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Protesting the RNC?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 6, 2008

“No, I won’t be protesting at the Republican National Convention.”

I’ve said these words at least a dozen times. I understand why people ask me if I’ll be protesting. It makes sense. When the Republican National Convention comes to the city of someone who is a self-described radical Christian who is very much against greed and war and stuff, it makes sense to assume that someone would protest.

It promises to be a sizeable protest. The USA is at war. We’re about to have a transition in leadership, now is the time to get the message out: “We don’t want this war.” Energy is high. There are dozens of groups planning to march on Minneapolis. There is even speculation that government spies are infiltrating vegan potlucks to curtail terrorist activities. It is easy to see why people are gathering to protest; but no, I won’t be protesting at the Republican National Convention.

It isn’t that I’m against protest. Well executed, thoughtful protest is an invaluable part of our prophetic witness. I am an advocate of protesting in the ways exemplified by Dr. King, Gandhi and others who recognize that faithful protest must demonstrate love to both the oppressed and oppressor. Faithful protest is against the Powers. Faithful protest seeks liberation not only for Iraq, but for President Bush and his party.

I know that many of the folks protesting at the RNC understand this. Most activists are familiar with Gandhi’s practice of satyagraha and Dr. King’s own approach to nonviolence. But just because you’re not doing violent protest doesn’t mean that you’re doing loving protest. The truth is, most folks that I personally know engaging in protest at the RNC strike me as particularly spiteful. If Missio Dei were to be a part of the protest, I’m not sure it would communicate the right message.

I’m not saying that anyone who decides to protest is being unfaithful to Jesus. Not at all. But I’m finding it difficult to conceive of a way in which I can be a part of that protest and remain faithful. Maybe I’ve been tainted by the protesters I know, but the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Some have argued that it is good to stand in solidarity with all opposed to the war…that it is better to take a stand and get lumped in with some folks who protest in a hateful way than it is to do nothing. I agree. I suppose that protesting the RNC is indeed better than nothing. But it isn’t as though those are the only two options. I’m actively looking for other ways to protest…ways that more adequately express love, yet with a steadfastness to speaking the truth.

I’m hoping to write more about this in coming weeks. I need to spend time developing my own theological approach to protest. There are a lot of resources out there (feel free to recommend one in the comments below). In the meantime, I have some questions I want you to engage:

  1. What does it look like to protest in a Jesus-centered way?
  2. What are some proactive ways that we can protest the war in Iraq?
  3. How should the Church speak prophetically to the US government? Those of you who have been reading Jesus Manifesto for a while know that I don’t believe in speaking to government as an “insider.” How do we speak to rulers and regimes?
  4. Are any of you planning on protesting at the RNC (or DNC)?
Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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    Great Post. I would think that people should actually protest more at the Democrat Convention. After all, we know what we're getting with the current batch of Republicans, however, 2 years ago the Democrats came to power in congress by leading us to believe they will get us out of this war and they've failed to deliver in any sort of way.
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    Not planning to, and as jaysonjaz says, if I did I would probably go to the DNC because it is the more subtle evil.

    I don't have a clear hermeneutic on the rest, although I've got some intriguing fragments. Let me think on it.

    It starts with action towards a 'new way'....living in a way that embodies a new world.
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    I joined in with a group of protesters at my University last Spring, but stood at the fringes, wondering whether to stay or go because of some of the attitudes and other assumptions held by the protesting group. The coalition seemed composed primarily of anti-Capitalistic, pro-gay, pro-choice, high-school Chomskyites in tie-dye.
    Part of what we should ask when protesting is strategic: why here, why now? Protesting specifically at the RNC is to join a coalition such as that described above. These people are not protesting the use of force, so much as vying for the right to control the use of force. They would happily send troops into Sudan or Darfur instead. They would insist on using force against Americans to impose redistribution of wealth.
    As believers, our best protest is to live like Christians. Adherence to the Christian ethic is so evidentially peculiar that it stands in open opposition to the use of force constantly. Every day, every moment, is a protest against the principalities and powers of the air which we truly stand against.
    Accepting full responsibility for the care of the least of these demonstrates to the world that they are not regenerate. Thus we protest the only reasonable ethic for the world, egoism.
    The only audience Christ has appointed us to protest is sin within the church. To that end, perhaps we ought to have protested the Southern Baptist Convention (I'm sure some of us did), and other conventions.
    But in the end, I think Mark is absolutely right in that even our protests are peculiar because they are tempered with love, and motivated by love. If not, we ought to drop them.
    Nathan
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    "As believers, our best protest is to live like Christians. Adherence to the Christian ethic is so evidentially peculiar that it stands in open opposition to the use of force constantly. Every day, every moment, is a protest against the principalities and powers of the air which we truly stand against."

