Theory of Non-violent Change Part II  Faith Version
Some ideas about how we all might attempt to change the world.

by Jeff Neuman-Lee 
July 2013 

I've been doing some work with FossilFuelFreeDenver.org aiming at helping to keep the worst effects of climate change from happening. It's a big problem. How does one non-violently work for change in this world? The same issues actually affect our work at Whittier Community Church.

2. – Work with other people.

When we bring show and live into Jesus' way (the Kingdom of God) there are two sides to our work: the technical side and the social side. The technical side asks "what is really there?" "How do changes physically happen?" The social side asks: "how can humans make the choices, individually and corporately, that fit with the best technical understandings?" (The herding cats question.) Both sides of the problem are immense and complex. The complexity multiplies when both sides are seen together. It is certainly bigger than any one individual or group can master. We realize that we ourselves have only a limited set of skills, that even as we learn new skills we cannot learn enough, that no one person or group has all the answers.

                At the same time we understand that we each have a part in the work. The leaders at Whittier  know that there are other groups out there doing other essential actions, some groups we need to connect with, some groups we may disagree with, some groups we actually don't understand and plenty of groups whose strategies and methods are at best complementary to our own. And since we can't understand it all, our default (until shown otherwise) is to see that each group (and each individual effort) is necessary to make the kingdom happen here in this time. Sure, Prince of Peace's goal is finally to save the world for the great relationship that is had with God, as it should be. But so do many, many others march forward to the tune of that same good goal. We have no grandiose illusions that it is only us, but we do know that our doing our part is essential to getting the job done.

                True transformations of human culture do not come about from one group dominating another, but rather by some people showing the power of something new to the others and inviting them to join in its use. This method is part and parcel with the message of the church. Jesus announces the Good News. He lives it, even to the point of death and death cannot contain him. Jesus lives and the world slowly but surely comes to reflect the light of God.

                Mundane examples might include the dramatic transformation of the global human culture to varieties of capitalism, much of which has been accomplished without warfare. Or, ironically, so also is the massive dispersion of the use of fossil fuels an example of this power. (Both of these examples are mixtures of good and bad, and, as all work of humanity, both are judged in the light of God.) People see that something works better than what they had been doing, and fit it to their own situations.

                That is the world in which we live. We simply do what we believe to be right, we yearn to be part of the healing of our human community and find ourselves in the midst of others who are with us. Together we need to show the world that it has a far better future in Jesus' kingdom of God.


. . . within the life span of some people alive today . . .
Theory of Change Part I

Some ideas about how a follower of Jesus might attempt to change the world.

by Jeff Neuman-Lee
June 2013 

I've been doing some work with a group in Denver aiming at helping to keep the worst effects of climate change from happening. It's a big problem. How does one, as a follower of Jesus, work for change in this world?
                As I've done my work, what I find is that how the followers of Jesus have done their best work is also the pattern I want to use for my work on such a political issue. I also find that the answers are very important to us at Whittier Community Church  as we work to share the Good News and grow the church.

1. – Put a Human Face On It or Talk to People!

The problem of climate change, just like any human spiritual issue, is enmeshed at the core of American cultural, economic, and political life. As America is a diverse place, this problem is seen by many different people in many different ways. For some it is not a problem; for others it is the problem; and for many it is out of sight, something that someone else will care for.
                Not matter how it is seen as a problem, the call to end the use of fossil fuels is commonly seen as a call to a radically difficult personal transformation, as well as disturbing cultural dislocation. While my friends and I don't see the problem of changing our energy sources as necessarily being so dramatic, we know that the political will in America is currently substantially stuck in those perceptions.
                Not due to the simple technological changes, but rather due to the history that we Americans are so hard to change culturally, the change we call for is perceived to be on the scale of the still unfinished cultural changes away from racism of the 1860's and 1960's. After a couple hundred of years from when the first courageous, far-sighted colonists started that spiritual/ physical/ political work to see all people as equals in dignity, that fight continues.
                The difference is that this change from one source of power to another has a clearly defined physical reality that is not shared by our transformation into a non-racist society; the change FossilFuelFreeDenver.org seeks would thwart climactic changes which could, within the life-span of people alive today, simply end humanity's ability to function as civilization. We understand that if we do not accomplish our goals in enough time, the discussion stops. Part of our work is to understand what is going on with climate change.  Yes, it is a technical and scientific problem; but even more so, it is also a problem of social perception.

                Looking for inspiration to centuries of followers working to spread the Good News of God's Grace to All and more recently to the LGBT movement, we know that personally coming out, face to face with people who either don’t get it or don’t want to get it, is effective. Those who misperceive an issue, who find their tribal identification by working against others, can change by actually knowing someone who is their perceived enemy. It is not simply the logic of an argument (although that does have to hold water), but the personal connection that gains a hearing. It is being "with" that gains friends.