Much of what the Old Testament prophets did was pro test. They were often called to protest the direction that the nation’s leadership was taking, calling them to task for erring from their stated intent to follow God. On those occasions when the protest was heeded, the nation was saved. (The city of Nineveh, for example, heeded the warnings and protests of Jonah, and changed its fate.) More often than not, however, the protests went unheeded, and the protesters were met with something much worse than disrespect. This paradigm was so obvious that Jesus often spoke about it.
Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Luke 16: 34) And again in Matthew he says, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5: 11 KVJ) The prophet’s main duty is always to tell the truth, regardless of the cost. And the reward will often be persecution. We have all seen dramatic evidence in our own times of protesters who charted a new course for nations. Nelson Mandela protested the policy of apartheid, with the reward of twenty-seven years in prison. Ultimately, however, his protests were heard and heeded, and a nation was changed.
Who among us can ever forget the sight of the young Chinese student facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square? This young man, carrying a shopping bag and simply trying to cross the square, was apparently so overwhelmed with the injustice of the scene that he stopped and dared the tank to run him over. When the tank tried to go around him he altered his course and again placed himself squarely in its path. China is trudging, slowly, reluctantly, but inevitably, toward democracy. I believe this would not have happened, and will not happen, without the prophets of protest.
Jesus often refers to us as sheep, and this metaphor is based on observation. We tend to be so passive at times, following the herd, rarely looking up from the blades of grass in front of us. Yet there is much good to be gained by lifting up our heads and seeing where the herd is going, and protesting if the direction seems dangerous.
Protest doesn’t always have to mean taking up a picket sign or going to prison. Sometimes it can simply mean stating your position clearly and articulately in such a way that it is understood.
In a speech I once gave entitled “Ten Ways to Get a Raise,” two of the points have to do with raising your voice and raising your hand. If you don’t like the way something is going, raise your voice about it. And if you know the answer to a problem, raise your hand.
As prophets we are called to do both.
Just because something has always been done a certain way, does not mean it is God’s way. Just because everyone else is doing something, does not mean you should. And just because protest seems like a very “unsheeplike” thing to do, doesn’t mean that God isn’t calling you to do it. After all, what other voice does God have but yours?
Mordecai warned Esther about the importance of her protesting the king’s decree. As you might recall, the king had gotten drunk one night and was persuaded by an evil, jealous man named Haman to issue a decree to kill all the Jews. The king even signed the decree with his seal, which meant it was immutable. Esther’s job was now to go to the king, and essentially protest this policy. There were only two catches. One—the king didn’t know Esther was a Jew, and two—anyone who went to the king without being called was immediately killed without question. You can perhaps undestand Esther’s hesitancy to take on the role of heroine. Yet Mordecai, her uncle, warns her, “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 13)
God knows exactly who and where you are. What are you being called to protest? Do you think the tanks of injustice will run over everyone else and leave you unscathed, just because you chose to sit in the spectator section? What if your only purpose is to be a voice?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young, passionate theologian in Austria during the time of Hitler’s rise to power. As a fair-haired specimen of physical beauty, he easily could have been considered one of Hitler’s examples of excellence, and lived an un-threatened life. Yet Bonhoeffer used his platform as a professor of theology to rail against Hitler’s evil philosophies which were infiltrating and infecting the consciousness of Austria and Germany alike. It is said that Bonhoeffer, a man of God, was so appalled about Hitler’s rise to power he actually planned to assassinate him. His plan was discovered, and he was thrown in prison for many years. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was passionately protesting social ills, and doing everything in his power to change them. Shouldn’t this be the true practice of theology?
I am struck by the many pastors, priests, and theologians who have nothing to say about the true evils which still fill our land—racism, sexism, and the reviling of outsiders. They bury their heads in rows and rows of dusty books and teach us the way it used to be, never catching a glimpse of how “things ain’t how they’re supposed to be NOW.”
I’m guilty of this. I don’t speak up nearly enough when I see a wrong in society. I tell myself it is because I have chosen to light candles rather than curse darkness, and that is true. But am I really doing enough? Do I think just one voice won’t do it?
All the interesting women I know are a little bit “outlaws.” Author Harriet Rubin writes in her book Princessa: Machiavelli for Woman, “One day we will learn that we were not sent here to support people who are running the world as it is. We were sent here to rearrange it.”
A woman’s voice can carry ten miles in still water, according to a study done on sound.
Perhaps the lesson is that our voice will carry farther from the treetops than it will in still water.
Jesus said “A person does not light a candle and put it under a bushel—but on a stand, so that its light can be seen for miles.” (Matthew 5: 15)
Visibility. Protest. We must make our voices heard.
America began in protest—and may she always remain. When we lose opposing voices, then we will surely have lost our way.
The prophecy of protest. We are called to shape the future, using our voice.
~ Laurie Beth