Webster’s Dictionary defines protest as “an expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition of something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid.”
There’s been a lot of media coverage lately about protesting. The West Virginia teachers, the nationwide walk-out the morning I am writing this blog post, #metoo, racial violence, and the list goes on. If you have ventured to casually bring this topic up in any type of social circle, it has MANY feels, positive and negative, attached to the action. I have found this to be true even in my Christian circles.
As a youth pastor, I do a lot of thinking and teaching on Jesus. And so, naturally, I sat and I thought on this particular subject and these are the things that came to mind.
Jesus was a non-violent protestor when, In John 2, Jesus storms into the temple, turns over tables, and starts pouring everything out so it cannot be sold. I’d say he was a little passionate about the temple being used as a market place.
Jesus was a non-violent protestor when he, in Matthew 5, began speaking to the social injustices of the time and worked to change the rhetoric being spewed from unreliable sources. He gave speeches, taught, and spoke for this change.
Jesus was a non-violent protestor when he, in Luke 7, advocates for those who are oppressed, downtrodden, victimized, and otherwise abandoned.
Our call as Christians (no matter what age) is to love God, and love people. We don’t get to choose who we love, we are called to love ALL. This means we are to love our Christian neighbor, homeless neighbor, drug addicted neighbor, racist neighbor, muslim neighbor, LGBTQ neighbor. Everyone. And often, protesting and advocating go hand in hand with loving thy neighbor.
As a youth pastor the word “protest” can be paralyzingly anxiety inducing. Are we allowed to protest? Is protesting something in which we as Christians should participate? If we do protest, how do we go about protesting? Is it ok for me to stay silent? What about my students? Can I talk to them about protesting? What will their parents say? There are so many questions! And If you’re anything like me, you could “what if” yourself to death without any actual movement.
We are natural advocators in some form or fashion. If you were to examine my life, you would find I am a passionate advocator of civil rights, poverty, and the response to sexual assault/child abuse. I am a staunch advocate of these because they have touch my life and color my world.
So the question is, where does protesting belong in youth ministry?
This morning I had a conversation with one of my high school boys about this very thing. We’ll call him Ryan.
Me: Hey! If you are still planning to protest today by walking out please be safe!
Ryan: My parents are telling me not to because it will get me in trouble and told me no but I’m still gonna do it….
Me: All I ask is that you remember that there are ramifications (seen and unseen) to every choice you make. Like a pebble dropped in water ripples several times, the same thing happens with our choices. They ripple. Be safe if you choose to walk out. Civil disobedience tends to shine a light on all facets of our lives, not just the things that are seen. Also know there are plenty of folks who would march out of classrooms to stand with you if they could.
Ryan: I know the reason I am doing something. I am sticking with my decision.
Me: Saying prayers for you and the others. I can’t wait to hear about it once you’re done…
Ryan: [sends me a video of the students standing around a flagpole] Tori, there were so many people who joined us!
Me: I am proud of you!
I once got to speak with a prominent civil rights attorney about my role in the conversation. These were the pieces of advice he gave:
- What can you do to convert your outrage to outcomes?
- If God has truly called you to the work, he will provide you the manna.
- Show up (be present)
- Remember that transformation from outrage to outcome requires engaged work.
- Determine whether you are a prophetic leader or a hired hand. There will always be people who will try to dissuade you.
- When you engage in justice work, people will know who you are. It requires the conscious choice to engage.
And so, these are the questions I ask myself before I engage. These are the things I tell my students before they engage. Jesus was a big time social justice advocate and champion for the marginalized. If I am to love God and love others, it is my responsibility to engage. Remember too that we are all advocators of something. You may be an unsung champion of the youth basketball league in your community. You are an advocate. You may protest at church that “youth Sunday” shouldn’t exist but that every Sunday should be “youth Sunday”. You are still advocating for injustice in this world. You don’t have to have a national platform to be like Jesus. Go out. Love God. Love people. Love them with abandon.