IT SEEMS protesters are constantly in the news. Who are they and what do they protest about?
Is it effective, or even right to take over Glasgow’s city square, have a forest of tents in front of St Paul’s cathedral or have mass protests in Greece and other parts of the world?
Of course there are different kinds of protests which some of us as individuals and as part of organisations relate to. We can write to newspapers, have silent protests, use our voices in protest and join protest groups such as Greenpeace or CND. Some of the protests turn into demonstrations and they can lead to law breaking.
There are endless causes of protest. Students protest against fees and education cuts, citizens and unions protest against public services cuts, others protest against bankers and bonuses, and many others protest against inequalities as they see them. People are frustrated and angry and feel they have no other way to vent their feelings. All these appear worthwhile and yet we have to remember the hangers-on like the anarchists who like nothing better than a good demonstration to cause trouble and inflame violence.
There is always a risk in public protest and one we have to weigh up before being involved, and although there are times when the law of the land seems to conflict with God’s laws, the cause has to be serious enough to merit breaking the law, but never to violence. Christians have a long history of protest when justice is compromised. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25-18) Jesus described a man who did nothing. When he received his Lord’s money he buried it and when his Lord returned he just gave the same sum back. Mind you, there was no stealing and no evil done but he did no good with it either. Jesus said he was a wicked and slothful servant. I take from this parable that good is not merely the absence of wrong doing. If we stand idly by and are mere spectators to evil words or deeds, then we are the opposite of good.
It is a human right to protest – but there are limits. To entice the protesters in Glasgow city centre where they have disrupted lives with no real outcome, to another public space with promises of extra amenities at the expense of the public purse is questionable. Was it right to close the doors of St Paul’s cathedral preventing the faithful from worship, and incidentally losing thousands of pounds in entrance fees? Maybe there’s also a question of morality in charging to enter a church. Perhaps the protesters should have been invited inside for some Christian fellowship and mediation offered for a peaceful solution. After all, isn’t the church on the side of those protesters and their aims?
We do have a pattern set by Jesus. He protested strongly on behalf of others and drove the money lenders out of the temple. He used stories and parables to engage with the people and taught them to protest against the powerful who were taking advantage of them –but he never used violence against other people.
Edmund Burke wrote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (and women) do nothing”. In today’s language it means to stand up and be counted, speak up against wrong doing and if moved by your conscience to protest in the way which seems right for you. Have you thought of doing that – even though there may be a cost? It’s a thought!
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)