How to Protest in a Violent World

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Occupy movements, protests in the Middle East, and the ongoing fight to steward our environment, advocate for the poor, and stand against systemic human abuse all have made up some part of the global news cycle in recent months. The world seems to be both unsettling at times, but particularly unsettled in its own collective disposition in the 21st century. Unsettlement breeds all sorts of temperamental flare-ups and while it’s good and proper to protest against injustice or advocate for those whose voice is muffled, many of the current protests lack something.

When a person protests Wall Street greed by throwing a brick through a store window, no one really hears anything but the glass being shattered. When a Christian says something hateful about a Muslim, something is lost. When one political party demonizes another, both parties suffer.

Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Why We Can’t Wait outlines some rules for the demonstrators in the civil rights movement. They are summarized as follows:[1]

“Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.

Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.

Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free.

Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.

Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.

Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

Follow the directions of the movement and captains of a demonstration.” 

I am not sure I understand how to defend war from an individual perspective, it’s easier to discuss in political and statist terms. And I am not sure what protests will work and what movements will truly push us to a deeper level of human dignity, I think hindsight is helpful in this regard. I do believe, though, that the ‘how’ is important and that if injustice and the oppression of human beings is going to cease around the world, then demonstrators will have to choose their weapons with great wisdom and insight. The weapons of war are certainly different than the weapons of peace.

Why Christians shouldn’t burn the Quran or the NIV Bible

News is rippling around the Internet regarding the Quran burning plans of Rev. Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Reverend Jones (who will henceforth be referred to as TCMUO for The Completely Messed Up One) has announced that they plan to symbolically burn the Quran on September 11, in order to demonstrate their displeasure with our accommodating foreign policies and to confirm their conviction that Islam is of the Devil. The plan has generated such a response that their church website has crashed. Unfortunately, it appears that their plans have not.

Now burning books out of protest is nothing new. In fact, the Nazis did it regularly during the Gestapo. So for anyone interested in burning books, the Nazis can serve as a good role model for you.

In fact, Christians have typically burned more of their own books than those of other religions. Check out this one church, aptly named Amazing Grace! They burn the NIV and other “satanic” versions of the Bible.

Ninety-nine percent of Christians with a heart beat and a half functioning mind know that this is completely ridiculous stuff. (Although, I must admit I am attracted to the idea of using the KJV version more often as I’ve really been looking for a new way to say ass more often in church.) Nevertheless, the impact of a few, including TCMUO, can have an enormous effect on others.

Here are just a few reasons why Christians should do everything they can to encourage, TCMUO and his wacko amigos to stop. And if they don’t stop, we need to use all means necessary to let everyone know that we are completely opposed to this stuff.

1)  Loving God and loving our neighbor sums up the commandments.

Because of these words, Christians are called to a higher standard than anyone else. Loving our neighbor means many things, but most poignantly it means we don’t trash his/her religious faith and burn his/her holy books. That’s sort of love your neighbor 101. But I kinda think TCMUO missed that class. (oops was that not loving?)

2)  Christ said to love our enemies.

Muslims are not our enemies. In fact, I think they are our neighbors. According to Jesus there really are no “enemies.” However, he invokes that terminology (Mt 5:44) because he knows there are some people who cannot eradicate it from their vocabulary. For those people I include this point. The end result is the same: Love is our calling which means (note the repetition) we should not seek to offend by burning holy books.

3)  The Golden Rule

The golden rule is do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s a practical way of articulating what it means to love others. So, if we don’t want anyone burning our holy books then maybe (just maybe) we shouldn’t do it to them.

Those are my top three reasons which are more theologically based reasons. Here are three more “practical” reasons why.

1)  It deepens the "us" versus "them" divide.

After 9-11 I remember a TV shot of some Muslims in Palestine dancing that the thousands of Americans had died. I remember it because our TV networks showed it over and over and over again. They did this, of course, because viewership (and advertizing rates) skyrocket around such controversial themes. However, at the end of the day, it was really just a few folks (side note: as a traveler to over 70 countries I have become completely convinced that idiocy is everywhere!).

At the time, I had many friends and colleagues living and working in predominantly Muslim countries. Ironically, every single one of them told me that their Muslim friends expressed sorrow and pain for them. I even talked to some tourists in Pakistan who said everywhere they went, people came up to them saying how sorry they were.

But it only takes a few of “them” to act like fools and for “us” to be fooled by our own media. The same thing is happening and will continue to happen in the other direction. Right now, Muslim Imams and others are justifying anger and hatred toward Americans and Christians because of TCMUO. That’s downright painful.

When you read Jesus he played to the “us” versus “them” scenario a lot. However, he always made “us” the bad guys and “them” the good guys. It was a powerful rhetorical tool that eventually got him killed. After all if he had talked about how bad the Romans were (like everyone wanted him to) then he probably would have achieved the “king” status others were expecting.