    I like that. It's interesting to see how Jesus lived "counter-culturally" all the while meeting the culture where they were. Something I struggled with for a long time was the dread of having to fit in with the consumerism/marketing that goes on in the American church. I learned that I can live counter to that consumerist/capitalist mindset, but still use it in an attempt to reach a culture that operates that way. It is no different than us giving fish-hooks to Amazonian natives or helping with a cure for AIDS for Africans. We are simply meeting the culture where they are with what they need.

    in Him,
    >>zack
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    It's just too easy. Too easy to carry a sign and march around shouting various anti-war (and let's be honest, in this case, it would be anti-republican) slogans. I'm thinking this is a little like the post I wrote about being faithful to the Kingdom on Memorial Day in local traditional churches. While hijacking the service by detuning the piano might protest the usual civil religious activity that occurs, it's a bit too easy to actually be effective. There has to be this creative tension we live in when "protesting."
    With that said, I think the first way we protest the war in Iraq is to personally renew our commitment to nonviolence, and encourage our brothers and sisters who have been baited into military service to pursue conscientious objector status. We could also protest the war by consuming less stuff from the mega-corporations that fuel the countries interests to go to war, and instead invest in peacemaking like that being done by Christian Peacemaking Teams. This isn't easy. It downright sucks sometimes. But I'm weary of any "protest" that doesn't cost us something.
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    I have an equally hard time understanding protesting/protesters. I'm a fairly peaceful person and where at heart I may be an activist, my idea of protesting something falls more in line with a conversation than a rally or a march.
    I've been living in South Africa for the last 5 months and recently participated in my first protest march. It was against the xenophobic violence happening against foreigners and since I've been working with Zimbabwe refugees it was a pretty easy decision to make it my first march. What I noticed the most was how it brought the people together, a solidarity on the issues and hope for a South Africa without violence. I enjoyed the march and the time with the people, dancing and singing (this is Africa), and I agreed with the purpose, but did it really accomplish anything? We handed a piece of paper to a presidential aide who promised us that he would look at it, and that was it. But did we bring peace, hope and love to a people that desperately need it?
    I like the questions that you are asking and I think its something that any Christian who is considering protesting should ponder. What does it look like to protest in a way that brings the Kingdom? Whether it be the war in Iraq, corrupt government, violence, you name your cause, are we just holding a sign and shouting words or are we actually trying to meet needs on a tangible level? If you are a "protester" I hope it would be both.
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    i plan on being at the DNC protests to help Food Not Bombs and other clandestine food operations serve activists and the massive homeless population that is resisting their displacement by the Democrat's budget. in my radical, faithful existence, i hope to always resist with a sense of joy, as well as stand by my sisters and brothers who get caught up in their political passions, and i hope i'm setting an example. as you said, there's going to be a lot of energy, and i see that as a great opportunity to build community and solidarity like Christ did, through example. i don't intend to miss this chance to get my feet dirty, as he once did, with the poor and angry.
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    Maybe you should be a bed and breakfast for some conference people. Invite them to your vegan dinner. No greater way to proselytize and to beat the spies at their own work. I hear people are desperately looking for lodging and one could make a killing by simply turning their home into a Bed and Breakfast for a week.
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    frankly i think that american christians don't know how to deal with war and militarism in a tangible way. i think its scary because it involves physical risk and to address the huge systemic issues attached seems impossible. so we cower, justify, and spiritualize until we don't actually have to do any thing. this makes me nervous because christians have a long track record with this sort of "don't do anything in the heat of it but 40/whatever years later we say sorry". i believe the church can present real time alternatives to militarism. one of those being living a life that models Christ, but to essentially pull back into the old "personal savior" model seems to fail at loving my neighbors well. especially when around 30 percent of my federal tax dollars goes to aide slaughtering them.
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    deadrev...I'm not sure I see anyone advocating that. I don't think Christians should have a laissez-faire approach to militarism, not at all. I wish every Christian would live in such a way that they embody the love of Christ in regular ways. But in addition, I wish every adult Christian would strongly consider work with the CPT, would push their denominations and groups to take a public stand against war and violence in general (and this war in particular), would send aid to war-torn nations, would rally together as Christians to places of power and protest, etc.
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    The usual disclaimer/excuse is to say that the church has an obligation to "speak the truth to power" (which is a Quaker thing is it not?) - but I would be interested in learning ore about "turning the other cheek to power" - is that even possible, or desirable?

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