Activism Through Religion: A Look at What is Happening on the Streets in Austin
“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Powerful words spoken by a powerful man, Dr. Martin Luther King’s message was heard during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. And fifty years later, it is arguable that little has come from the movement.
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Fresh Water Ministries is a relatively new concept with an old mission. Ministry founder, Sherri Benn, says “Historically, in the black church, there was no separation between church and activism” and their mission is to “Reclaim that history, tradition and cultural heritage”. And though the ministry has roots in the black church, their mission is to advocate for everyone in undeserved communities.
Fresh Water Ministries was founded five years ago, and the congregation met at a ranch outside of Georgetown. The group has since moved to United Methodist Church on Guadalupe and draws a small, but committed congregation. The ministry was started by two African American women who identify as justice workers and Christians; both equally.
The group promotes a concept known as radical love, an accepting and open minded branch of Christian theology, that seeks to elevate the social concerns of those who are often silent and aren’t often heard. “We believe that as a theological concept, we follow the teachings of Christ, and a lot of the work that Christ did was social reach people that have been over looked” says Benn, and “[you] Can’t understand Jesus unless you understand who the oppressed are. The whole ideology behind the theology is that you can’t separate the two.”
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The ministry promotes activism in the form of protest and has teamed up with other local activist groups. A part of the grassroots movement in Austin, Fresh Water Ministries has partnered up with Counter Balance, a group within Austin that seeks to unify pre-existing organizations to maximize resources, along with Black Lives Matter and Texas Youth Rise.
The ministry has been holding silent protests outside the church building on Guadalupe in Austin every third Sunday of the month.
Liza Manjarrez, associate director of campus ministry at St. Edwards, agrees with the mission of Fresh Water, and also feels the call to protest and speak up for the under served and often silenced communities. “When we have voices, when we have privilege, the [catholic] church welcomes that type of involvement.” says Manjarrez, and goes further to explain the concept of Catholic social teaching that acts to maintain dignity for every person.
Erica Tearson, a devout Christian, has worked within and has attended church regularly for the past six years. Though she has seen non-profits start from the church, she has rarely seen activism and feels like it is frowned upon from the congregation. “I wish it was encouraged more.” says Tearson. “I feel like I am on the fringes for participating because there is pressure to be pc because if you seen as extreme you are seen as an outsider.”
Though Catholics like Manjarrez as well as the official philosophy of the Catholic church might hear the call of social justice for all, the actions of its followers don’t always follow the example taught by the social teachings.
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There are several things that keep people from attending church, and showing up as who they are. “[Fresh Water Ministries is] making a place for people that don’t feel comfortable within other communities,” says Benn, and “[it’s] important to come together to build a community.”