The Common Good

Why the Church is the Best Place for a Pussy Riot

On Aug. 17, three members of the Russian feminist punk band/performance art group Pussy Riot received the verdict in the criminal case against them: Guilty of "hooliganism" motivated by "religious hatred." Each was sentenced to two years in prison.

The trio  — the full band is comprised of about a dozen women who perform anonymously or using aliases — was arrested in March and charged with hooliganism for their participation in a Feb. 21 incident at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior (the city's largest Orthodox church) where five Pussy Riot members protestified (they called it a "punk prayer") on the altar for about 90 seconds before church officials stopped them. (Watch the original raw video from the cathedral HERE.)

The band later turned video from the altar performance into a political protest video ranting against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kirill I, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and with lyrics beseeching the Virgin Mary to "chase Putin out!"

See video
to Slate:

“The trial for three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band that got in a lot of trouble for a prank/protest event where they crashed the altar of Moscow’s largest Orthodox Church to play a single anti-Putin song, concluded this week. The members gave closing statements, which they used to reassert their objections to the authoritarian state and the way that religious faith is being hijacked to garner support for government oppression. Business Insider ran a video and a translation of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statement, where she clearly laid out the case for breaking the back of all oppressive institutions and linked her ordeal with that of many historical figures who have faced similar censorship efforts from social and governmental authorities.”

Essentially, it is not three singers from Pussy Riot who are on trial here. If that were the case, what’s happening would be totally insignificant. It is the entire state system of the Russian Federation which is on trial and which, unfortunately for itself, thoroughly enjoys quoting its cruelty towards human beings, its indifference to their honor and dignity, the very worst that has happened in Russian history to date. To my deepest regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist troikas. Thus, we have our investigator, lawyer and judge. And then, what’s more, what all three of them do and say and decide is determined by a political demand for repression. Who is to blame for the performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and for our being put on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics that draws upon the forms art has established. In any event, it is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed by the corporate state system. ~ Pussy Riot's Closing Statement

As a faith-based community organizer, I spend a great majority of my time trying to get political issues into the church so that the gospel can be relevant to the reality of those on and off the pews.

Therefore, I believe the best place for a “pussy riot” is the church. Although this may seem sacrilegious, here's why:

1. When the church ignores social and political issues it silently blesses injustice. (See slavery, the Holocaust, lynching, and child sexual abuse.) Testimony Time is a set time in many Black Churches when  congregants can speak of their pains and triumphs and how God brought them through.

Testimony time is democratic and a time of raw honesty. I call what Pussy Riot did protestifying because they protested by testifying about the political conditions of their country.

2. Though Jesus came to earth via a pussy, the divine feminine has been dishonored and dismissed in the church. Ironically, women make up the majority of the church and without pussy the church could not survive.

3. When we read the biblical Psalms (which were mostly songs), we hear about sadness, joy, justice, injustice, fear, courage, and a host of other conditions and emotions. In Church we need not only songs of joy and devotion, but honest songs where we tell God our frustrations and express our anger.

Sadly, in many of today’s churches we are allowed only to sing polite hymns or sugary sweet “Power-Point songs” (a term I coined for evangelical praise-and-worship songs). On many a Sunday, I feel like I am lying to God when I am asked to sing these false platitudes.

I don’t think God is pleased with our “false sacrifices of praise."

Everything is not OK in our world and yet the church does not want us to bring our pain into the church. I believe God longs to have a transparent relationship with us in which we are honest about the full spectrum of our emotions.

4. Lastly, according to Mary’s Song (the Magnificat), Isaiah 61, and countless other biblical passages, God cares about the oppressed. So why wouldn’t the church be a place to speak about social issues?

I do not believe in the separation of spirit from body, or in compartmentalizing our lives. Our political, spiritual and physical realities all matter to God and should be brought to the altar of our churches.

Ironically, when Mary Mother of Jesus sang her song of justice, she had to do so with another woman outside of the temple. Mary’s Song was a pussy riot of her own, because she sang these revolutionary words:
  
He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.  

This song is not from a secret lost book of the Bible, but can be found in the Gospel of Luke. It gives support for being honest with God about our social conditions.

I will be praying for the members of Pussy Riot — but more importantly for the awakening of the global Church so that we will open our doors and invite reality and justice in.

Onleilove (pronounced Onlylove) Alston was born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn. When she was 10, she felt led to pray and read the Bible though she was not raised in the church. Four years later she walked into a local National Baptist Church where she had a life-altering conversion experience.For more than 10 years, Onleilove has worked for various nonprofit organizations such as Sojourners (where she was a Beatitudes Society Fellow), NY Faith & Justice, United Workers and Healthcare-Now! Onleilove has co-written a series of Bible studies and devotionals with The Poverty Initiative The Last Week of Jesus/Last Year of King in English and Spanish. She blogs at Wholeness4Love.

Photo credits:  A supporter shows her message written on her helmet during a protest rally organized to free "pussy riot"on Aug. 17, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. Photo by
arindambanerjee/Shutterstock. (Second photo) Members of the all-girl punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (R), Maria Alyokhina (L) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (C) sit in a glass-walled cage during a court hearing in Moscow on Aug. 17. A Moscow court handed a two-year jail sentence to the three feminist punk rockers who infuriated the Kremlin and captured world attention by ridiculing President Vladimir Putin in Russia's main church. Various leaders of the European Union called the Russian court's sentencing excessive and disproportionate. AFP PHOTO / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/Getty Images.

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