Should the Christian be involved in protests? What is the Christian’s role in social activism? These are questions many Christians are pondering because of the recent protests arising from the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. The purpose of this article is not to debate the question. There are sincere Christians who have taken to heart these events and are trying their best to filter their response with pure motives and biblical thinking.
These Christians have serious questions about how does their faith really work out in the face of things like this. This article is for them. Not because I believe I have the answer but because I am one of them. These events have touched a tender spot for me because I come from a biracial family. But, like many other sincere believers, I’m doing my best to try to filter my response through my faith with pure motives and biblical thinking.
My ethnicity isn’t the only reason this moves me. Tragic events always kind of hit me hard because they remind me just how much the gospel message is needed in this world. As I stated in my last three articles on this issue (links below) I believe the beginning and the end of a Christian response is the gospel, love and empathy. But what does that look like in application? In application, is it ok for me to participate in organized protests? In application, is it ok for me to speak out against a system that I too believe is broken?
Personally, I don’t believe the Bible gives us any way to answer these questions with absolutes. There may be some better trained Bible scholars who could refute that. I would love to hear from them because I want to live my life accordingly to God’s desires. But as I see it the Bible only gives us principles when it comes to things like this.
While biblical principles are within themselves absolutes they do not always provide absolutes in application. For example; Romans 13:1-5 gives an absolute principal (actually a command) of being subject to and not resisting governing authorities. The irrefutable absolute here is that we have to be subject to the governing authorities.
More than that, Paul wrote this to Christians who lived in the heart of one of the most corrupt and ungodly civilizations in history. The Roman government sanctioned abortion, prostitution, genocide, the mass murder of Christians and every form of slavery from child slaves to sex slaves. Yet Paul told believers that they were to be subject to that government because those who ruled were ministers of God for their good. To top it all off he said this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These are God breathed words.
So what does that mean for us when we are faced with atrocities in our societies that break our hearts and move us to want to do something? If we get involved in protests and speak out against our government are we in disobedience to this command?
For Christians who sincerely don’t want to be disobedient to God this becomes a question of conscience. We see evil and injustices in the world that we cannot look idly on with a good conscience. But what do we do when those things are endorsed, sanctioned or caused by (whether directly or indirectly) the governing authorities we are called to be subject to?
The New Testament has a lot to say about keeping a good, or clear, conscience. We’re warned against doing things that, even though they are not sins, would cause other believers to sin against their conscience because they’re conscious convicts them that is it sin (cf. 1 Cor 8:7-12; 10:25-29). Paul spoke repeatedly about “serving God with a clear conscience” (cf. Acts 23:1; 2 Tim 1:3; 2 Cor 1:12; 4:2; 5:11).
In his letter to his young disciple Paul tells Timothy that “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). He also tells him to “fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim 1:18-19). He equates keeping a good conscience with keeping the faith and gives both as the key to fighting the good fight.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrestled with this question. How can we, with a clear conscience, sit idly by looking upon atrocities induced by governments we are called to be subject to? In short, his answer was that there are just and unjust laws. Just laws are those that line up with the moral law of God. Unjust laws are those that are out of harmony with the moral law. (To read more on King’s thoughts on this get a copy of his Letter From the Birmingham Jail.)
For King, it was not only okay to oppose those laws which are unjust, it was also the moral duty of man (especially the man of God) to stand against unjust laws. However, it was his duty to do so in love, with love and peacefully.
I’ve always admired King and looked up to him as a role model. His answers to this dilemma were very helpful and beneficial in accomplishing the goals of the Civil Rights movement. However, I don’t know if I’m fully convinced that his conclusions were entirely Scriptural.
King was not just a student of the Bible but also of philosophy. He loved philosophy and there are some points in his thinking that leave room to conclude that his conclusions were more so based on philosophical reasoning than Scriptural reasoning. I only say that to say this.
King will be the natural go to guy in times like this. Both for christians and non-christians. People who’ve never actually read any of his works or studied his life at all will pull quotes of his out of context to support whatever activist cause they want to support. Christians will turn to his line of thought simply because he was a Christian.
What I want to propose is this: Just because he was a Christian, and just because his methods were effective at implementing change, does that necessarily mean that the nonviolent activist approach is the best method available? Or the most biblical method? Now, this isn’t an attack on Dr. King. The man is one of my heroes. Niether is it an attack on activists. Its a call to conversation. It’s a call to consider that maybe there is a better way that we have not yet considered.
What we have here are two views at different ends of the spectrum. One that says, “Do nothing. Just submit to the governing authorities and watch the world burn.” Then one that says, “Protest. Stand up and fight.” And it seems like those are the only two options we’ve ever considered. And yet, niether one of them is really working for us. We’re just blindly running to one end or the other and beating our heads against the rocks.
It may seem like the peaceful protest approach represented by the Dr. King school of thought is effective because of all that it accomplished in the civil rights movement. But here is something worth considering. What it accomplished was effective at changing unjust laws and seeing them implemented. But even though the laws were changed the fabric of our society wasn’t.
We want to cry out for our government to fix what it can’t fix – the human heart. Although the law changed America has not. Our nation is not any healthier now than it was before the civil rights movement. So what makes us think we can use same methods again to bring healing they didn’t bring last time? I believe it was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
There has to be a better way. A better way than both the do nothing approach and the peaceful activist approach. A way that is more biblical, more God honoring, more effective and that will enable us at the end of the day to say we have served Him with a clear conscience. I don’t know what it is but the least we can do is begin thinking outside of our tunnel vision approaches and exploring the possibilities.
– Joseph Sterling
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