Believers & Protest | Should Christians Protest?

Yesterday, a Christian brother and a friend called me and we discussed a lot of things including the current #EndSARS protest going on in Nigeria against SARS – Special Anti-robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police who instead of protecting lives have only ended up in killing innocent people.

On April 16, 2020, BBC reported that the Nigerian Police has killed more people than COVID-19 in Nigeria just to enforce lockdown against the virus. Does it make sense that in a bid to protect people you kill them? It doesn’t make sense and that is how the situation has been in Nigeria. While I was discussing with this friend, he opined that Christians weren’t supposed to join the protest since we could change the situation by just praying.

I disagreed with him immediately, I was worried because he was looking down on believers who went on the protest as less spiritual and worldly, yet this young person contested for a role in the Student Union Government while in the University. He did several campaigns to boost his influence. Shouldn’t he have just prayed to win rather than join the contest?

Let’s talk about this briefly.

A lot of times believers become very critical of those who are doing something other than praying to see a change in society. For example, it is always possible to see believers say things like “you don’t fight terrorism with guns and bombs, you fight it with prayer.” We also see people say stuff like “you don’t protest against evil, you pray.”

We need to always learn where to draw the line. God created humans and gave us thinking faculty so that we can think, plan and come up with solutions. When Jesus came into the world, he didn’t come to decide for us how to go about selecting our leaders, he didn’t come to make us more patriotic, he simply came to deliver us out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. 

Why then do we make Christianity a “do-nothing-just-pray affair?” If Paul lives in this era and instructs believers to work hard and earn money for their living, he would be criticized by some believers too because according to them “why work when we can pray?” Not everything happens by prayer, there are things God expects us to handle ourselves. While we can pray for guidance, protection, wisdom and strength, we can’t pray that those things become divinely-automated.

Some believers don’t like a certain government, they want to see a change in leadership, they want to see a better person occupy the seat of the president and they sincerely go into prayers, they fast and ask God to help bring about new leadership. Then, when it is time to vote, they sit at their homes waiting for a miracle! It doesn’t happen that way, God is not a fool!

Many times we quote certain places in the Bible out of context, we give them meanings that never existed in them but exegesis means interpreting the words of the Bible to mean exactly what it meant when it was written, not to add our ideas to it just to support our stance.

One of such misquoted places is 2 Corinthians 10:4 which says “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds…” Well, Paul wasn’t talking about fighting terrorism, he wasn’t talking about fighting bad governance, he wasn’t talking about fighting racism. There is warfare that must be fought with physical weapons and that isn’t the warfare Paul was talking about.

So, it would be wrong to ask the army to put down their guns and start praying against ISIS and Boko Haram! Terrorists have destroyed sound Church buildings, they have killed prayerful believers in Christ Jesus! Those people who were murdered didn’t die because they weren’t praying, they died because they weren’t protected enough! Stephen who was killed in persecution died a physical death from a physical weapon! He never wished to die.

The warfare Paul was talking about was simply the obstacles that keep people from knowing God. These hindrances could be religion, human philosophies, cultures and so on. Let’s see the next verse

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”

Do you see that? The warfare Paul was talking about has nothing to do with what most believers attribute it to. Paul mentioned what he was talking about and they are “imaginations, high things and thoughts.” The warfare Paul was talking about is the warfare of the mind which we can only fight with the word of God. This is why Jesus said in John 8:32

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

The knowledge of the truth sets us free from every captivity of ignorance and darkness, when we preach and teach the word, we are fighting the war of the mind, to liberate people from ignorance. That is the warfare Paul was talking about, not terrorism, genocide, xenophobia, racism and so on.

Civil wars aren’t fought spiritually, terrorism as much as we pray and intercede are also fought physically. Government policies as much as we pray for God to touch the hearts of the leaders can also be protested against so that God can use our protest or votes to bring our desires to pass. God asked Moses to go to Pharoah, he didn’t ask him to pray so that Pharoah will just have a change of mind and let them go without him going to Pharoah.

“That the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, I am the LORD: speak thou unto Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say unto thee.” – Exodus 6:29

Moses was consistent with going to Pharoah in protest against his hardening of heart towards letting the Israelites go. Prayer wasn’t enough, he was an answered prayer to the cries of the Israelites but he had to act!

Throughout the Bible, we will see God tell the Israelites “I’ll give you the land” and yet he would have them fight for that land! In Deuteronomy 1:8, we the God saying through his Angel

“Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.”

We see two things here: first, God has sworn and promised the patriarchs of Israel saying “I will give you the land”. Someone would think that God would just hand them the keys to the land without stress but here we are seeing God saying to them “possess it!” To take possession of it involves fighting the battles in the land.

For every land the Israelites occupied, they fought a battle! While they blew the trumpet and shout down the wall of Jericho, they have to move in, fight and possess that land! Some changes will never come only by praying! Certain government policies will never change only by praying. We must take part in the decision-making process, we must vote, we must campaign and engage in certain activism to see about change.

If you want a change in government policies or you want to call governments attention to a problem, you may have to peacefully protest against it or vote out the incompetent government. Yes, a Christian will do this and do it prayerfully. This is our duty and not God’s duty!

