The Believer and The Protest
We have all watched the scenes in urban centers of North America being filled with protestors of every race. These marchers embody the idea that discrimination must stop immediately. This is not a new battleground but has been part of the American social landscape since its earliest days.
Our aim is to sort out two separate issues. First, what should be our view as believers toward discrimination, prejudice, and abuse? Secondly, how should we address these injustices, and does it include being involved in peaceful protests?
Some may be inclined to write-off the sincerity of the protestors by citing the pillaging and criminal behavior of a limited few at these events. The criminals that burned buildings and looted retail stores do not represent the voices of the protestors. The issue of discrimination is very real and has been felt by people of color and women for centuries. For Christadelphians, it might be convenient to assume this is all about the secular nation we live in and has no implications for our spiritual community. That would be a wrong assumption.
PURE RELIGION AND UNDEFILED
The issue of discrimination is very real and has been felt by people of color and women for centuries.
In Scripture, the main description of racism is anti-Semitism. The primary social issue that is dealt with is poverty. Both are significant storylines in Scripture. So, we will begin by looking at how the Bible exhorts us to look after any who are abused or persecuted. We should, of all people, be a community that eschews discrimination and unfair treatment. James wrote:
The verb “visit” implies much more than “stopping by” to see how one is doing. It means coming to the aid of one in distress, to look out for. God’s eyes are on the oppressed. He ensures the least likely to protect themselves, those in the greatest need and with the lowest amount of influence, should not be abused. David wrote that God is:
In Psa 146:9, we are told “The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow.” The very command in the Law was that the fatherless and widows should not be afflicted and that He would hear their cry. (Exod 22:22-23). The principle for believers is that we are to look upon the needy and lend assistance. The very examples the Lord uses for his judgment in Matthew 25 involve showing compassion for those in immediate need—the hungry, thirsty, strangers in need of housing, the naked, sick and those in prison. Each of these conditions cries for our action when they are seen. The righteous meet these needs, even to the “least of these.” As believers, we must address the hardships of any when we can help.
God cares when people are mistreated, and He expects the same from us. I see no way for us to view discrimination and injustice toward our fellow man differently than our God does. We must regularly show compassion and care. We need to listen and be sympathetic. The call is for us to do what we can to comfort and relieve. Think globally but act locally! I am pleased to know many of our ecclesias are providing support to the needs of their local communities. As discussions have arisen among Christadelphians on this topic, some courageous brothers and sisters of color have stepped up to share their personal experiences. We may have been shocked to hear from those we love that they too have experienced discrimination in our community.
Some expressed being left out of social gatherings or not feeling wanted when they first encountered an ecclesia. Others were subject to racist comments. For those who continued steadfast in the Truth and remained, most of the feelings of non-acceptance diminished—they became more familiar with us, and we with them. Sometimes I hear brothers and sisters talk about how much they love a person of color in the meeting as evidence prejudice does not exist in our community. Without exception, the examples given are about brothers and sisters who have been known for many years and who are comfortable within our ecclesial culture. This is not an effective way to assess the experience of someone new to our ecclesial halls. We will end this article by asking us all to consider several provocative questions about what we can do in our personal interactions as well as within our ecclesias.
PROTEST AND THE BELIEVER
Many believers today wonder about participating in peaceful protests across the country. Undoubtedly, they want to be people who put their faith and love into action, not only in words.
I can understand and appreciate their hearts on this matter. Just reciting Christadelphian traditions on protests and activism is not compelling. We need to speak plainly from the Scriptures and allow our God to order our steps.
Perhaps it is useful to ask whether there are any instances of formal protests or demonstrations in Scripture. Many social issues could have been the source of protest. And many believers were unfairly persecuted. Some were beaten, put in prison, and stoned to death. Herod summarily executed James. Yet, there were no demonstrations, no calls to violence or speeches of condemnation. They knew the Lord was in control and would do His will.
They believed they would either be saved at that time or in the Kingdom at the Lord’s return. God mercifully decided to end some persecutions by Herod with his death at the hand of an angel. He chose not to intervene in all cases. But the message for those early believers was that the Lord’s Kingdom is not of this world. In this world, we should not be surprised when the Kingdoms of Men act ungodly.
I have always found it useful to question when I am perplexed about a given behavior or stand if I could envision Jesus himself being part of such behavior?
Some have argued that Jesus and the first-century disciples, under the arm of Roman rule, were not able to protest the laws of the land. However, during the first century, many Jewish nationalistic revolutionary groups arose from continued persecution. The Zealots believed that Israel’s right to religious and political freedom should be pursued by any means necessary. We have no account of sympathy with these causes or their means of trying to achieve their goals.
Jesus did challenge religious authorities, but he did not challenge the secular rulers. Jesus taught his disciples to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” (Mark 12:17) On one occasion Jesus demonstrated righteous indignation about the money changers making a mockery of the Temple service. John the Baptist told soldiers and tax collectors to continue doing their work, only to do it without abusing others.
I have always found it useful to question when I am perplexed about a given behavior or stand if I could envision Jesus himself being part of such behavior? Could I see Jesus as an infantryman in the United States army? Of course not. Could I see Jesus making political criticisms of candidates and incumbents? Certainly not. Could I see Jesus sitting in a jury box, rendering a verdict for a criminal trial? No. Could I see Jesus walking down the streets of Los Angeles with other protestors, arguing for changes in the governance of the land? No, I could not.
