What’s the Best Way to Protest?

U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protest global racial injustice at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on October 16, 1968.

The word “protest” is literally in my faith tradition. I am a Presbyterian Christian – a branch of the Church created to protest activities in the Roman Catholic Church over the course of the 16th and 17th Centuries. The Protestant Reformation hoped to bring systemic change to the Church of Jesus Christ and – throughout our history – people have died during the course of protesting.

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the U.S. national athem at the 1968 Olympics, apartheid was still the way of the world in South Africa. Two leaders had been assassinated in the United States. People had been beaten during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Smith and Carlos chose to express their protest for such violence in this peaceful but controversial way. Other Americans were not pleased.

When Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the U.S. national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in 2016, his action was both vilified and copied throughout the country and beyond.

Two years ago today, over 3000 people descended upon the National Mall in our Nation’s Capital – many of whom protested what they called a stolen election – which resulted in the deaths of seven people and approximately $30 million in damages according to the Architect of the Capitol.

What do we do when we disagree with the institutional policies of governments or businesses or denominations? The options are endless:

  • Kneel
  • Stand in solidarity
  • Raise a fist
  • March
  • Boycott
  • Write letters
  • Leave the country/institution
  • Barricade on site
  • Destroy property
  • Attack people
  • Kill people

Those are just a few options. Most of us agree that Peaceful Protest is a human right (unless we are okay with fascism) and weirdly some people who decry fascism still have a hard time with peaceful protest. (Read what happened to people like Tommie Smith or Colin Kaepernick after they protested peacefully.)

The truth is that many of us (most of us) do nothing when we see injustice. We might even blame peaceful protesters for their faithful, thoughful rage. There are countless examples of peaceful protesters being met with violence.

Followers of Jesus: I’m writing specifically to you all here. Jesus died for the sake of love. Jesus died for standing up to an unholy regime, a cruel culture, and a wayward people. What do you consider to be the faithful way to protest?

I was once asked in an interview with a church Pastor Nominating Committee: “Is there any issue for which you might protest publicly?” This church was in a region of the country where peaceful protests are part of the culture. I assume there was concern that I might be a rabble rouser.

My answer was something like this: “Of course there are issues I might protest. Wouldn’t you?”

Although I didn’t offer a litany of what those issues might be, again, the list is endless: The abuse of vulnerable people. The ruination of the creation God gave us. Greed. Cruelty. Violence.

On this infamous anniversary, I hope we consider what we would (and do) protest in the name of Jesus. I pray we would see Jesus as our model for protest.

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