With the backdrop of a pandemic, social unrest on race and climate catastrophe, I have over the last few months listened to several theological commentators and their thinking, as they relate to God’s Word and how or where the Bible speaks to such experiences. I have also reflected on particular questions coming out of African and Caribbean communities, and I want to look again at the biblical texts that affirm, challenge, or reshape our thinking on public protests.
It seems that in public life, Race and Racism is having its moment. George Floyd’s death rightly brings to the forefront of our minds disregarded people across the UK shores and beyond. With COP26 (2021 UN Climate Change Conference) due to happen at the end of the year, we are reminded of the harsh reality that the triple nexus of COVID-19, climate change and racism is widening the equalities gap here in the UK and around the world. With such disturbing statistics, we have reason to protest. Levelling up has to be more than a political slogan; it needs to move us forward into a new reality. Evangelicals are no exception to the protest-oriented attitude of our day. We have set social media platforms aflame with heated debate about everything, from Black Lives Matter to asking the question about who is impacted by climate change.
In many cases, Christians have joined fellow citizens in taking to the streets with banners, signs, and shouts to publicly demonstrate their opinion on Black Lives Matter campaigns. So, I hear you asking the question: ‘Should Christians engage in public protest centred on political and social issues, digitally or otherwise?’ My answer is Yes, and here’s why. Jesus came to bring ‘good news’ to the poor and ‘freedom’ for the oppressed, calling us to action. Through His life and teaching, His death and His resurrection, Jesus inspired His followers to love God, love their neighbours, and to seek justice for those who are oppressed. Jesus practised this principle throughout His earthly ministry. The power over the oppressed will not be just given up, we have to reclaim it. Collectively we must break down systems and structures that keep people from fulfilling their potential. For me, freedom is a Gospel imperative. The Calvary Global Network have given this some thought, and cites five ways we can act to demonstrate our protest:
1. Protest by prayer
The greatest method of protest we can engage in is to petition the throne of heaven in prayer. If there is a clear biblical exhortation to believers about how they can make a difference in their community, it is the call to pray for human leaders found in 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
2. Protest by personal example
To protest by personal example is simply to cultivate the character of Jesus in how we live, in every sphere of life. The essence of Jesus’ message and way of interacting with people and society was countercultural in itself: His constitution was the Sermon on the Mount, and His life’s ambition was to live out the gospel-acts that the Christian Church now proclaims in what we know as the gospel message.
3. Protest by participation
This is where we get down to more obvious forms of protest. Christians have a biblically defined freedom to raise a voice of protest according to their particular government’s provision. The Bible is clear that Christians are to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’ (Romans 13:1). If the government has declared the people to have a right to peaceably assemble in protest, we can obey the biblical command to submit to that government, while voicing disapproval with the decisions and actions of government leaders at the same time. This is where we have seen participation of bishops, senior clergy, and Christian activists.
4. Protest by propriety
If Christians want to join the ranks of public demonstrators (digitally or on the street), they should do so in a way that provides a clear distinction between them and people who do not know Jesus.
5. Protest by priority
If called to act against the principles of our faith, or to commit acts of sin, we must be willing to resist. As Peter replied to those who would silence his gospel preaching: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When it comes to human authority trying to force us to deny Jesus or pervert the Gospel, Christians must resist. Our values are firmly rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The UK government message is that together we must ‘build back better’, but what does this mean for the Church? Perhaps we need to rethink assumptions, beliefs, and behaviours that underpin what we do and how we operate. Reforms must be structural as well as in the hearts of individuals. We all have common needs even if they are experienced differently. We all need clean air, water, food, shelter, sanitation, hygiene, and opportunities to earn a decent wage. We all want to thrive and flourish. We all yearn to be listened to, supported, valued, and more importantly protected.
A prophetic call for justice runs throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, as well as the New Testament. As God’s image-bearers, we can and must exercise our agency for justice for the common good. If, like me, you have never had reason to separate your faith from political action, then let us combine both our head and heart to seek social change, so that all may flourish and prosper.
It is what God calls us to do.
Written by: Dionne Gravesande