Church, Keep the Gospel in Your Protest

Protesters on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria

We are in a time of intense anxiety.

Nigerian youths have been protesting in different cities against brutality and oppression within the police force for over a week. A similar protest has been on in Thailand, with calls for reforms and the resignation of the Prime Minister. Armenia and Azerbajian recently clashed over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, leaving several people dead. There are fears across Europe as a second wave of the coronavirus engulfs the continent. In the US, voters are gearing up to choose between two widely unsatisfactory candidates and are debating the implications of that choice. And the rest of the world is still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and all it has brought about.

I’ll focus on the Nigerian situation.

In the moment’s heat, the church would be wise not to merely tag along. The crises in our world, in whatever form it manifests, result from the brokenness brought about by sin. Whether it is police brutality or the corrupt system which has nurtured it, we see the fruit of a rebellion which began long ago.

And this is a rebellion which lingers in the hearts of both the oppressed and the oppressors. It would not do to address one and neglect the other.

The evil within the police force is itself a child of the wider dysfunction in the entire society. Greed, tribalism, fear, selfishness, materialism, and a host of other streams feed into this cesspool. But what the world doesn’t see, and which the Church should point out, is that the gospel narrative deals with this at the root.

First is the truth that the Sovereign God has created all things and thus reigns over everything, both inanimate and living (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:11; Colossians 1:16). This overrides every undue allegiance to human authorities and traditions and requires every individual to look to God and his word as their ultimate authority.

This same God created humanity not as isolated individuals, floating aimlessly across the universe, but as man and woman, placing them within the community of the family (Genesis 1:27; 2:22-24). And he has further created a diversity among them by grouping them into different languages and tribes (Acts 17:26).

This curbs that prideful desire to do our own thing and drives us to seek the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 15:2-3). Within the Christian framework, an individual has dignity, but she has that dignity in communion with others. None is an island.

It also eliminates the age-old discrimination and oppression of people based on gender, ethnicity, and class. Every person has emerged from that first couple, Adam and Eve. Despite our differences, we share a common ancestry.

The Christian framework also points out that though our world is fallen, and every individual and society bears the traces, hope is not lost. God has stepped in to redeem and restore his universe. He experienced oppression firsthand (Isaiah 53:5). In fact, the very symbol of the Christian way of life is an instrument of Roman oppression. And he has turned this very icon into a fountain of life. To quote the late Christian apologist, Nabeel Qureshi,

Jesus is the God of reversal and redemption. He redeemed sinners to life by his death, and he redeemed a symbol of execution by repurposing it for salvation.

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has dealt with sin and corruption at its very root and launched his kingdom. And the church is that community of people who have believed this truth and embraced God’s vision for a new world.

Outside of redemption in Christ, nothing else offers hope for lasting change. This is why the gospel is so essential. It is not just a message about my personal destiny; every society needs it for true socio-political renewal. Its view of people destroys the bedrock of corruption. Its vision of a renewed humanity in the new heaven and earth opposes tribalism, The self-giving love of the saviour also counters every selfish orientation within us.

Yes, we should protest the brutality of law enforcement officers. We should condemn the oppression rampant across the land, manifesting in veiled and not-so-subtle forms, encountered in government offices, educational institutions, on the highways, and even with private institutions. And yes, we should cry out that our country be run differently.

But as we protest, we must keep the gospel vision in mind. Without it, we lose that power of God which alone can truly transform our world (Romans 1:16).

As we fight injustice, let us fight with truth and wisdom. The church is the world’s light (Matthew 5:14). We should remind that world that humanity’s creation in God’s image is the only reliable basis for human dignity, and that redemption in Christ, whose goal is the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, is its lasting hope.

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