One of the greatest messages on social protest I ever heard was from my pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. It took place one Sunday morning 40+ years ago at Faith Center in Eugene, Oregon where Roy was the pastor. Just before Roy began his sermon, he made a comment regarding a teacher’s strike that was taking place in the city of Eugene.
When Roy stepped up on the platform and settled in, he said “Most of you are aware of the teacher’s strike. There is nothing wrong with being involved in a protest if you are protesting something that needs attention. For those of you here who are teachers and are walking the picket line, how you conduct yourself during the protest is as important as the protest itself.” Then Roy asked us to open our bibles and he began his weekly message. His comment on social protest was short and sweet and to the point.
I thought of Roy’s words this week as I watched news clips of thousands of truckers in Canada crossing the nation in protest. I saw truckers honking horns as they drove into downtown Ottawa. I saw people lining the highways and overpasses waving flags and offering the truckers food. Some of the truckers who arrived in Ottawa walked the streets picking up trash. As Roy said, “How you conduct yourself during a protest is as important as the protest itself.”
That Sunday morning 40+ years ago, I received the gift of clarity. What I heard was a truth that can be uncomfortable for some. Our faith was never intended to remain inside a cushioned and isolated cubicle that keeps us away from speaking and demonstrating the love of God in the public sphere. Roy’s words charged us with a commission. If we were to venture outside the sanctuary and express our faith in a public protest we need to do so under the guidance of God’s Spirit, not under the impulse of our emotions or from peer pressure.
I also came away realizing a pulpit is a place where courage must be demonstrated. To preach week in and week out without helping people know how to bridge their faith into the realities of the surrounding culture, is a half-constructed bridge. It leaves those who listen to our message not knowing how to span the distance between our faith and culture.
If we have a right heart and an assignment from the Lord to speak and demonstrate the truth in love, whether it is walking a picket line, talking with a friend over coffee about an uncomfortable subject, or preaching from behind a pulpit, we all need to be free to express our convictions even if our convictions do not follow the accepted social or theological narrative.