I am writing this to share my reflections of participating in a peaceful protest in the streets of Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. I participated in support of my Black brothers and sisters, and to pray for our city, state and nation and equity and justice for them. This came after another rash of senseless killings of Black persons in the U.S., particularly those by police officers.
I understand that some may not agree with demonstrating support in this manner, and I fully respect their personal view. But, for me personally, and for a number of pastors and lay members, there was a very strong impression of the need to go and have the Church of Jesus be present. We went to pray with and for those protesting, for our Black community regionally and nationally, for the families of the fallen and for new purpose and progress for equity and justice for Black people in particular, and for all people.
This deep sense of need for Jesus’ Church to show up at a crucial time aligns with the instructions of Scripture, and the specific admonition for God’s people in Micah 6:8, where the prophet was confronting rampant inequities and injustice in their land:
He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God. (NIV)
This clearly is not simply a suggestion or recommendation, it is a “requirement” to do these things.
In the four gospels, as we follow Jesus’ spoken words, teachings and commands, and we watch his actions, it becomes clear that Jesus is on a mission of equity and justice, to care for, help, and bring hope, healing and wholeness to all whom he encounters. He walks through towns and cities, healing whole communities. Because Jesus is the Head of his Body, and the Church is his Body (Colossians 1:18), it stands to reason that what the “head” has done the “body” will follow in doing. Jesus said that when he returns for his followers to take them to heaven, he will say to them, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
For Jesus, this meant making very public, disruptive stands against injustice. In Matthew 23:13-36, we find Jesus proclaiming “seven woes” on his religious people who were not acting justly, pronouncing: ““Woe to…you hypocrites! You give a tenth...But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23, NIV).
Jesus’ most radical act of protest was also not so peaceful. He arrived at the temple in Jerusalem to find the merchants in the temple systematically treating people unjustly for personal gain. He grabbed a whip and began knocking merchandise off of the merchants’ tables, then throwing their tables over, demanding equal access and justice for those who had been marginalized (Matthew 21:12, 13). This was the turning point when the religious people (of all people, the supposed people of God) began in earnest to plot his death.
Even Jesus’ death was the ultimate protest of the injustice of the great controversy between he and Satan – between good and evil. In the most violent protest in the history of the world, Jesus the Son of God, willfully laid down his life, being nailed on a cross and killed to set things straight and save oppressed mankind.
This is all very uncomfortable. Very raw. Very radical.
I am in no way—no way—condoning the modern day practice of violent destructive protest. But, if we are to be the hands and feet and mouth and presence of Jesus in our world today, then we will certainly do as the “head” of our “body” did, and stand up against injustice on behalf of others.
So…this is what led me to the streets of Portland to pray during the protest, to chant appropriate slogans with them, to lend solidarity to the cause against oppression. Because Jesus did. Because Jesus would.
And this was what I experienced ...
It was a far more emotionally and spiritually impacting experience for me than I had anticipated.
Here are a few reasons:
- Before the march began, when our Adventist group of pastors and leaders spoke and prayed with the crowd, there were many random onlookers who expressed afterward how much they appreciated what we were saying and doing because they “didn’t think a church or denomination in Portland would care about something so significant.” Ouch.
- Twice that afternoon and evening we knelt for 8m46s, the same amount of time former officer Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck. It hurt to kneel on pavement that long. It hurt my heart even more as I did it to think about what it must have been like for George Floyd with the full pressure bearing on his neck and grinding his face into the pavement, cutting off his breath, losing hope and crying out for his deceased momma as he lost consciousness and then died. Heartbreaking.
- To think how painfully and frustratingly difficult it must be to be a Black person in America, where all of your history has been one struggle after another—400 years of it—just wanting to be valued and treated equally. Yet to have decade after decade roll by and have the same struggle. And to be reviled and abused for espousing that most basic desire that has always been reality for a white person, but is still a dream for a Black person. I realized that walking and talking is important, but for real lasting change to happen we will need to do the hard-constant work of changing the culture of shrugging and looking away or just moving on to the next thing. The real work of changing societal laws and our own organizational bylaws, of persistent race education, of policies and protocols that ensure equal opportunity for all. And much prayer. These are the things that will bring lasting change. And we must do that hard work together.
- Walking with the rapidly growing throng of peaceful protestors, 99% of them wearing face masks due to COVID-19 (exhibiting a high sense of social responsibility), holding up signs (some with very poignant messages), something began to grip me—this crowd is primarily between the ages of 15-30. They represent the demographic that the church bemoans as lacking commitment and passion because they are nearly absent from our churches’ pews. But HERE. THEY. WERE! THEY. SHOWED. UP. Multiplied thousands of them! And a heartbreaking realization gripped my spirit more poignantly than ever, that this generation shows up BIG TIME for something they consider truly meaningful—like valuing and treating all people equally—and that their absence from church is a statement that they just don’t find church that meaningful. Gut punch! The depth of that realization shredded my heart. How did we get to the place where so much of church identity revolves around functioning like clubs doing things for ourselves and convincing ourselves it’s meaningful? Today’s Millennials and Generation Z are excited by meaningful action that benefits others in need of their advocacy. Sounds a lot like Jesus and his band of young adults advocating for a new kingdom of love, mercy and justice. The young people are not passionless—and they won’t be part of a passionless church. WE MUST DO BETTER.
- As the crowd settled on the grassy knoll by the Portland marina at the waters edge, a crowd of multiple thousands listened intently to the radical cries to end marginalization and to value and treat all equally; it hit me that this was exactly what drew thousands of young seekers to listen to the radical young Nazarene on similar grassy knolls two millennia ago. I reflected how unlike the comfy church today is to the radical movement Jesus started. And that we have largely become too comfortable with that gap. That breaks my heart.
What encouraged me is that this strange time in earth’s history is a wakeup call to Jesus’ Church. Because the Bible says Jesus is the Head and the Church is His Body, that means that what we find mattered most to Jesus in the Gospels—what He SAID and DID—His Remnant Church must SAY and DO. To be the “remnant” not only means we are the LAST, but to be the last we have to come back around to the FIRST. In other words, being like His New Testament Church Body in what we believe and value and say and do. Because that’s what Jesus cared about.
We need to go back to what Jesus intended His church to be. NOT back to the 19th or early 20th century church (as some call for), but all the way back to Jesus’ original model.
Please, Church Family, let’s not miss this opportunity! Let’s answer the call and our younger generation will flock to be part of something transformative. In fact, they will help lead the way!
A lot to think and pray about indeed.