Pastoral Perspectives

Which Is More Effective? Peaceful Protest (go on the street) or Pray for the authorities?

Which Is More Effective?

Peaceful Protest (go on the street) or Pray for the authorities?

The recent Hong Kong “Occupy Central” movement sparked off controversies among the Christian communities. Among the leaders of the movement, under the banner ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’, are a number of Christians, including former Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-­kiun and Baptist minister Rev Chu Yiu-­ming.

Protest movements were quite unheard of before the Second World War, although some existed even then. Since that time they have proliferated greatly and the news media have given them considerable prominence. The starting point may perhaps be pin-pointed as the proclamation of the “Four Freedoms” by President F. D. Roosevelt to the United States Congress on 6 January, 1941. These freedoms comprise:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression;
  2. Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way;
  3. Freedom from want;
  4. Freedom from fear.

But the problem is that one man’s freedom may be another man’s bondage. Freedom is obviously a very complex subject. The root of the matter lies not so much in freedom itself, but rather in the limits within which we allow a choice to be made and the standards by which we make that choice. Many of the protest movements and cries for human rights stem from blatant evil. Homosexuals want their “rights” and in some ways are now getting them. (Romans 1:21, 26, 27) Sometimes what seem to be purely social movements are used by extreme political activists in order to achieve entirely different ends from those at the root of the protest.

        But while some of the protest actions are peaceful, others are vigorously political and some resort to or result in violence. There are even instances where terrorism and protest go hand in hand from the outset. Protesters are drawn from all walks of life. Though they may differ on other things, they are united in pursuing a common objective as defined by the protest in which they are engaged. United they may be in a mutual cause, but their reasons for protest may be widely different. The church’s political responsibility is commonly thought to involve meeting the practical needs of the marginalized and engaging as citizens in democratic politics (voting, petitions, campaigning). Churches tend to regard political protest as a permissible choice for the individual rather than a corporate activity. Politics is potentially divisive and controversial in economically and culturally diverse congregations. Politics involves the difficulties, as well as opportunities, of sharing a platform with other voices. Politics risks linking the gospel with a flawed agenda. And politics is often considered not the ‘core’ church business.

        What would Jesus do? Was Jesus an agitator? Was he a revolutionary? Did he form a group bent on bringing about political or social change by pressurizing others? Did he seek to enforce his standards (the best standards) on those who did not want to follow him? These are basic questions and the Bible provides clear answers.

Jesus lived in a country which was occupied by the Romans. Some Jews had formed themselves into a terrorist band known as the Zealots and planned to use violence against the Romans when the occasion was ripe. From time to time, even within the precincts of the temple, there were scenes of violence which the Romans suppressed or quenched by appropriate measures.

What did Jesus do about these things? As the Son of God in God’s land, what steps did he urge against the Romans? Absolutely none! There are no words of resentment, no threats, no instruction to his disciples that they must resist the Roman rule or seek to get rid of it.

Throughout the New Testament Jesus and his disciples chose to behave nonviolently. There is not one instance in all of the accounts of Jesus’ life where 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 participating in a rebellion to passive demonstrations or silent marches.

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 light of this, it’s important to understand the contradiction between being a Christian and protesting. If a Christian believes that God is in control, then he/she will submit to the ruling authorities and proclaim his/her faith by obeying God to be at peace with all men. 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. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan Purse wrote:

       “Praying for authority is a biblical command. We know from Scripture that God can turn the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1). That means that we should be praying for God’s will to be done and that they would be surrounded by godly counsel and, most important, that our leadership would personally know God and the salvation found through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”

Rev Tan Cheng Huat

December 14, 2014