The art of NOT protesting

When I was a preschooler, my idea of a good time consisted of me putting a pillowcase over my head and running as fast as I could through the house until I crashed into something. (True story: I had 6 concussions by the time I entered kindergarten.  My mom recently admitted to me that she honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to make it!) Somehow, God gave me a fearless personality and this is how I expressed it at the time. God also gave me an extreme passion for justice.  Around the same time that I was injuring myself with my pillowcase “adventures”, I was also intentionally noticing and advocating for the marginalized kids at school.  In kindergarten, I was disgusted that the other kids in my class excluded our blind classmate Melissa from the schoolyard games. I remember befriending her entirely based on principle and spending hours and hours on the phone with her simply because I believed that little blind girls should have friends too. My mom tells me that I was born with an eye for the marginalized and a heart for justice.

My God-given fearlessness (I honestly have a difficult time empathizing with people who are easily intimidated) and heart for justice make it extremely hard for me to pass up a justice-related fight. Regardless of whether I’m the target of injustice, I tend to notice it and care about it. My first instinct is to speak up, to advocate for the oppressed, to make things right.

However, more recently I’m learning that while protesting injustice is often the good and right thing to do, perhaps it isn’t always the wisest thing to do.  Maybe – and this is counterintuitive and just plain weird – the best way to protest is by not protesting at all.

Don’t get me wrong.  Oppression and injustice are grave realities in our world that must be addressed. But that said, sometimes we give silly people too much power when we dignify their oppressive comments with protest. This happens on a weekly basis in the Twitterverse.  It’s so predictable it’s becoming ridiculous. Here’s how it goes:  a certain Seattle-based celebrity pastor with shock-jock-like tendencies makes a ridiculous and offensive statement. Faux shock and uproar ensues. As a counterproductive act of protest, people retweet Shock Jock pastor’s tweet, thus spreading his offensive comments far beyond his list of followers. People also respond with sarcastic tweets and irate blog entries that bring more notoriety to Shock Jock pastor which is exactly what he wants.  In doing so, he becomes more famous while effectively ignoring all of the negative “feedback” that is directed toward him. (In our culture, any publicity is good publicity. Shock Jock pastor is not stupid; he gets this.) The entire cycle gets repeated week after week after week.  What’s the definition of insanity again?

This doesn’t just happen on the interwebs.  This also happens in real communities.  It happened in my community this past week, when a self-appointed “leader” made an offensive, ridiculous comment. In reality, this "leader" has very little clout, precisely because he repeatedly makes offensive, ridiculous comments. However, rather than ignoring his latest comment and effectively banishing the sentiment to oblivion, some people in the community responded with an outcry that only served to give more voice to the “leader” and his ideas.

Not only is this type of protest ineffective, it also smacks of idolatry. Sometimes, it seems like we pay more attention to what oppressive people are saying/doing than to what God is saying/doing.  (I’ve written more extensively about our vigilance for negative happenings in the church.)

I know a woman who holds a highly-respected position in the Catholic community. She also happens to be an advocate for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church.  I once asked her how she continues to live and work within a male-dominated community that doesn’t support her fight for women’s ordination and whose leaders sometimes communicate offensive ideas about women.  Her response? “Ahhh, the Bishops will die.”

My first thought was, “How morbid!” My second thought was, “Wait, are you in the Mafia?  Are you planning a ‘hit’ on the Bishops?

But then, I realized that her sentiment was simply a contemporary version of David’s assertion in Psalm 103:15-17a (ESV):

15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…

So basically, my friend meant that the Bishops’ influence is finite and that in the end, God’s love will prevail.  Thus, she doesn’t need to obsess about the Bishops.

My friend is right.  The “Bishops” in our actual and virtual worlds are finite, and along with them their influence, their comments and their oppression.   We need not obsess over them, we need not think that we must respond to every single comment that they make, and we need not think that we need to rely on our own strength/resources/voice to “beat” them.  For God’s steadfast love lives on. And it will be through this love, that oppression is defeated.  God is running the justice show, not the "Bishops" and not us.

For this reason, we need to discern when God is inviting us to participate in his justice work by protesting and when he’s asking us to sit this one out. In other words, we need to be much wiser about when we should respond to the “Bishops” with some sort of protest and when we should roll our eyes, smile and keep on stepping.