The Bible’s Viewpoint
Protests and Demonstrations—Can They Change the World?
“WE MUST Speak Out, We Must Take to the Streets.” So ran the headline over an editorial in the National Catholic Reporter, a Roman Catholic newspaper, just prior to the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Urging readers to participate in peace marches and demonstrations throughout the United States, the editorial continued: “It will take millions of people and a constant beating of the pipes of peace to penetrate this administration’s ignorance and arrogance. . . . The people have to take to the streets.”
Such calls to action are frequently heard today. With so many political, economic, and environmental crises threatening mankind’s welfare, people are feeling compelled to “take to the streets” in protests, vigils, and demonstrations. The issues range from stopping neighborhood crime to establishing world peace. Interestingly, a large number of these demonstrations carry the endorsement of church organizations and religious leaders.
However, is it proper for Christians to participate in such demonstrations? And can protests—whether in the form of riotous marches or somber candlelight vigils—really change the world for the better?
Demonstrations—The Christian View
Demonstrations have been described by one sociologist as “a particularly effective mode of political expression . . . for prodding stalemated bureaucracies into taking necessary actions.” Yes, those who march in protests or who stage demonstrations usually do so in hopes that their concerted efforts can correct the injustices and corruption seen in the present social and political systems.
What model, though, did Jesus Christ leave for his followers? Jesus lived at a time when the Jewish people found themselves under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. Certainly, relief from the oppressive Roman yoke was greatly desired by the people. Yet, Jesus never encouraged his followers to stage a demonstration, march in protest, or become politically involved in any other way. On the contrary, he repeatedly said that his disciples were to be “no part of the world.”—John 15:19; 17:16; see also John 6:15.
Similarly, when Jesus was unfairly taken into custody by government officials, he did not try to stir up a protest, although he could certainly have done so if he had chosen to. Instead, he told the Roman governor: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.” (John 18:33-36) Faced with a controversy, Jesus refrained from any actions of protest, recognizing the need to remain no part of political affairs. And he urged his followers to do the same.
Participating in demonstrations, therefore, would violate the basic principle of Christian neutrality taught by Jesus. Beyond that, such participation could even lead to involvement in other unchristian conduct. In what way? Demonstrations staged with good intentions often take on a decidedly rebellious spirit, with participants becoming militant, verbally abusive, or violent. Engaging in illegal and obstructionist tactics may command attention, but it hardly harmonizes with the Bible’s admonition to “be in subjection to the superior authorities” and to “be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18; 13:1) Rather than encouraging civil disobedience, the Bible urges Christians to maintain their conduct fine among the nations and to remain subject to human governments, even if those in authority are hard to please or are unreasonable.—1 Peter 2:12, 13, 18.
‘But not all demonstrations are militant or violent,’ some may say. True, and some demonstrations do seem to produce good results. But can protests—even if they are peaceful and held for a good cause—really change the world for the better?
Can They Change the World?
Christians are deeply concerned about their neighbors and want to help them. But is participating in demonstrations really the best way to offer help? The book Demonstration Democracy states: “There is only so much that can be achieved by any tool of political expression.” Undeniably, eliminating the woes facing mankind requires changes that are beyond the scope of any protest or march.
Jesus made a similar point when discussing the centuries-old religious system of his day. Regarding that hypocritical system of worship practiced by the Pharisees, he said: “Nobody sews a patch of unshrunk cloth upon an old outer garment; for its full strength would pull from the outer garment and the tear would become worse.” (Matthew 9:16) What was Jesus’ point? That true Christianity would not conform to wicked and worn-out systems that were ready to be discarded. He recognized that patching up an unusable system would have been futile.
The same is true of the world system that has subjected mankind to centuries of injustice, cruelty, and oppression. Ecclesiastes 1:15 pointedly explains: “That which is made crooked cannot be made straight.” Yes, today’s world system cannot be made straight, despite the noblest efforts. Why not? Because, as 1 John 5:19 says, “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one,” Satan the Devil. Jesus pointed to that one as “the ruler of this world.” (John 12:31) As long as this system operates under the influence of Satan, no amount of patching up will bring permanent relief.
This does not mean that Christians are apathetic to the world’s problems or unwilling to take positive action. Actually, Christians are told to be quite active, not in protest, but in the work of preaching and teaching the good news of God’s Kingdom—the very Kingdom government for which Jesus taught his followers to pray. (Matthew 6:10; 24:14) The Bible shows that the Kingdom will not try to salvage this irreformable world; it will completely eliminate the wicked governments and social orders that now oppress mankind and will replace them with a system that can establish true justice and righteousness earth wide. (Daniel 2:44) Under such a system, nobody will have to march in protest because Jehovah God, who is “satisfying the desire of every living thing,” will see to it that all our needs are met completely.—Psalm 145:16.
[Picture Credit Line on page 18]
Labor strike, Leslie’s