Despite the fact that protests are an integral and valued form of American free speech, there is a prevalent feeling of judgement and disapproval when that right is actually practiced. These past few months have been contentious for America, and protests – most notably against the election of Donald Trump, and the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline – have been in our news cycle almost 24/7.
“This is democracy. Stop whining.” “I really don’t think anyone has any reason to be scared. Stop being so dramatic.” “What do they think they’re going to accomplish?” These phrases make my skin crawl and my tongue set fire when I hear them come out of the mouths of my well educated, generally kind hearted, family and friends. For the most part, I even understand why they’re saying them, because it is easier to think on the surface then to dive deeper into real world issues that people face. However, it has never been a Christian’s call to do what is easy, but rather what is right and what is Godly.
I grew up in a conservative denomination of the Christian faith– Lutheran, Missouri Synod. I’ve heard the jokes my entire life that we are “Catholic Lite” and “Catholics in denial,” which is absolutely fine. I cannot deny that my denomination is highly conservative and, frankly, I see no issue with it. Of course I don’t agree 100 percent with everything that the synod ever states, but who agrees with authority 100 percent of the time? For the most part, it has served me extremely well, even after a brief separation and questioning of my faith. In my church I am more liberal minded, but in most circles I am viewed as very conservative which has lead me to be a more open minded individual, in my opinion.
With that in mind, I am disappointed in many of my conservative Christian family and friends in the wake of this election. I’m not here to judge your political beliefs or how you feel about it, but rather the reaction to those using their constitutional right to protest.
Government vs. Religion
Regardless of who you voted for and who you think would best serve our nation, we have to remember that government and religion are separate in this country, and that this practice has benefited Christians for centuries. I hear people quoting Jesus saying “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” as if to point out that these people shouldn’t be protesting because government has spoken. However, that very same coin can be used to point out that the very act of protesting is written into “Caesar’s” law under the EXACT amendment that also protects your right to practice religion safely and freely. If we are not able to separate what is religious persecution and what is just an act of a democratic republic, then we are serving neither our country or our faith.
Martin Luther King Jr. Conundrum
The references to Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) in the past month have made my eyes roll so hard into my head that I’m legitimately shocked they haven’t stuck. MLK is without a doubt one of the greatest social movement leaders in history and his faith as a Christian was evident in his work. I see my, perhaps well meaning, conservative Christian friends say things to the effect of “Martin Luther King protested, this is just whining” or “MLK would be so disappointed.”
Pump the brakes! Contemporary Christians of MLK actively spoke out against what he was doing in the same way you are speaking out against protestors now. Perhaps the word “whining” wasn’t used so much, but essentially they repeatedly stated how what he and his fellow protestors were doing was disgraceful, ungodly, and pointless. It is only in hindsight that he is quoted as a peaceful leader so frequently and held up as a prime example of what protests should look like. Additionally, there were many times that MLK did not denounce an angrier form of protest that we are occasionally seeing now. “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
So MLK led many protests (of which many were passive and peaceful) despite the ridicule of other Christians and history holds him up (rightly) as a great leader and agent of change. Christians today are referencing him and stating what he did was for the betterment of people being treated monstrously and how Christ-like it is. In the same breath, they speak ill of those protesting now. Can you not see the parallel in the things they are protesting? MLK protested the treatment of black people, the poor, and otherwise marginalized groups. People protesting today are protesting the treatment and potential treatment of people of color, the poor, women, and otherwise marginalized groups. What is the difference? Can someone please explain it to me?
This one has been touched on time and time again by so many writers and people I know. Regardless, I think it is worth touching on as someone coming from the conservative Christian side. Many of the people complaining about “whining” after Trump’s election are the same people who spent eight years speaking out against President Obama, his administration, his policies, even critiquing Obama as a person. Now, you are asking people equally or more disappointed with Trump’s win to quietly accept the results despite their fears.
Many of you were concerned about how President Obama would affect your religious beliefs against abortion, homosexual marriage, etc. I will not comment on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of those fears, but for you they were very real. Now, we have elected a man accused of rape who has spoken out countless times in derogatory ways about women, people of color, people with disabilities, and those that identify as something other than heterosexual cisgender, and you are asking people to calm down. How are these fears less legitimate?
Then there are others, like me, who may not have agreed with everything the Obama administration accomplished but are overall content or understanding of how our government has run the past eight years. Yet, many are asking questions like “what do you hope to accomplish with protesting?” and “Is this really necessary? Is this really what you feel a Christian would do?”
Well, Jesus came to save all people. At the same time, Jesus focused on helping the marginalized people around him. He healed lepers, hung out with criminals, cared for the poor, and welcomed Gentiles (aka “foreigners”) and Samaritans (aka “unwanted mixed ethnicity”) into his heart and his care. He spoke time and time again about the need to love your neighbors and care for them. When he saw injustice he even went so far as to yell and turn over tables and crack a whip to make a point. So when you turn a blind eye to the injustice in our country that could very well be made worse instead of better, how will you answer him when he asks what you have done for the “least of these?”
Falling Back on the “Will of God”
Perhaps the most aggravating phrase I keep hearing is the appeal to the “will of God” and trusting his plan. When used appropriately, this is a very important thing for any Christian to remember, however it has become an excuse for laziness. Yes, I cannot deny that God is in control and that in the end, all things will be made right with His plan. He has also made it clear in his Word that we are not puppets, and bad things happen because of our sinful nature and the sheer existence of sin in the world.
How many of you say it is God’s will for a child to die, a city to be destroyed by a hurricane, or Hitler to kill 6 million Jews (extreme, but it makes the point plainly)? Few and far between, right? We can acknowledge that God will use all actions in the world to the fulfillment of his plan, but couldn’t his plan be for protests to bring us together as a nation and actually improve the lives of the marginalized? Could he not be using the results of this election and the contentiousness of these past few years to demonstrate the need for change? Perhaps it is his will all along that Trump lead this country, but did he not use plagues to demonstrate his power and will to pharaoh? Perhaps this is all to change Trump’s heart, or to influence the opinion of those who are part of the oppressive systems we are seeking to resist.. You cannot fall back on the will of God without praying fervently for guidance first. Even then, you may only know God’s will for you. I have and continue to pray for our nation as well as God’s will and his answers to me have been clear. He continues to tell me to take care of my neighbors.
With that in mind, please ask yourself whether you truly feel that this reaction is inappropriate or whether it just makes you uncomfortable. Instead of opening your mouth against those protesting, pray for guidance as to what He is asking you to do.
Photo credit: Aaron Burden