For every action we take, the enemies can also take advantage of the situations, it doesn’t in any way make our actions wrong! For example, when protecting against bad governance, those who are affiliated to the opposing political party can use the situation to cause violence, destroy lives and properties just to discredit the ruling party but it doesn’t make the idea of protest wrong!

You don’t seat at your home praying that the killing of innocent people by those who should be protecting the people stop and simply stop at that. If it means speaking up, you should speak up! For every evil against humanity and the kingdom project that Jesus stood against, he didn’t only pray, he also took actions.

When Jesus went into the temple to drive those who were using the temple as a business platform out, it was a protest! You need to understand what Jesus protested against. He wasn’t merely angry that there were money changers around the temple. The temple was not only a religious centre, it was the seat of power for the Jews. So many activities going on in the temple would always bring people from far and near, making it necessary that money-changers should be around it.

But Jesus was upset that the temple had become more of a business empire where the faith of the people has been taking advantage of to defraud them. We read in all the accounts that Jesus rebuked the dove sellers and money changers, it wasn’t just about their business but the monopoly in that business. Jerusalem was a place considered legitimate for worship and sacrifice at that time, the poor would always purchase a dove for offering and you can only imagine how much advantage of them those merchants would have taken.

What Jesus did in that temple was a protest! While much of what Jesus did there wasn’t described, we know he protested against those who were turning the house into a mere business empire where the poor are oppressed. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy written in Zechariah 9:8

“But I will encamp at my temple to guard it against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now, I am keeping watch.”

Jesus didn’t say indoors praying, he didn’t stay indoors invoking power or making decree against the oppressors. He triumphantly entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple!

ARE PASTORS MANDATED TO PROTEST GOVERNMENT POLICIES OR SUPPORT ANY BRANCH OF ACTIVISM?

As the #EndSARS protest gather momentum in Nigeria, certain public figures including some controversial Pastors have called on Nigerians to carry the protest into Churches and to drop #EndSARS note in the offering envelopes instead of money especially if the Church leaders don’t give support for the #EndSARS protest.

As much we expect everyone to speak up against Police brutality and other forms of injustice, carrying the protest into the Church buildings is not a wise thing to do. As much as it is appalling if our “Church leaders” don’t speak up against injustice, it is not in their job description to always do so.

Pastors must teach and disciple believers, that is what their ministerial duty is. They are shepherds looking after the father’s flocks. If a Pastor decides to talk about #EndSARS, he is doing that as a human who is concerned, not because he must do so. In ministry, we continue in the steps of Jesus and the Apostles, we must stay on the gospel in doing ministry. Ministry is all about reconciling men to God, not about activism.

I understand that a Shepherd is supposed to be concerned about the general wellbeing of his flocks which can include finance, marriage and spiritual life but how they chose to address their concerns shouldn’t be subject to the dictates of the flocks.

Anyways, the shepherd is not to fall deaf ears, he is not to remain silent at the suffering of his people as silence can be misinterpreted as an endorsement. Every leader is leading humans who have emotions, we always need to appeal to their emotions and protect them so that they can trust us and see us as those who are truly concerned about their well being.

Activism is good, we do that as humans who love other people and want to see the government enact policies that will favour the poor and less privileged but we shouldn’t make the mistake of considering that as the ministry of reconciliation. A fake prophet can still support a good cause to appear good to people. Let’s put it this way: every Pastor should be concerned with the overall well being of their flocks but not every concern is necessarily from a good motive and not every concern is the duty of a Pastor.

I am a minister of the gospel who is very vocal in my support for gender equality in the society but I know that it is not sufficient in itself to be described as a Christian ministry because anyone can do that regardless of faith and religious affiliation.

Just like everyone else, a Pastor has the right to support or not support a movement or an ideology. While a Pastor may support #EndSARS, another may say #ReformSARS and another may not think so, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their work, it is their opinion. We shouldn’t mistake the opinions of a Pastor as the work of a Pastor.

A Pastor has the right to remain silent over certain issues for personal reasons, a Pastor has the right to support a political party or not support a political party. I encourage church leaders not to practice partisan politics but it is my personal opinion. A Pastor can decide to be a card-carrying member of a political party, it is his choice.

A Pastor’s opinion about certain earthly issues of life are not what tells us if Pastors are true or not true. However, we must note that whatever a Pastor stands for can be a pointer to his convictions, doctrinal persuasions and concern towards his followers.

I can’t stand before my congregation on a Sunday morning and start talking about #EndSARS except I wanted to address the government or make a reference to the protest but on a normal note, I wouldn’t talk about it in my sermon, I can support it without dragging my congregation into it since everyone has the right to support or not support a movement.

While we can pray about the situation of things, we shouldn’t criticise believers who engage in protests to bring about the desired change in policies of our nation, we shouldn’t think prayer is enough. No, it is not enough. If Moses didn’t only pray, if the Israelites didn’t only pray, if Jesus didn’t only pray, then while we pray, we should also engage ourselves in necessary actions.

When it calls for protest and you are convinced, go ahead to protest. When it calls for voting, go ahead and vote. We are humans, we live on earth even though we are not of the earth. But while we live on

We have been able to note in this article:

  1. As Christians, we haven’t been exempted from contributing our quotas to nation-building.
  2. Prayer is not enough. We must act on our prayers.
  3. It is not out of place to speak up and protest against injustice.
  4. Our support for any branch of activism is not what proves our ministry.