt canceled. To this day, billions upon billions of debt has been canceled and that has freed up immense resources to fight poverty in these developing countries.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.