Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Protest of Jesus-followers

This evening I had a stimulating conversation with my friend Tim Colegrove. Of late, Tim has been reading about and reflecting on the Christian's call to nonviolence. From his reading and reflecting, Tim has been energized to action. He knows that Christian faith is not just a set of tenets we intellectually affirm, but is the life of God lived out in us. Therefore, he called to invite me to a reading/discussion group around these issues where we can encourage one another and discuss ways this subject can be brought to bear in our daily lives.

As we were talking and thinking through the planing stages of this group, the issue of protest come up. As we discussed protest, some interesting thoughts were shared which Tim admonished me to record for posterity on this neglected nonviolence blog. It was a wise and needful admonition that I appreciate.

For context's sake, the subject of protest arose in our conversation after I recounted a painful experience I had recently involving me sharing my nonviolent conviction with a respected mentor, only to be rebuffed with extreme prejudice. In this particular situation, Jesus' clearing of the temple was used to support the idea that violence isn't merely permitted for Christians, but perhaps beneficial in some cases. The person making this argument actually went so far as to say that the account clearly details that Jesus specifically whips people. (I'm still amazed by this assertion... but I digress).

Now, the unequivocal rejection and debunking of that misinterpretation would certainly make for an interesting, if a little defensive, blogpost. However, that is not my aim with this entry. Rather, what I'd like to propose instead are some thoughts that surfaced in light of this account around Christians and their relationship to protest.

Discussion of the temple-clearing brought to Tim's mind a series of articles and essays he'd recently read by a Catholic priest who protested the Vietnam War draft by breaking into draft offices and destroying draft data in dramatic fashion----pouring blood on it and burning it. While this sort of protest is certainly provocative and frankly badass, I suggested that it might from be misplaced. Jesus' tirade in the temple was definitely a dramatic and provocative protest. However, it is important to note who Jesus' audience was. Jesus did not call to account Roman officials like Caesar or even Herod Antipas. Instead, Jesus reserved his outrage and judgment solely for God's covenant people. I believe this should give pause to Christians who intend to use Jesus' example to justify protest of the State.

Nevertheless, I think Jesus' life and ministry example are instructive on this subject in at least two ways:

1) Jesus Prophetically Called God's People to Account

As followers of Jesus, we should take serious Jesus' example as a prophetic witness against corruption in God's covenant people. When we see the pure Gospel of God's love demonstrated in Christ's sacrifice desecrated by idolatrous nationalism and war-mongering, we are called to stand up and call it sin!

2) Jesus Exposed Injustice though Service

Though this episode gets a lot of attention due to its dramatic nature, Jesus' life and ministry continually protested against the demonic powers that feed corrupt cultural forces. By demonstrating extravagant love towards the outcast, alienated, dejected of society, Jesus protested the status quo set up by religious and political "authorities." Jesus' radical service of the least exposed the oppression and injustice society sought to mask and secretly support. Our call as Christians is to protest like our Master---through lives of dramatic, compassionate service to the least.

~T. C.

PS - On his page,, Mr. Glenn Miller brings up some very good points about the over-simplification and flat misinterpretation of the temple-clearing:

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