Who defines the religious narrative for justice?

The old guard meets the avant-garde in Nashville—the “it” city

Authored by: Teresa L. Smallwood

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Cities

Print publication date:  December  2020
Online publication date:  December  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367367121
eBook ISBN: 9780429351181
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9780429351181-12

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Abstract

The uptick in for-profit prisons, prison-based gerrymandering, the criminalization of poverty, gentrification, and the militarized brutality of community policing presented Nashville residents with the quintessential formula for radically inclusive community-led direct action. Displaced families, homeless youth, and failed infrastructure combined to characterize the growing pains of a country town seeking to be a major metropolitan city. The people in Nashville, Tennessee raised their public theological voice. To police brutality and mass incarceration they leveled a Community Oversight Board. To gentrification, they demanded a Community Benefits Agreement. This article will examine what can happen in cities when faithful “people have a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6 NIV). Ethicist Victor Anderson and historian of religions Charles H. Long supply the theoretical backdrop for this analysis of religion and the city of Nashville, Tennessee. Anderson concludes that, in our post-modern context, gone are the voices of the larger-than-life public theological figures who articulated the vision and mission of marginalized people. They are replaced by the “faithful ordinary.” Long’s conception of “religion as orientation” in conversation with Anderson’s “faithful ordinary” situate the new religious narrative of marginalized “people who have a mind to work” on the problems created by racist governance in Nashville. The essay examines the rise of Nashville’s faithful ordinary in 2018 against the historical backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement—the old guard meets the Avant Garde. This study reveals that urban cities should factor into the city planning differential an understanding that the will of the people ultimately responds to prolonged injustice and invokes the right to just self-governance.

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