“Today I marched in Washington D.C., today I practiced civil disobedience, and today, for the very first time in my life, I was arrested. [I and twenty-three] other amazing individuals representing the Poor People’s Campaign were arrested for protesting in the streets of Washington, DC. Today I made new friends, today I obeyed the DC Police as they arrested me and let them know how much they’ve been in my prayers and my churches’ prayers since January 6th, and today I stood against the unjust system of bureaucratic gridlock and oppression that is driving countless West Virginians and Americans to needless poverty, sickness, and death. Today I did my best to live into the consummate words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.’”
He indeed has a story to share. His witness and willingness to sacrifice humble me.
This got me to thinking. Are the people of God called to be a people of protest? Most Christians today don’t think this way. Whatever their political outlook, Christians tend to think that maybe they would support the right kind of protest in a time of emergency, but that these occasions would be rare.
Maybe rather than seeing protest as an exception to the rule of normal life, Christians in America could see protest as a part of our necessary witness and action that
Jesus is Lord in a world that lives otherwise. We protest people and politicians who disparage the image of God in other human beings.
We protest policies and practices that fall short of love of neighbor. We protest systems and patterns that privilege some and exploit others. We protest the politics of a world that killed the Author of life and is dead set on killing his disciples.
The Bible gives Christians good reason to embrace protest as a possible form of Christian action. Scripture records how God’s people protested oppressive rulers, unjust laws, degrading social systems, exploitative policies, and government-enforced idolatry.
The Bible is replete with examples, too many to count, but here are a few: Shiphrah and Puah’s civil disobedience to the Pharaoh’s command to kill Hebrew boys at their birth (Exod. 1:8—22); Moses’ plagues to protest slavery (Exod. 5–12); Isaiah’s naked protest (for three years!) against Egypt and Ethiopia (Isa. 20); Ezekiel’s protest in packing his bags and staging an exile (Ezek. 12:1–16); Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue (Dan. 3), and the list goes on.
The people of God protested a world that fell short of God’s shalom.
God’s plan is to prepare a people whose “politics” is centered on the kingdom of God. This God-shaped politics threaten the powers that be, powers that would have us place our faith and loyalty in them.
In the case of the Roman Empire, this meant worshiping the emperor as a god. In our case, perhaps it means that we misplace our hope in partisan politics.
I don’t mean that Christians should become apolitical. Voting is a good way to protest. That is why there is so much at stake in these voter rights issues.
What I mean is that we are political specifically because, like Jesus, we are passionately concerned with people and the world God has created. Our faith does not align with any political party, but our politics displays how we choose to live together.
As Christians we are commanded to live with our neighbor in love, to pray for our enemies, and to bless those that persecute us. It’s a peculiar politics, but it’s the politics of the kingdom of God.
The politics of God’s kingdom is at odds with the politics of this world, which is why protest can be a faithful witness to the politics of God’s kingdom. Christian protest witnesses to the reality that all is not well in our world, and it announces the good news that the kingdom of God is near.
In this kingdom the poor are blessed, the hungry are fed, enemies are loved, captives are released, the blind are healed, and the oppressed are set free.
The Gospel authors repeatedly remind us that the kingdom of God is good news to the poor and downtrodden. This does not bode well for any who are rich and powerful, which is perhaps why protests of the biblical sort are unwelcome among those of us who have been conformed to the kingdoms of this world.
Protesting can be fundamental to our discipleship. Being the people of God may include conventional forms of protest. But the whole of Christian life is a witness in protest anyway. In this sense, the church doesn’t protest; the church is a protest.
Sometimes we join secular protests, but we only do so as part of our ongoing witness that God wants to mend our broken world. Christians protest because we worship God’s perfect protest, Jesus the Messiah of God.