But would Jesus condemn actions of prejudice, discrimination, and injustice toward men? Absolutely. This was in many ways the core of his teachings. He demonstrated he would embrace those who Jewish society saw as pariahs. He sat down with publicans and sinners. He engaged with the woman at the well of Sychar, a Samaritan with a dubious past. He fed the hungry crowds and healed the sick. Jesus addressed the needs of the oppressed and powerless by serving and loving. The power of Jesus was not only his words but how he personally demonstrated what he taught. This seems to be the challenge he would have us learn today. Demonstrate God’s love for all men and take proactive steps to do so in every part of your daily life.
Participating in national protests fighting for governmental and policing changes is not our battleground. This is not our government and not our nation. We are ambassadors for Christ. (2 Cor 5:20). We represent a different government and a different King. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…” (Matt 6:33).
We need to be acutely aware that protests have the underpinnings of Humanism. It is easy to be seduced into the concept of working for a better society by protest. Those who do not believe in God, who deny God and His supremacy over the nations, would be compelled to make this world a bit better through protest and political involvement. However, we should not allow ourselves to be entrapped by the messaging of making the world a better place by social activism. This world, our culture, and our governmental processes are all slated for destruction. Discrimination and bigotry are to be condemned. However, participating in how a godless world “fixes” the social system is not in the spirit of Christ. We should take steps to feed the hungry and care for those in need. Many ecclesias do good works in these areas and this is consistent with the lives of believers. However, engagement in the government and secular powers of this world are not for those who answer to a different King.
Is there an opportunity for believers to make a statement publicly? If it is done as a demonstration of our commitment and reliance on our Lord, it opens some possibilities. In 1 Tim 2:1-4, the Apostle Paul sets a standard for prayer for all men. He specifically names “kings, and all that are in authority.” The purpose is for men to be able to lead a “quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Would it be appropriate for believers to host public prayer meetings to pray for the government and police and to ask for the Lord’s intervention that men might live lives as the Apostle described? We can proclaim that if we want real peace, it can only come from Jesus. He said in John 14:27,
A SINCERE CALL TO ACTION
Some might ask if taking this position is just accepting in a fatalistic way the wrong that is ongoing and choosing not to do anything about it. God forbid! The slogan prevalent across America is “Inaction is Unacceptable.” To this, we strongly agree. Our calling is not to just ensure we personally refrain from discrimination and bigotry, but rather that we become advocates to eradicate these behaviors in the way we live and how our ecclesias operate. This calls for great personal examination. What can I do and how can I help? What is compelling me to get involved? Here are a few questions we should consider.
- Am I open to understanding the plight of those who feel discriminated against? Do I listen to their cries, or do I rationalize this as an issue for others, not me?
- Am I consciously scrutinizing my language and environment to identify subtle racial and dehumanizing bias?
- Will I take a personal stand to stop racist or misogynist comments and behaviors in my family and my ecclesia? Will I embrace “zero tolerance” for such behaviors?
- Why are most of our ecclesias lacking diversity? What are the drivers of this and how can I begin to be a force for change in this area?
- What can I do to ensure all brothers and sisters have a consistent voice?
- How am I preaching and to whom? Am I delivering the Gospel message in a way that speaks to all people?
- Do I avoid the apprehensive visitor in the ecclesial hall because I feel uncomfortable?
- Am I doing whatever I can to support and help those who are destitute or in danger?
We need to ensure all people feel the ecclesia is a place where they belong and are valued
We should remember God Himself created diversity. Difference was Divinely designed to be helpful and appreciated. What a different world it would be if all men were the same, or if we did not have a two-gender perspective! Sadly, it was Man who chose to oppress and devalue difference. Valuing our unique qualities is not only consistent with the work of our Lord; it is what will make us far stronger as the body of Christ. It is our God who “tempered” the body together, blending and mixing it to operate in full efficiency. We need to ensure all people feel the ecclesia is a place where they belong and are valued. We need to be “the light on a hill” for those in the communities where we live and work. We all need to ensure we reflect, even in the secret corners of our lives, that we love all men and value them.
As I have been contemplating this issue, as so often happens, the readings took me right to the place I needed to consider. I was looking for a compelling vision of what action we ought to take. Reading Isaiah 61, I was reminded of that vision we share for justice and freedom. It will not be accomplished by the Kingdoms of Men. The real enemy for all men is sin. Without Christ, we are all locked away in dark prison cells, feeling brokenhearted. We may never, as a small group, influence what is wrong in our secular culture, resulting in prejudice and abuse. I can do something by living my life in a way that extinguishes prejudice and discrimination in what I do control. But our high calling is to “preach the good tidings to the meek.” (Isa 61:1) and to declare that it is Jesus only who will “heal the brokenhearted.”
The only way there will be deliverance of the captives, recovering of the sight of the blind and providing of liberty to the bruised, is to preach the gospel, the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18- 19). If we are looking for a way to serve our fellow man, this is our message and our activism. Even if we were living in a world that had abandoned discrimination and injustice, this would still be the message that is needed. It is what our Lord has invited us to communicate. Without our Lord, we are all “children of wrath.” (Eph 2:3). If we feel compelled to go to the street corner with a message, we would be well served to carry this one.
The great example of our Lord was that he practiced “pure religion and undefiled.” The changes he brought about were beyond political policies and changes in the judicial system. He demonstrated his love all the way to the cross when he gave his life as a ransom for all and opened the prison gates that kept all men slaves to sin. The centuries-old message of believers has always been the great vision of the coming kingdom. When our Lord returns, his redeemed will be drawn from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation. Today he calls all men, everywhere to repent. May we be a people who adopt this vision fully in our lives.