This week there was a lot in the news, mostly it was dominated by the actions and words of the new American President. But other events in the world unfolded as always and the general public is the worse for not knowing all that is going on. One story that caught my eye was the resistance in East Jerusalem by some Palestinians who offered a massive prayer protect against actions by the Israeli government. Leaving aside the particular issue that is Middle East conflict and peace I was fascinated by the role peaceful, even prayerful, protest played in this confrontation. It was seem that the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have been largely forgotten. The idea of a peaceful, even prayerful, protest, is now seen as almost quaint. That is not to say that most protests are violent, they are not. Most protests are non-violent but “peaceful” is a more subjective interpretation.
I find most protests today are filled with anger and rage, where those marching or standing in protest are shouting/taunting with words that can only be heard as intimidating. If those who are being criticized walk or drive by there is sure to be a confrontation of some kind, even if it is short and non-violent. The effect is clear, the protestors are letting those with the power to change things know they are angry and plan to mobilize in some fashion to let those in power feel the effect of their displeasure. This could come in the form of a boycott, trying to defeat a government in a coming election campaign, persuading potential customers to stop buying products made by the company being picketed, or getting a law enforcement officer, politician or CEO arrested, prosecuted or fired. These tactics sometimes work and work well. There is a reason movements chose to act in this way.
But religious movements have something to teach the surrounding culture and one thing we can witness to is the value and effectiveness of peaceful protest, not just the lack of violence but the emphasis on offering a peaceful face to those who wish for change. Those in power often dismiss those who protest as people easily aggrieved, emotional, and even dangerous. Especially in a democracy where the public has a say in outcomes imagine what people think when they see those seeking change in prayer, praying even for those in power. Suddenly these assumptions and stereotypes have to be revisited. And as was the case with this protest by Palestinians in East Jerusalem it worked, the government changed course, if only in a small way.
Imagine Christians doing likewise, finding issues where liberal and conservative churches share common ground, like poverty, standing outside of legislatures and praying for those inside to make the right decisions and care for those most vulnerable. Imagine the effect this would have on the politicians and the general public at large who often think of churches being primarily only concerned with their own narrow interests. I believe Pope Francis has demonstrated the power of this peaceful and prayerful resistance in every encounter he has with the state, any state.