In the first two days of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, more than 150 protesters have been removed from the proceedings for a variety of angry and audible outbursts. Texas senator John Cornyn described it as “mob rule”. It’s “unlike anything I’ve seen before in a confirmation hearing,” he noted.
That’s because it is unlike anything we have seen before. There have always been mobs. Christ was executed by a spineless Roman politician who yielded to a mob. There have been mobs throughout American history. “Tarring and feathering,” was a mob specialty in colonial America. Lynch mobs cast a pall of fear over the American South. But mob-protest as a tool for directing public policy has never been a constant. It overflows its banks for a season, then dies down. The distemper of the 1960s bubbled over into bombings and assassinations and riots, then went dormant. Until now.
The days of rage are back in style.
Hints of it were first seen a few years ago, though largely as a phenomenon found on college campuses. Guest speakers – almost all of them representing conservative or Christian viewpoints – found themselves greeted by mobs of student protesters, who rather than suffer exposure to alien ideas, complained of “triggers” and the need for “safe spaces”, and shouted the speakers down. PC toxicity became so prevalent that comedians like Jerry Seinfeld stopped showing up on campuses altogether.
Unfortunately, the virus spread, and entered the arena of social media. Once the power of the digital mob was discovered, all virtual hell broke loose. Unwelcomed voices could be silenced or unorthodox views overturned in a single day. The social media Gatekeepers themselves – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – endorsed the mob by becoming sponsors of its messaging. Urged on by the mob, all the Gatekeepers needed to do was brand an idea as “offensive” or “hateful” to activate its power to defund or unplug. Again, curiously, almost all of these “hateful” ideas represented conservative or Christian viewpoints.
Now in the age of Trump, the contagion has spread further, infecting our politics. Based on the howling and vitriol, you would think that Kavanaugh – one of the steadiest, most respected, “Establishment” judges to be nominated to the high court – is the second coming of Voldemort. But this is how it rolls these days. Ideas are out. Debate is so last century. Free speech, shut it down! (What were our Founders thinking?!)
It’s more than just an interesting cultural phenomenon. All of this anger, and spit, and spite is coming to a Church near you. And it’s already happening.
In Austin, Texas, an evangelical megachurch was hounded by Antifa and gay rights protest groups for its support of biblical, traditional marriage. When Celebration Church rented out the performing arts center of an Austin school district, worshippers were greeters with dozens of protesters shouting out, “Bigots out of Austin!” The protesters also “doxed” the pastor’s son by putting his name, photo and personal information on their social media sites.
In California, the absurdly progressive state legislature, came within a whisker of passing AB-2943, a bill which would have declared “fraudulent” any attempt by a professional therapist, counselor, pastor, etc. to direct a person struggling with his or her sexual identity toward heterosexuality. Thankfully, the national outrage was so obvious, that the bill’s sponsor pulled it off the table at the 11th hour. (But he said, “I believe we are on the side of the angels,”; Translation: See you again next year.)
How should we respond to this growing assault on Christian values? It’s high time we take a few lessons from our brothers and sisters of the early church.
First of all, give our anger and urge to hit back over to Jesus.
Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt.5:39). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt.5:44). When his disciples wanted to call on God to destroy their Samaritan enemies, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55). His apostles carried on his message of non-violence after he was gone. Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you…So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved never avenge yourselves.” (Romans 12:14,18-19).
What’s astonishing is that Christians were a powerless, persecuted minority for the first three centuries of their existence, and yet not once did they fight fire with fire. We find no records of Christians forming terrorist groups, or organizing an armed rebellion. They fought back precisely as their Lord taught them to fight back – with weapons of love, forgiveness and sacrifice.
What’s interesting is that in those three centuries, Christianity grew with such exponential numbers that it overwhelmed the Roman empire. The beauty and sublimity of the Christian message compared to anything put forward by Greek and Roman paganism captivated hearts wherever it was taught.
Compare that to Islam, which in its first three centuries of existence advanced solely by the sword, and you’ll see with your own eyes something of the supernatural underpinnings of Christianity.
Second, use any form of legitimate power that is at your disposal.
Non-violence is not to be equated with weakness. Christ spoke truth to each of the authorities he was brought before in his trial. The apostle Paul made effective use of the privileges of his Roman citizenship when he found himself in legal trouble. Paul taught slaves not to rebel against their masters, but at the same time, if an opportunity arose for them to gain their freedom, he urged them to use it (1 Cor.7:21).
Christians should use their freedom to vote. Then use their freedom to hold the leaders they vote for to account. (The prophets of the Old Testament had no trouble with this. Have any of the evangelical leaders cuddling up to President Trump – insisting that he’s “saved”, and that the White House is “holy ground” – ever explained repentance to him? Or the loving of enemies? Or the giving of grace? Just wondering.)
Churches which create security policies and hire armed officers for their worship services are not being faithless, but wise. Christian advocacy groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the California Family Council (which played a huge role in the pushing back of AB-2943) should be generously supported and prayed for by local churches. The legal attacks on religious liberty in our nation have been relentless, and we need trained and professional “watchmen on the wall” to help us. The day may come when we lose these freedoms, but we shouldn’t surrender that liberty without using every law-abiding tool available to us.
And the early church would tell us that the best tool of all is…
Third, never tire of explaining and defending the beauty and truthfulness of our faith to our culture.
College campuses, social media, and Congress may have given up on civil discussion, debate and the sharing of ideas. But Christians never should.
When I studied church history back in seminary, I was astonished to learn of the quantity of writing that the Christians in the first three centuries left behind. Christians didn’t put down their pens once the Bible was completed.
And what were they writing about? They were explaining and defending the beauty and truthfulness of the faith not only to other believers, but to the surrounding culture.
In the third century, a Christian attorney named Tertullian (he would have been on staff at ADF, or CFC for sure) wrote a lengthy 50-page treatise called “Apology”. He wrote it to any Roman official in whose hands he could place it. “Apology” (meaning “defense”) is a masterful explanation of the Christian religion. He explains what its doctrines were. What its practices were. Why so many across the empire were becoming Christians. He corrects many of the errors commonly believed by the Romans (e.g. that Christians practiced cannibalism, since they ate flesh and drank blood in their Lord’s Supper). Perhaps in understanding this faith, the authorities would call off the dogs of persecution. At least that is Tertullian’s hope.
We need modern day Tertullians to arise who can speak and write with compelling force, to explain to the culture (which is so rapidly drifting from its Christian moorings) why the worldview of authentic, Bible-based, Jesus-loving Christianity remains the best hope for the earth. Why its sexual ethic is far from archaic and restrictive, but liberating and life-giving. Why the best hope for racial reconciliation lies not in a government program but in the Church. Why the life and teaching of Jesus Christ is incomparable in human history, and why building one’s life upon him is the surest way to peace and joy.
The mob is coming for you and me. Brace yourself. Pray. Train yourself to be godly. We have a lot of work to do.