There have been many protests in the news lately, and before this academic year is over, I fear there may be one here at the University of Mississippi. These protests usually end with increased hatred, inflamed tempers, violence and in the worst cases, death on both sides.
For those of us serious about following the way of Jesus of Nazareth, we must critically consider how to respond or whether we even should.
Answering the second consideration first, it is apparent that Christians both should and should not be involved with the protests. Allow me to elaborate.
Some well-meaning pastors in the local area have warned their congregants not to get involved with the protests at any cost, both for the safety of their members and to prevent the kingdom of God from being associated with either movement.
I can agree to this second sentiment but not to the first. As followers of Jesus, we are expected to forfeit our safety out of self-sacrificial love for our neighbors (and our enemies).
As such, I cannot imagine that where there is violence and turmoil, the church should be absent, cowering in homes and dorm rooms instead of trying to inject peace and love into the situation.
After all, Jesus taught, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God.” I believe those who want to seriously follow Jesus should respond and act to bring peace out of violence.
So what action, if any, am I advocating for? First, when the inevitable protest occurs, pray. Pray in groups or by yourself. Pray hard, and engage in fasting while doing so. Regardless of which side you are on, pray for both sides and the safety of all who are there.
Engage in nonviolence. If someone from the protest begins to berate you, whether physically or emotionally, turn the other cheek. Love your enemy as your friend.
Do an exercise with me: Put yourself in the shoes of your assaulter. Imagine you are physically or emotionally harming someone, and then that person says, “It’s OK that you’re doing this. I forgive you. I love you.” How taken aback would you be? How quickly would that confuse you and bring you to a full stop?
If it were me, I would be wondering why this person, who has every reason to raise his or her voice at me, fight back at me or hate me, is choosing to say, “I love and forgive you.” We often forget that our enemies are human beings with emotions and instead choose to view them as faceless robots of rage and evil.
This devalues the image of God in which they are made, and if you retaliate, you become a hypocrite for treating them in a way you would not want to be treated, simply because they did it to you first.
Don’t take a side in a rally. If at all possible, try to remain as objective as you can in the situation, and don’t allow your culture, your upbringing or your politics to color your view of the situation.
If you find yourself still agreeing with one group more than the other, refrain from jumping in and arguing against the “opposition.” Instead, treat both groups with love, respect, patience and impartiality.
Lastly, form a missional group to bring love to the protesters. I’m not suggesting this for everyone, but I believe that, as Christians, we must “count up the cost” and recognize that love is something worth losing everything else for.
Before there’s even a hint of a protest, form a group of dedicated Christian friends and plan how you can minister to the protesters. This will likely look different from group to group, but the idea I like best is this: Create impartial, matching T-shirts that say something like, “Not a protester, just a Jesus freak.” Make signs, too.
Then, split the group in two and have one half go and take water to people on one side of the argument and the other group go and take water to the other side. See these people as humans, give them hugs and tell them you love them. Remember to stay impartial and nonviolent when engaging with the protesters.
This is what it looks like when Christians respond.
Tripp Bond is a sophomore history major from Meridian.