On Nonviolent Protest

I want to briefly respond to the division I am seeing specifically between the right to protest injustice via the national anthem and respect for America. I believe that like all of division this is mechanical and orchestrated (though perhaps not consciously). I want to encourage those who feel victimized because you are not subject to the victories and defeats of politics—your humanity necessitates that your integrity and worth can never be found or lost in the eyes of other men. This is a call for radical unity.

Ever sense I read Michael Sandal’s “Imagined Communities” I have come to believe that there is something so artificial, cheap, and controlling about political boundaries. They passively preach division. It makes an “Us and Them” and if you are not for us your against us and for them. This can no longer be.

I am of the persuasion that peaceful protest is so offensive and so attacked in our country today because it quietly undermines what we know to be true in our conscious: violence, enemy hate, and aggression is somehow wrong. Somehow, much of what is acclaimed as religious idealism and political patriotism today serves to quiet the consciousness of men and suck out their soul, their compassion, and their humanity. Eugene Peterson—a famous theologian and scholar—was once painted by his friend. This friend lived through the holocaust, a Jewish man who survived Nazism. He painted his friend Eugene like he would look after he was dead and a few months under ground. Eugene was confused why his friend portrayed him so. The man said that he was religious, and eventually his religiosity would suck him devoid of spirit, love, and compassion.

This is the reality that so much of our politics and theology preaches today. Did you know that our modern Christian and western theology was not sparked by Jesus but an emperor named Constantine who claimed God told him to win and wage war and subsequently established a new order of Christianity and political control? The most obvious problem that arises is how can one reconcile Jesus’s insistence and example of enemy love with a king’s call to wage war? Either Constantine was right or Jesus but not both. They contradict one another. And in many ways, it’s easy to see how our country has been handed the baton of this empirical theology.

Many say our empire is God’s and our wars are just and so are our leaders.

As a follower of Jesus, I whole heartedly disagree with this.

This notion has been used to wage all sort of evil, war, and injustice. It does not surprise me that our empire does this, it does surprise me that other followers of Jesus justify it. I call for an end to this behavior.

Jesus died for his enemies. Jesus lived and preached nonviolence. Jesus preached enemy love. Clear and simple. Jesus is not informing us to wage war on behalf of our version of righteousness. This is folly.

The reason, I believe, that so many are reacting so strongly to the peaceful protest of NFL players is because it undermines (perhaps even subconsciously) their false belief that war and violence are necessary. Because if you can protest nonviolently, why do you need war? Violence and war, after all, is our favorite pastime. Show me a film or video game that does not touch on one of these two themes. It is ubiquitous, like water to a fish.

So to those who protest nonviolently, I stand with you in solidarity and urge you to continue. Not because I want you to win a dualistic political debate, but because you are joining all of the voices that lovingly and compassionately refer their neighbor to an image of humanity in which there is no violence. Violence is the result if illusions of separation from one another and separation from God. I encourage you that when others ridicule you to bless them, do not curse. For they too are loved and cherished by their friends and family and God as well. And they too are humans in need of your love and affection. For you who protest, I challenge you to practice enemy love. Can you love those who hate you like you are loving Jesus himself?

I accept that I am as connected to those who protest at the 50 yard line, as I am to the man or woman who is aggressively offended at such protest. Both are my brother, both are my sister. I will die for both but never kill for either.

This is the heart of Jesus’s message. I challenge my fellow citizens to follow the example of dying for your enemies. Because maybe as we practice this enemy love, we can realize there are no enemies left to fight.

 

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