By Marissa Branson
As young middle class Americans, we are bombarded with news regularly and the reminder that evil, corruption, and tragedy are everywhere. It’s right at our fingertips, all over our newsfeeds.
The New York Times published an article in 2014 calling millennials “Generation Nice.” We are a conscious generation who are passionate about a multitude of social issues and desire a world that stands for justice and equality.
But a few months ago, I had a surprising conversation. A student told me she didn’t believe in protests because the Bible commands us to obey authority, making civil disobedience sinful.
Her comment got me thinking about when and if Christians should participate in dissent, whether it be in a school, the workplace, or the government. Should we participate in civil disobedience when an institution is in the wrong?
On the one hand, we are told to obey authority in Romans 13. God puts people in positions of authority and we should respect them, in any given institution. To respect someone means to give them the dignity they deserve as someone made in the image of God. It means in appropriate times, willingly submitting yourself to that person’s authority.
However, to respect does not mean to have complete trust in a person or an institution. It does not mean you cannot challenge or question someone in authority, especially when you see that others are suffering because of the actions and choices of those in authority.
At Providence, engagement with culture and community is valued. Sometimes to be engaged means to dissent. Civil disobedience is necessary when institutions are in the wrong and have not changed after the official outlets of communications and representation have been exhausted.
Bree Newsome is a great example of this. An African American filmmaker and activist, she is best known for scaling the 30 foot flagpole on South Carolina’s State Capitol grounds and removing the confederate flag on June 27, 2015. According to Democracy Now, as police shouted at her to come down, she said, “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” She was arrested when she reached the ground.
Newsome disobeyed authority. She did this after the state of SC repeatedly refused to take down a flag that, to African Americans, stood as a historical symbol of oppression.
A month later, on June 10, 2015, the flag was permanently removed due to social and political pressure from her act after it went viral online. The flag’s removal was a move toward healing the history of oppression against African Americans.
Many of us would be too afraid to do what Newsome did. Some Christians would even call her wrong.
Over 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that the real enemy of the movement for equality was the white moderates, those who preferred order to justice. This is still so relevant! Too often, people use the argument for obeying authority as an excuse to not get involved, to avoid tensions, hurting anyone’s feelings, or inconvenience. Yes, accepting the status quo is easier than asking questions and facing problems.
However, the gospel is about God redeeming the earth to an everlasting shalom. Jesus came into the world to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness the prisoners” (Is. 61:1). Then the passage continues, “For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing” (61:8). These are one of many examples of the Bible’s message of justice, peace, and equality. Jesus’ work is revolutionary.
As millennials, we care about making the world better. At the same time, we tend to be lazy with short attention spans, glued to our phones and looking for the next thrill. We don’t want to upset people or cause problems because we’re too nice (and afraid).
But there is too much going on in the world to have that kind of attitude. Don’t let excuses get in your way. Don’t stop caring, questioning, and challenging. Whether it be in your community, your school, your work, your government, be a peacemaker in the sense that MLK said it, “a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
Marissa Branson is an alumni of Providence Christian College. Branson is currently in her first year of the MFA in Fiction program at Cal State, Long Beach. She is currently writing short stories about loss and love. Branson currently maintains employment at South West Los Ángeles College as a writing tutor and supplemental instructor.