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Can Christians participate in anti-government protests?

Weekly Q&A

Can Christians participate in anti-government protests?
Posted on January 14, 2020  - By Tobin Mattackal

This is with regard to all the protests going on in my country, India, with regard to the Citizenship Amendment Act. They are protesting against the attacking of students within the university campus and a better government. Do you think that, as a believer (having the knowledge that God sets up rulers and takes them down, and that nothing on this earth happens without His knowledge), one should be a part of the protests?

Thank you for this very pertinent question. I am encouraged to see your heart to stand for what is right as well as your understanding of God’s nature as sovereign. Both are important positions for every Christian.

I say this is a pertinent question, because all over the world — not just in India — we are all constant witnesses to the kind of government actions and decrees that make us wonder where God is, where justice is, and whether we should take action and stand with the people — or hold our peace and watch, even as injustice plays out in broad daylight. 

Let us quickly look at the passage you’re referring to, before going forward. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul categorically states that we must submit to governing authorities, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God”. What’s more, Paul even goes on to say that anyone, therefore, who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and will incur judgement. A quick study of the passage makes it immediately clear that Paul is talking about governments who are avengers [of God] on wrongdoers. But what are we to do when those same governments are clearly in violation of basic rights, passing decrees that oppress their people, and ruling not as “servants of God” but as ministers of their own interests?

I want to start off with an important reminder: the world we live in will never be a peaceful place. It’s a harsh truth — but one we must unfortunately reconcile with. History is an unfading record of countless leaders and governments that failed to rule righteously. The root cause for it all can be found in the Word of God: we are living in a sinful world, filled with wickedness and evil, and ruled over by sinful men who fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Therefore, we can never expect our nations to have peace, even though that’s what we would love to see.

So, where does that leave us, as Christians, who feel compelled to “defend the weak and uphold the cause of the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3), yet equally compelled to submit to our governing authorities? Here are three ways to protest like a believer:

1. Pray in protest. 

Did you just roll your eyes? I know, this is the most “Christian” advice anyone can give — but bear with me as I ask: do we honestly pray for our nation and leaders? Is this something we cry out to the Lord for? How can we who know that prayer is a weapon campaign for change when we have not prayed for change? Paul, who faced intense persecution from rulers and the government, had only one word of advice in 1 Timothy 2:1-2: pray

How can we who know that prayer is a weapon campaign for change when we have not prayed for change?

Our governments are led by humans, aka people with lots of shortcomings. The truth is they are not God, they can never be perfect in what they do, they cannot foresee what is to come, they cannot stop what has happened, they are not wise in every area of the nation — which is why they have advisory boards, and they cannot promise a peaceful future because they don’t hold tomorrow. But our God can. He is the perfect ruler, who holds the entire universe in His hands. That’s why we need to intercede for our leaders.

More than anything, I want to encourage you to pray for the salvation of our rulers. Pray that the God who opened the hearts of many kings would open their eyes too to behold the beauty of the message of Christ Jesus — because it would change how they lead the nation for the good of the people. I’m so thankful for my church when I recall how, on the 31st of December last year, we spent about 30 minutes praying in groups for the nation. Prayer is perhaps the most underrated weapon — but you’d be amazed if you actually chose to use it. It is one of the most critical things we can do to protest. 

As you rightly pointed out, God is the One who sets up rulers and takes them down. He is ultimately the Ruler of this universe. Therefore, before you protest against the government, kneel before the King of kings.

2. Live out the gospel in protest.

In politically-chaotic situations like these, no one needs to teach anyone what sin is. It is plain for all the world to see. No one needs to prove the failure in leadership either, when what we see is the opposite of leaders who do good for their people, unite their nation, and love and protect its citizens. What if I told you that living the gospel is protesting against the world itself? Jesus didn’t picket on the streets; He lived a life that was radically different and countercultural in every sense. What greater testimony would we have than if we cried with our fellow citizens in the face of wickedness and injustice, loved them like Jesus did (not just with words, but with actions), or looked out for them in a cruel world? It is no longer easy to live as a Christian anywhere in this world, but the light of the gospel is exactly what a nation in darkness needs.  

Jesus didn’t picket on the streets; He lived a life that was radically different and countercultural in every sense

3. Speak out in protest.

This addresses the crux of your question. If your country’s laws allow you the right to gather and peacefully protest, then you are permitted to — but that is not to say, commanded to. Something that is critical to note here is that if you do decide to protest, there should be a clear distinction between the way Christians protest and the way others do so. Christians may have their hearts in the right place, but haven’t we often come across conversations (both online and in person) that leave us wondering how someone can claim to be Christian, yet spew so much vitriol and aggression in the course of trying to prove a point? 

Going out to protest must imbibe the same understanding. If you do so, it must not be to merely demonstrate your support for a ‘cause’ — but to witness Christ and stand for what is right in the sight of God, while adopting an attitude of humility and respect at all times. The books of Proverbs and James have plenty to say about the consequences of being quick to anger (Proverbs 15:1, 16:32; James 3:8-10).

Overall, protesting is a very romantic idea, one that fires up the imagination (especially of young minds), but it goes without saying that discretion is advised and you be mindful of your own safety. What is true on paper does not always play out in real life. It’s also important to get the facts straight as much as possible, as everyone — especially those reporting on these issues — is biased in some way or the other.

What happens when your country does not have such a law? You hold your peace, but here too, a line must be drawn. If any Christian is compelled to deny their faith, or condone or engage in any activity that would be in direct violation of God’s laws (and we’re talking about really extreme cases here), the Bible makes it clear that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 

If any Christian is compelled to deny their faith, however, the Bible makes it clear that “we must obey God rather than men”

This world is not the end 

A final word to those who do not believe in Jesus as Saviour of the world: the issue with this nation did not start when a certain political party came to power, nor when new laws were put in place. It started in the garden of Eden, where man sinned against God, and desired to be lord of his own life. That has always been our ultimate problem: we are all self-centered and want to please ourselves. The Bible says there is no one who is righteous (Romans 3:10) or sinless (Romans 3:23); therefore, we will all fail in some way or the other. 

But there is One who came into this world for the sole good of the world. He performed wonders that no one had ever seen before to prove that He wasn’t just a Man, but God-become-Man. And He proved Himself the true King, not by fighting a war with nations or rulers, but by defeating the greatest enemies man has ever known — sin and death themselves. 

No ruler can ever say that He will reign forever because they know they will, one day, return to dust — but this King can. His name is Jesus, and He rose from the dead to reign forever, with a promise that those who put their trust in Him will have eternal life, for He will return to take His people to a far greater place. This world will never be perfect, or even good, but the place God is preparing for us will be so much more than we could ask for. 

This is what the Bible says about it in Revelation 21:3-4: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

His will be a reign of peace and justice and love — in other words, everything that you are longing for. And it can be yours if you will trust in Him as the matchless Saviour King.

Tobin Mattackal

About Tobin Mattackal

Tobin Mattackal completed his Masters in Bible Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. Raised in the UAE, he spent his university days discipling youngsters and reading Scripture with them. He is currently serving at his local church in Bangalore, India, and is devoted to sharing the good news of salvation with the lost.



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