Protest, January 20-21


This morning Facebook reminded me that on this day two years ago I wrote:

I've participated in one organized protest in my life. The issue that I was passionate about was quickly associated with comments and feelings for which I was not passionate, and I left. For me, that's the tricky thing about protests and marches.

I’m not against protests and/or marches. I believe they have a place and a purpose and are sometimes, necessary. When I joined a protest a few years ago, it was a pro-life protest. I am not constantly vocal about a pro-life ethic, because often people will immediately stop listening and start shouting. Because I believe the sanctity of every human life is essential to sound Christian theology, I need to be in conversation with as many people as possible. However, I began to wonder if I was being a coward, so I went to a protest.

I want to be a part of a voice that affirms the sanctity of every human being, including the dignity of women who are placed in difficult positions. I do not wish to presume to speak for women or their difficulties, but to speak for the baby and advocate for their life. I want to be a part of a voice that doesn’t run away from nuance and casuistry and employs reason, compassion, and the consistent teaching of the Church to inform our decisions in those difficult cases. I want to be a part of a voice that acknowledges exceptions, but does not wish to elevate those exceptions to the rule. I want to be part of a voice that does not demean or shame or bully. I want to be a part of a voice for life.

It’s hard (not impossible) for a voice like this to speak in a crowd.

I left the protest because many of the voices around me began to diverge from the voice I wanted to speak for me. It began with good intentions, I’m sure, but started to devolve due to emotion and the anonymity of the crowd. Whatever voice I wanted to offer that day, I knew I would associated with those that were the loudest.

This is why I get nervous when the church joins protests (starting our own is another matter). Whatever the just and noble reason for joining, it may become a part of a voice that is not noble, just, or Christian. We need to be careful. When members of our own diocese protested in our state capital over low teacher pay, their photos included signs from other protesters that were vulgar and promoted positions that should not be endorsed by the church. It’s hard to hear a voice about teacher pay when it’s included in a larger and louder chorus.

I think that part of our crisis in the church is that we haven’t always spoken with a clear, articulate voice on struggles and issues that we face. As cathartic as they may be, tweets and signs don’t always help. Unfortunately, we are reluctant to listen to anything longer than 140 characters – signs or tweets. I’m grateful you’ve stuck around for these 3,000 characters.

On my newsfeed this morning, I’m reading about Roman Catholic high school students, a Native American elder, Black Hebrew Israelites, etc. I don’t know what happened and, apparently, I’m not alone. It does seem to me that that there were a lot of voices and I’m not sure what was being said.

I have to wonder what it was like to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, without iPhones and Twitter and live streaming. What would it have been like to sing songs for the edification and encouragement of those who were gathered, instead of a global internet audience? I can’t know and will never know because that time and age has passed. Was it easier to have one unified voice because you had to be together in order to be heard? When we protest now, are we more concerned with getting praise within our own constituency than participating in a conversation that might bring about real transformation?

I don’t know. These are just questions.

PS: Sunday’s homily for those who are interested.