To protest something is to express disagreement with an idea or action. However, the word as a noun usually refers to a loosely organized group of people publicly and strongly demonstrating against some policy or situation. Protests are usually political in nature and can range from peaceful sit-ins to lawless rioting. In America, the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” So, for Christians in America, peaceful protesting is a right guaranteed by our Constitution. Participating in a peaceful protest is not breaking the law. Of course, legality is different than morality. Rioting is always wrong, but is it right for Christians to be involved in peaceful protests?
Arguably, most major changes in laws or governments began with a protest of some sort. People got fed up and organized like-minded citizens. Together they lobbied for change and worked to improve a situation they found intolerable. Significant to the birth of the United States is a historical protest we call the Boston Tea Party. The Protestant Reformation is one of the most famous protests in world history. Without Martin Luther’s courage and conviction, the errors and abuses of the Roman Catholic Church may have continued unchecked. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a protest against unjust, discriminatory laws. That protest sparked much-needed changes that helped curtail racial discrimination in the public sector. Protests can be positive or negative depending on the issue and the ways the protest is expressed.
An obvious example of a protest gone wrong is the mob in Pilate’s court being stirred up to shout, “Crucify Him!” and send Jesus to the cross (Matthew 27:15–26). As with many mob protests, it had less to do with justice or lawfulness than with disinformation and ill intent (see Acts 19:23–41 and Acts 21:26–36).
The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day used an uninformed mob to advance their selfish agenda. History teaches us to be cautious of rallying points that control the masses. Those points may seem righteous on the surface, but evil motives often drive them. Mob-think is a powerful weapon, and protests can be destructive and dangerous when influenced by evil minds. Recent protests in America are associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. While claiming to champion the rights of black Americans, the underlying agenda of this organization is anti-family and anti-Christian.
Anger at the abuse of power is often the spark that ignites the flames of protest. Passionate people can be swept up in a mob mentality before they know it and find themselves joining causes without close examination. Before a Christian gets involved in a protest, he or she should consider these questions carefully:
1. Is this a worthy cause?
2. Would Jesus support the convictions behind this cause?
3. Will my participation violate any legitimate laws?
4. Do I know the real motives behind this protest, and can I support those motives?
5. What message will my involvement send to people outside this protest?
6. Am I being used as a pawn in a hidden agenda I would not otherwise support?
7. Is this protest being used as an excuse for violence, destruction, or other forms of evil?
8. Is this protest the best way to further the message I want to proclaim?
9. What do I expect to be the result of this protest?
10. How will I treat those who do not join me in this protest?
Every decision we make should support God’s call for us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19) and glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether we are considering a job offer, a relationship, or a protest, our first priority should be those two aims. While we should work to better the places where we live (Jeremiah 29:7), it is easy to get caught up in earthly concerns. We must remember our aims. If a protest furthers making disciples and glorifying God, then it may be a righteous pursuit. But if involvement in a protest violates God’s law or invalidates our Christian testimony, then it cannot be pleasing to God.