Thoughts going to a festival that will be protested

I’m getting ready to go to a festival in a short bit. This festival will have protestors. I’m going for two reasons – to be a support of people at the festival and to be a presence of peace to the protestors. It frankly doesn’t matter what festival I’m talking about or what the protest is. The words that I wrote can apply to a variety of gatherings. I’ve been to many such gatherings before.

The question that always stays with me is why some people come to protest other people. The people gathered don’t do anything to hurt anyone else. We’re not talking about a KKK or neo-Nazi rally – rallies that have violence as their core foundational belief. And no not all rallies/festivals are equal.

Often when I have gone to such things, those in protest are usually carrying signs and yelling at the people gathering. These are usually not pleasant well wishes of course. Often they are crude, rude, and dehumanizing judgmental statements. They are statements that clearly project that the protestor is more concerned with “correct” belief rather than the well being of people.

I have a serious question – how many people have ever been yelled at with obscenities by strangers and stopped and said to themselves, “You know what, they’re right. I’m going to change my mind about this.” I’m willing to guess that the answer is 0. Yet this method of protest persists for some reason even though it clearly doesn’t work.

People have a freedom to be idiots. To protest with cruel intent. To be jerks. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can change them. You have as much chance of changing them as they do of changing you. If getting people to change their minds, hearts, or lives is the goal of a protest, then you are going to fail every time.

People have the right to assembly and gather together with like-minded people to offer support for one another too. People have the right to just be who they are and believe what they want to believe. What they believe is not contingent on my understanding them, their arguments, or their life choices or experiences. I’m not the center of the universe. I’m not the measure on which we determine right and wrong, correct belief and false belief.

I have a duty though since I claim to be a Christian. That duty is to search out and seek the image of God in others and act accordingly. Sometimes I have to search long and hard and listen very carefully to find the image of God in someone. But I know this much, when I do, it’s always amazing that I learn some things about someone else and about myself. I learn the pain and suffering and hurt that they have gone through that led them to conclude that what they are doing is the obvious choice. Doesn’t matter if I agree with it or not. And in learning this about someone else, I am reminded of how I need healing as well. I see their humanity, even if they can’t or won’t see mine or the humanity of other people because they just can’t get past certain things.

I’m not talking about being nice and just allowing terrible things to be said and done. But I’m also not talking about adopting the strategies based on violence and cruelty either. There are other pathways. Responding to hurtful language with hurtful language just makes me a person who causes hurt. It doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong. When my focus is on being right, I become blinded to seeing the humanity of the person in front of me. When my focus is on being right, then adopt an ends justify the means approach. Jesus didn’t live by the ends justify the means. Or that might makes right, or only the strong survive. No, he saw the means as important as the ends. Being right wasn’t his main concern, but rather justice and mercy. He rejected the idea of the strong surviving with an idea that God favors the poor, outcast, and the weak. And so these are what I take as my foundation, if I am going to be congruent between what I claim to believe and how I live. In so doing, I present an alternative to the yelling and name calling. That there is another way.

And when I can’t or won’t see the image of God in another, when it’s just too difficult for me to do that, then I have a duty to remove myself, to disconnect, to separate myself from the other in order to prevent myself from doing or saying something unChristlike – to prevent myself from adopting the ways and means of cruelty and violence. We don’t defeat violence and cruelty by becoming cruel and violent ourselves. We replace those things with a different way. It’s my duty to do this, not theirs. I won’t pretend to believe that I can change them. It’s not my job to. It’s my job to love neighbors and enemies. To see the image of God in others. To try to understand. To seek justice and peace. To act with bold humanity. To offer an alternative that sets people free from cruelty and violence.

That’s what I hope to do when I go today.


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