Liberation is an Act of Heresy: So Be a Heretic

This week, I (Kalie) have been advocating for heresy on CPI’s platform, which may not be what everyone would expect from a platform that centers spirituality. However, the truth is, liberation only comes when people act in heretical ways to subvert the orthodoxy that upholds harmful systems.

The Harm of Orthodoxy

Often, many of us think of orthodoxy as a set of solidified religious beliefs that are universally held. This is what we appeal to if we point to something like the Nicaean creed and say, “these are the tenets of Christianity.”

However, this is not the entire breadth of the term “orthodox.” Orthodoxy can also be “generally accepted theories, doctrines, or practices.” So, when we talk about orthodoxy, we are not always talking about the “official” position of a church, but the generally accepted beliefs and practices of a group.

Applying this understanding to American history (and other histories likely have similar issues) means recognizing the things that have taken place because the “generally accepted beliefs and practices” are results of orthodox practices. For instance, slavery and segregation were generally accepted as a way of life and were upheld by the religious beliefs.

Even if we claim that the majority did not believe the Bible supported slavery, the truth is that slavery was well enough accepted that it was part of the orthodox understanding for Americans.

The problem is that systemic issues exist because of the “generally accepted beliefs and practices.” It is literally orthodoxy that maintains systemic harm, since the status quo is the acceptance of broken systems. This is where heresy is needed.

Why Heresy?

By definition, heresy is a belief contrary to orthodoxy. The abolitionist movements, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, queer rights, and more are inherently heretical movements because they disrupt the status quo, or orthodoxy, that upheld their oppression.

Nearly every movement that has advocated for equality in America has been met with disapproval from those who fall under an “orthodox” understanding of what society “should’ look like, especially in religious majorities. Much of this comes from theological perspectives that form or influence people’s ideologies (Christian social movements in the US tend to have a large influence over the culture as a whole since Christianity has over-representation [by demographic data] in our politics and society than it should hold).

This has been seen through the last half century with groups like The Moral Majority who have used orthodoxy to advocate for hyper-conservative political positions. The Moral Majority, and groups that followed in their footsteps, grew out of the opposition toward integration and later focused on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage once they lost the ability to use overt racism as a political tactic (okay, maybe they didn’t lose their entire ability to do this).

Continuing in the same line, groups like Moms for Liberty and Libs of TikTok, which aren’t necessarily religious, appeal to a form of orthodoxy to push harmful narratives against LGBTQ2IA+ people and remove education that recognizes racism in our history.

The appeal to orthodoxy is an appeal to the status quo and upholding the systems of harm that people need to be liberated from.

Heresy is Continuous, Because Liberation is Continuous

Some people have asked, for instance, “weren’t slavery abolitionists Christian?” Yes, many were and that is exactly the point.

The fact that there were Christians who opposed slavery does not negate the fact that it was Christians who instituted it in the first place and maintained it through history. Pro-slavery became the orthodox Christian view in America. It took people acting against that orthodoxy to finally bring it to an end and establish a new orthodoxy.

But, it took acts of heresy to demolish the “accepted beliefs and practices.”

Unfortunately, the new orthodoxy that took its place remained in the legacy of the old, accepted practices and led to segregation and new forms of oppression for Black people. This brought the string of events that led to continued acts of heresy that eventually paved the way to more rights for BIPOC people. But, every step was against the orthodox.

It is for this reason that we must continue to practice heresy. If orthodoxy was enough to provide freedom, equality, and rights to all people, we would not have liberative movements constantly fighting for the rights of the marginalized.

Orthodoxy is the foundational beliefs and practices that uphold our culture and maintain the systemic oppression that we currently face. The only way to remove systems of power that lead to oppression is to follow in the steps of those before us and practice heresy.

Finding the Divine in the Heresy

If the divine is always on the side of the oppressed, then the divine cannot be found in the orthodox.

The subversive nature of the spirit is constantly moving through the subversive movements we find in the world. In Christianity alone, movements like the Anabaptists, Black liberation, Womanism, Mujerista movement, Queer theology, and many more are in fact heresies, because they go against the “orthodox.” But, that is where the divine is found, because that is where the oppressed move.

To move forward, to claim our seat at the table, to be seen as fully human and fully equal, we must enact heresy. We must stand against the systems that cause oppression and the beliefs that uphold those systems.

We must be heretics.

Kalie May Hargrove