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  • Writer's pictureGreg Dover

Greg's Weekly Word: "protest"

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

Is it a demonstration? A march? A riot? A protest?

Photo by Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

Over the past few years, it has become popular (and highly political) to debate what they should be called. But regardless of the name, people have been taking to the streets as more and more black lives have been unjustly and unjustifiably taken...or, at least, more publicly taken, often with video evidence (although often without a conviction or consequences for the killers.) The most recent example happened just days ago, as 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. (The photograph above shows protesters in Brooklyn Center after Wright was killed.)

And many people dismiss and condemn these protests outright. But I think we need to learn from them. And here's why...

1) The word itself. Protest is a way to confront injustice and shed light on wrongdoing (literally, "witness forth"). And in doing so, to bear witness that there is a better way.

2) Our tradition. We are a part of a strain of Christianity called Protestantism. Our particular brand of Christianity was born out of protests against the abuses and injustices witnessed within the Catholic Church of the 16th century.

Martin Luther protesting push pins and nailing his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door

3) Jesus. Yep - Jesus was a protester. He was constantly challenging the injustices within the religious institutions of his day, and the status quo of the larger society. A few examples:

  • Palm Sunday was a protest against the Roman Empire, parodying a Roman imperial procession. (Here's a fairly short article on the subject.)

  • Talking to women, healing lepers, eating with sinners and tax collectors... all protests against the religious practice of exclusion, patriarchy, and purity.

  • Turning over money-changers tables in the Temple was a protest, too - and not a peaceful one! In fact, the Synoptic Gospels directly connect Jesus' Temple incident to his arrest and crucifixion.

Jesus destroying Temple property

I understand the pleas for protests to be non-violent. But instead of being so quick to condemn the methods or critique the message, maybe we can listen and learn.

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was asked about those who disagreed with his non-violent methods, he said,

I think that we’ve got to see that a riot [protest?] is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear?

What have we failed to hear as Americans? More specifically, as white Americans? Even more specifically, as white Americans who are followers of Jesus? What do we continue to fail to hear - over and over again - from our fellow Black citizens...God's beloved children, created in God's image?

And more importantly, what will we do when we hear it?

Will we get defensive? ("Well, I didn't hurt anyone...")

Will we place blame elsewhere? On the victims? ("But they were doing this thing they shouldn't have been doing...")

Will we try to explain it away? ("If they'd just followed instructions and complied...")

Will we feel guilt, but not act? ("I feel awful, but...)

Or will we join the protest? Will we confront injustice and wrongdoing...even our own? (Maybe especially our own?) Will we "witness forth" a better way - a more equitable, just, Christ-like way (a better world!) - and then work to make that way a reality in our world?

We can't answer these questions for anyone but ourselves. But I pray God would give me - would give us all! - the courage and grace to do so. And I hope we will work for justice until there is true peace - God's shalom - in which all of God's people and all of creation is well and good and whole.


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