The Politics of Protesting

By Jen Gillan

Last week someone left me a brief message on my Facebook wall. It simply read, “F.Y.I.” and had an attachment with information regarding a day of protest in Chicago.

I chuckled to myself.

In the last couple of months, through conversations or pictures on social media, some people have come to view me as the pastor that’s on the hunt for protests. People have sent me links or texted me information about particular protests going around in Chicago. I’ve been able to participate in several already this year. I’ve even invested in a clerical collar to wear during protests … which is a completely different post and conversation!

It may sound as though I know exactly what I’m doing, but I actually don’t. I’m learning. I’m learning as I lean into this activist impulse that has been simmering for some time. It’s been a combination in the last couple of years of reading, listening, paying attention to what’s happening in Chicago and in our country, reflecting, and allowing myself to feel the injustices, that I’ve become convicted to take action as a person of faith and as a clergy-person.

I’m writing under the assumption that our faith is always political, as Liz VerHage shared with Theoloqui last week. That in the “not-yet-ness” of the here and now and as we wait for our ultimate hope—Christ to return and reconcile all things fully—we are called to faithfully engage the powers that be and “steward” them toward the values of God’s Reign of peace and justice. As Christians, we may disagree on what those values are, or how they are nuanced or worked out in public policy, but we are called nonetheless to this imperfect, messy and beautiful work of taking our part in God’s unfolding story.

Especially in this crazy presidential campaign year, we are called not only to the ballot box, but also to the streets.

In the spirit of the Old Testament prophets and of the Jesus of the Gospels, I believe that as the Church we are called not to be silent about what matters to God—things like concern for the poor, which translates into affordable housing or fully-funded, public education; welcoming the stranger, which translates into creating pathways so that undocumented people can come out of the shadows and not live and work in fear; and that we are all created in God’s sacred image, which translates into an end to excessive police force against dark bodies, an end to the mass incarceration of African-American and Latino men, and an unequivocal, resounding “YES!” to what has necessitated a hash-tag and a movement that Black Lives Matter.

I cannot contain being silent anymore when I see a video come out of yet another unarmed African-American man being gunned down to death by a police-officer. I cannot contain being silent anymore when I read about ridiculously defective distribution of funds in our city where poor children of color are attending schools that offer meager resources and a low-quality education. I cannot contain being silent anymore when our governor wants to cut social services to save money, which happens to be the lifeline to so many people in need, and when both the state legislature and governor are unwilling to think and work creatively and collaboratively for the well-being of all its constituents.

And so, acknowledging the complexity of the issues previously mentioned, I do my best to show up. When I don’t always agree with all that ensues at a protest that begins in peace, I do my best to hold up a sign and speak out. And when it feels like a protest goes unheard, I do my best to learn from and stand with those whose lives are being affected.

For me, the politics of protesting is learning what it means to link arms in solidarity with marginalized peoples and adding my voice to their chorus. It is demanding a change in the narrative of the empire and seeking instead the narrative of healing and flourishing of God’s loving Kingdom.

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