Protests. Riots.

Protests. Riots.

Same thing, different terms? Different meanings? Sounds like spin to me.

When is a protest a protest and when is a riot a riot? When are people protestors and when are they rioters? Destruction of property? Killing people? Was the Boston Tea Party a protest or a riot? I guess it depends on which side you are on.

I’m not sure that we have a common language anymore. Seems as though we’re more concerned with protecting our set-in-stone view points, rather than observing and listening. And certainly don’t seem very concerned with moving towards the truth. We are concerned with moving towards whatever will confirm our own biases and call that truth though. We are more concerned with protecting our own tribe, rather than trying to understand people who hold a different viewpoint or belief. That doesn’t bode well for us. That comes with a cost – a very high cost.

I’ve seen and heard many comments from people who are upset with protests. Some are upset because there are some protests that destroy property – these folks get lumped together as rioters. Labeling makes it easier to dismiss the whole thing. No worries though, this happens with lots of groups of people who we don’t like. We’ll find any excuse we can to slap a label on people we don’t like. Scapegoating feels good after all. We get to thrust our sins on others and pretend that we are innocent.

Others are upset at counter-protests – people who come to counter protests. These counter protests come bearing weapons out in the open. These protesters seem rather more concerned with intimidation rather than whatever it is they are supposedly defending. I don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to show up to a highly volatile situation carrying a gun out in the open when you aren’t someone who isn’t there in some kind of official capacity. Maybe someone can explain that to me. To me it screams out that the arguments held are weak.

Some prefer that the protests happen off hours, out of the way, bothering no one.

If that is your position, then let me say this – If protests were convenient, they wouldn’t be protests. The point of a protest is to make it uncomfortable and inconvenient enough for people to notice there is a problem. The whole point of protest is to interrupt the norm and to show that the norm is the problem, that the norm is unjust. 

There are a whole load of people who are comfortable with injustice because they think it doesn’t affect themselves.  If an injustice doesn’t impact you, then what does that say? Should we stop an injustice that is happening to someone else, or a whole group of people? Or should they mind their own business because it isn’t impacting you? I’m sorry to tell you this, but that’s the very definition of sin – turning inward on oneself.  Let’s acknowledge that there is problem.  Let’s confess that we have maintained unjust systems and practices.  Let’s repent and turn to a different way.  And let us open our arms to transformation – to be changed so that we don’t go down this road again.  

The alternative isn’t pleasant. There’s an old saying that goes something like this – when words fail, blood is shed.

Maybe it would help if we stopped worrying about being right and started listening to why people are protesting at all. Maybe we’d learn something. If we listened, I’m also willing to bet the property damage would stop. So would the counter protests. If we listened, there might even be a chance at improving society – maybe taking first steps towards ending racism and moving us towards a more just society that actually cares about people. But that requires that we see the image of God in people and that we love our enemy. Do we have the eyes to see and the heart to love? Or is that a bridge too far?

2 Replies to “Protests. Riots.”

  1. I’ve often had some interesting conversations about the language of “protest” and “reform” – for what it’s worth! Protest as in Protestant and reform as in Reformation. I think, oftentimes, as well as protest movements are clear about what they’re opposing, what they’re hoping for is less clear. Reform movements often seem to communicate a clearer vision of what they hope to achieve. Understand that I think both are necessary and I’m talking here mostly about the language we use.

    1. That’s very interesting and that makes sense. I think language is so very important. Just having a common definition of a term can go a long way in a community. I often wonder if part of the challenge with protest and reform (in the church sense) is that too often we ask people to protest and reform for the church when they haven’t done that work in their own lives. It’s hard to do in our own lives, but it’s next to impossible to do for a larger body if we haven’t done any of this in our own lives to know what it is about.

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