The art of protest is fundamentally American. In fact, our nation was founded in protest (think Boston Tea Party) and our constitutional republic has built in mechanisms which allow for, and even encourage, protest. So, it should not be surprising for us to see the remonstrations which have sprung up in recent days. From rallies over COVID restrictions (and violations of those restriction) to demonstrations resulting from perceived miscarriages of justice – we have seen, quite literally, an explosion of protests over these past months (we even have protests about the right to protest!). Now with elections looming, there are rumors of another wave of angry demonstrations about to sweep across our nation. As members of the body of Christ living in America, we need to consider these protests from a Biblical vantage point – not simply an American one.
There have been two kinds of demonstrations – lawless/violent and peaceful (or some combination of these). Unlawful protests are the easiest to respond to. Those who protest with violence and lawlessness are clearly violating the principles of Scripture and this must be condemned.
First, the law of love does not allow for unloving behavior towards others (looting their stores, destroying their property, killing them – all of which has taken place) in retaliation for harm done. It certainly does not allow for violently taking up of the offense of another to harm those who were not even remotely involved. “For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-10)”. This principle of love holds for the believer as well as the unbeliever (even though the unbeliever can never truly love in a Biblical way since they never desire to glorify God through Christ).
Second, the biblical law of authority states that all men (and certainly believers) are to be in subjection to the governing authorities, because those authorities have been established by God. To oppose the authority of government is to oppose God. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13:1-2). We can appeal to governing authorities, we can vote an individual in an out or power, but in the end we are to submit to their authority. It is important to note that an injustice committed by someone invested with government authority does not validate unlawful responses (regardless of whether the system itself is generally “just,” or “unjust”). Since all governments are unjust to some degree, they are to be submitted to even when they have allowed injustice. Remember that Paul wrote the instructions in Romans thirteen to those who were governed by some of the most evil and unjust men who ever lived.
But what if a protest is involves groups of people who have been harmed and mistreated by the government in the past (as is demonstrably true for black people in the history of our nation)? The Bible is clear here. There is no biblical principle of justice which allows for setting aside of the law of love or authority when one has personally been treated unjustly or when another has been unlawfully harmed. Past oppression, injustice, and lack of love never justify present lawlessness and lovelessness. Certainly no church can join violent protest, affirm it, or make excuses for it.
However, the church should call on the government to punish evil doers and give praise and protection to those who are doing right. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right (1 Peter 2:13-14). Certainly we can and should affirm that justice should prevail and all necessary steps taken to limit (for it will never be eradicated) abuses of power, but to use the power of the mob is never an appropriate way to accomplish this. Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1-2).
So, violent protest lies outside the boundaries of biblical response, while calls for righteousness and justice are appropriate actions for true believers. The concept of peaceful protest is much more complex and so we will take up that topic in tomorrow’s blog post.