Interestingly, the parable of the Good Samaritan which symbolizes what it means to love one’s neighbor plays extensively on the “us” “them” categorization tendencies that we still have today.

2)  It confuses nationality and religious boundaries.

In what can only be considered unfortunate, there is a lot of confusion over who “us” and “them” really are. Us is sometimes Americans and other times Christians (side note: these are not the same things!). Them is sometimes Muslims and other times Arabs (side note: these are not the same things!).

As news of the Quran burnings spreads around the world like a wildfire (stupid pun intended), there is increased confusion over this. We, Americans, become a bunch of fundamentalist Quran burners in the minds of many. I’m not sure our non-Christian fellow citizens will like that either.

Apparently, a lot of the reason TCMUO is burning the Quran is to protest weak foreign policy (I suppose two wars totaling 16 years of combat is not enough?). That just starts the religious-political fusion and confusion.

Christians need to proclaim that we are not the same as Americans and vice versa.

3)  An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

Apparently Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” I know this because I’ve read it on some bumper stickers. Regardless of whether or not he said this it is a true statement and is consistent with the teachings of Jesus to turn the other cheek.

Frankly, the cycle of violence continues and gets faster because both sides feel completely justified in their actions. Watching the Quran get burned will justify acts of violence against Christians who had nothing to do with it. The cycle continues with Quran burnings justified because some wacky Muslims killed some innocent people. Round and round we go on a not so merry go round.

Before we move on, it should be noted that there is a biblical verse that speaks positively about burning books, namely Acts 19:19:

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Violence and the Fall of Man

What has always been striking to me is the fact that the first children (Cain and Abel) mentioned in the Bible resulted in the first recorded murder. Cain kills Abel in cold blood. It's clear, unmistakable, evil, and violent. What is also clear is that in recent decades, we have argued and debated not simply our rights to have firearms, but also the rights to go to war. Violence seems to be something naturally a part of fallen humanity and something that seems to be here to stay.

Despite the increased violence found in public schools, the 'right to bear arms' is defended to an almost fever pitch. And more than this, let's simply reflect a bit behind the headlines. Since September 2001, terrorism has been in the news almost daily, the threat of nuclear war seems to also be creeping back into the mainstream mindset with the recent summit meetings with Russia and sanctions against Iran. And yet, there has been a rise in violent video games and horror films the likes of which we haven't seen in quite some time. Either the world is indeed becoming more violent or violence is simply surfacing as an integral part of what it means to be worldly.

A recent story about violent crime on the streets of Chicago had some amazing and alarming stats. The direct quote is as follows: 

So far this year, 113 people have been killed — matching the death toll of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period.

The Chicago Sun Times - Daley: National Guard only a 'Band-Aid' solution to crime
This article actually challenges me to wonder if pacifism and non-violence really is the Christian or most Biblical way to counter the violence wrought by our own collective hearts. To have more murders in a calendar year than two wars says something striking about our own sense of community. Many of us aren't really living life with a vision of something new or better or different, many of us are simply surviving life, hoping the next paycheck will come in and hoping we'll be alive to spend it on something more than our food, lodging, and transportation. Yet, the conservative crowd is clamoring not for gun control, but for gun rights. This doesn't seem right. Shouldn't we have a deeper, broader, and more comprehensive vision of life? Shouldn't we invite people to a better life and not just a life of survival?
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Review: Inglourious Basterds

There are very few directors in the world who can imbue a dollop of cream and a plate of apple strudel with the sort of pulsating, vivacious energy that Quentin Tarantino can. And there are very few directors who can make twenty minutes of table talk as utterly engrossing and tension building as Tarantino can. But the Pulp Fiction auteur has a way of bringing to life the cinema in ways that hardly anyone else even attempts anymore. He doesn’t do it by using CGI or massive budgets. He does it by knowing how to tell a good story and how to tell it cinematically. And he does it by taking risks. He’s an utter master of the craft—a nerdy, fearless, movie nut genius who turns low art pop kitsch into masterful, luxurious moving picture epics. He’s like the Andy Warhol of the post-MTV, videogame era. And his new movie, Inglourious Basterds, might just be his masterpiece.

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Behind the Violence in Xinjiang (NY Times)

Following is a link to an excellent article by Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch explaining the background of recent ethnic violence in Xinjiang.  I highly recommend it.

Please continue to pray for this broken region.

Behind the Violence in Xinjiang

Published: July 9, 2009, New York Times

 

HONG KONG — The eruption of ethnic violence in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the most deadly recorded in decades, seems to have taken both Beijing and the world by surprise. It should not have.

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