On Sunday, April 22, many Christians whom I know will gather at Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn to demonstrate for their “right” to worship in New York City schools. The protest is a response to the decision by the New York City Board of Education and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's to evict 70 or more churches from the public school spaces that they have been renting for years. While it may be their right to protest as American citizens, protesting in any form as a Christ-follower is misguided and unbiblical.
Christian scripture, the Bible, is very clear about Jesus’ belief about the role of government and a Christian's response to it. Consider these examples.
Jesus grew up in a small town named Galilee which was under occupation by Roman Empire. During Jesus’ ministry, some people told him about a gruesome massacre of Galileans by the Roman authorities. Instead of responding in outrage about the slaughter, Jesus spoke about the need for everyone to repent and follow him (Luke 13:1-3).
On another occasion, when asked if the heavy burden of Roman taxation was lawful, Jesus’ reply made no reference to the question about whether an occupying nation should tax its subjects. Instead, he spoke about the demands of God upon His subjects. He said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).
Jesus also addressed the issue of resentment against state authority in his famous Sermon on the Mount. Under the rules of their occupation, a Roman soldier had the right to ask any Jew to carry a Roman pack for one mile. Jesus' commentary was, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." Then he added, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:40, 44). This advice probably seemed like an outrageous suggestion for patriotic Jews. But Jesus' mindset went beyond the present circumstance to a higher law. He taught that a Christ-follower's life is directed by the commands of God. His disciples taught the same, saying, "As much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18, 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:11).
Throughout the New Testament Jesus and his disciples chose to behave nonviolently. There is not one violent response in all of the accounts of instances in which he came into conflict with Roman authorities. Even when false charges were laid against him during his trial, he did not plead his innocence, antagonize the authorities, or demand that his rights be considered. Jesus did denounce the religious leaders of his day, but he did not denounce political leaders. Nor did he encourage anyone to confront government in any way, including participation in a rebellion, passive demonstrations or silent marches.
Even to the slaves and to slave owners, Jesus' disciples said, "Be exemplary slaves and compassionate masters" (Eph. 6:5, 1 Cor. 7:22, Col. 3:22, 1 Tim. 6:1) and do not resist those in power (Romans 13:1,2). This advice was given at a time when Nero was burning Christians to light his palatial gardens.
Christ-followers must not retaliate in any form, be above reproach, and bring only good to bear in every circumstance of life. Additionally, Christians are commanded to not harbor anger, resentment or behave as an enemy of any man. They are to replace evil with good and love instead of hate-- even if that means that they suffer.
This may seem like an impossible task. It's also counter-intuitive to Western thought. However, Christians are not without aid from God to live this peaceful way.
Many Christians wrongly assume that the only way a situation can be put right is by political or social means, but this is not biblical teaching. God is in control and is active in the affairs of men and nations. The Christian worldview teaches that God removes rulers and puts them in power-- both good and evil-- for his purposes (Daniel 2:21; 4:17). All political leaders are appointed by God and nothing is beyond his control.
In sum there is a contradiction between being a Christian and being a protester. Protesting is an act of assertiveness, which is the opposite of nonviolent action. If a Christian believes that God is in control, then he or she will submit to the ruling authorities and proclaim faith by obeying God to be at peace with all people. A Christian will not sign petitions, but petition their Father in heaven through prayer. A Christian will be known for serving God. Obedience even today, means "rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's," "obeying magistrates," "speaking no evil of any man," and "being gentle to everyone" (Romans 13: 6,7; Titus 3:1,2) regardless of the outcome.
According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 55% of Americans believe that hate is growing in America. Protesting only increases hate by angering non-Christians. Unfortunately, by protesting, Christians forget their responsibility to a higher power than government. Protesting diminishes their ability to live as Christ would have them live and prevents them from creating a new reconciled relationship with local authorities and with those with whom they disagree.
Bethany Blankley is making her first appearance in A Journey through NYC religions. She writes on religion and politics. After working in politics for ten years in Washington, DC and New York City, she studied for a Masters in Theology in Christian Ethics at The University of Edinburgh, Scotland.