By Rev. Paul Graves
It seems that everywhere we turn these days, someone is protesting something, and often at the top of their lungs. Angry protests make for “good” TV and media coverage. Angry protests even break out in family kitchens or the grocery store parking lot. We’re overwhelmed with protests!
People of faith, particularly Christians, seem to be conflicted about whether protests do any good, or even if protests are “Christian.” Aren’t we supposed to be peace-lovers, even peacemakers? Certainly. So, I ask: Can peacemaking include protests? In two words: Of course.
Contrary to what too many Christians believe, our biblical faith traditions are filled with protests. God drew people into protests of all kinds to bring some degree of peace and justice into people’s lives.
Biblical “peace,” however, is not merely the absence of conflict. It is more the presence of relational wholeness, completeness, inner/outer harmony, hope and justice.
And justice? I repeat what many others have declared: The work of peace is justice. Social justice and personal justice are the fruits of peacemaking. Protest is often the method.
As Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives on what we call Palm Sunday, he stopped, saw the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:35-44) and wept sadly. “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.”
What were those things that make for peace? One of those things that make for peace, personally and socially, has always been protest.
But we must be clear as to why we choose protest to seek peace. Violence is not peacemaking protest. Victimized by violence, Jesus still embodied peacemaking. We’re called to live the same way, nonviolently.
Whether the guilty verdicts in the highly charged Derek Chauvin trial bring you relief or frustration, let your future protests be for peacemaking and for justice. Let your hearts be nonviolent, so your actions can follow in kind.
Free Methodist pastor Benjamin D. Wayman wrote a compelling Nov. 4 article for Christian Century titled “Why Do Christians Protest?” He’s right when he declares “Christians … are political specifically because, like Jesus, we are passionately concerned with people and the world God has created. Our faith doesn’t align with any political party, but our politics displays how we choose to live together.”
We can’t always control the consequences of our protests. But we can stay clearheaded about why and how we protest for the others whose lives are bruised by injustice. Our peacemaking protests stand decidedly with and for those others.
On the other hand, when we shrink from standing up and/or speaking out for others, our claims of peace expose themselves as shallow. And this, I observe, is where we live most of the time.
Want a new start? Learn more deeply how protests and peacemaking live at the center of our faith tradition. Check your fears at the door and learn something new about your faith tradition.
Find an issue, or people, you feel passionate about. Look for simple ways to protest that issue. That will connect you to other religious, or nonreligious people, passionate about the same issue. Don’t let religious or political labels distract you from joining with others to protest a wrong you know hurts people. Protests seek to right human wrongs.
Whether your protest method is letter-writing to political leaders, picket-carrying for a cause you believe is righteous, the gentle loving of a lonely person or volunteering at a food bank, remember why you choose to protest. Every act that serves another can be a protest for peace.
When our protests help us bring some kind of peace, some kind of justice, into another person’s life? Priceless!
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.