He sat. He took a knee. He raised a fist.
As I write this, the American digital public square called Facebook is buzzing with the protests of NFL players against oppression of minorities in the US.
Well-meaning Christians on both sides of the issues have weighed in almost daily about how to respond to this. On one side are those keeping love of America and love of God in close proximity and view this as nearly an insult on Christianity and on the heart of the nation. On the other side are those believing the oppression against those without power has gotten so great, these celebrities are heroes for using their platform for starting the conversation in a public way.
Shockingly absent from most (and by “most” I mean: the vast majority) of these conversations is the very “thing” making us Christians: Christ. As Christians living in pagan cultures, we must always come back to what Jesus would have us do. These are the moments we can enter these conversations in phenomenal ways.
Not surprisingly, these conversations are not new. In our ongoing study of Ecclesiastes, we find ourselves at Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 (NIV):
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
After warning us not to rob the Lord with empty vows, Solomon expresses his frustration as he witnessed on his way from the Temple to the City Hall the corruption of the politicians of his day oppressing those who had no voice nor power to defend themselves.
Bearing in mind the King of Israel was observing this behavior between members of the Lord’s people, it was especially heinous. The Law of God through Moses sharply and plainly condemned the very practices these people were performing openly (cf. Leviticus 19:15).
It’s so easy for those with power to take advantage of those without it. After all, where will the oppressed go to seek recourse when they rely on other powerful people to defend them? Perhaps this is why the Lord speaks so strongly against socioeconomic oppression: it’s a crime against the image of God in every human being while exploiting their very lack of position and provision.
Instead of getting justice, the poor get caught up in the bureaucracy of it all. Although the wealthy might have to navigate the same “red tape”, the poor are especially hindered by it because they lack the connections to expedite the process.
Similar in tone to Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, the king writes that oppression of the weaker is not just a matter of humans behaving badly, but it nearly always extends into organizational systems. An entire hierarchy can be infected with this type of attitude and behavior and the entire structure feels the effects.
Doesn’t all this sound so familiar?
King Solomon even instructs us, “do not be surprised at such things” (verse 8). He didn’t say it was right. He didn’t say we shouldn’t do something about it. He didn’t say we shouldn’t feel (righteous) anger about it. He’s just saying the one feeling we shouldn’t have about it is surprise.
The difference between Solomon’s Israel and our nation today (the United States, for most of my readers) is not small. Please don’t miss this!
Israel was a theocracy and therefore under the direct command of God through the Law of Moses. The United States (or England or Australia, for those readers of mine), however, is most definitely NOT a theocracy.
As a nation we are not under the Law of Moses and we should not be surprised when socioeconomic oppression is rampant, pervasive, blatantly obvious, and largely ignored today.
As angry as Christians get at the oppression in the US, we must always remind ourselves that we cannot blame the world for acting like the world. Without Jesus, how are they supposed to know better?
Therein lies the solution. He’s always the solution. He’s the one thing we need most and mention least: Jesus. And I don’t mean a trite “what would Jesus do?”. I mean, people need to hear of Jesus’ Gospel and become followers in His footsteps. This is what is needed.
Impossible? Maybe. But it is our mission.
Change doesn’t come because we protest. Change comes because Jesus changes hearts. That means our activism MUST include the missionary work of spreading the good word about Jesus.
Do the laws of our nations need to change to not oppress the weak? Certainly!
Do we as Christians need to vote with minds attuned to the will of God to spread justice? Yes!
Will a secular politician in a secular nation working with a secular government fix the real problem (the heart)? No.
This is where the call of Jesus comes in for us, His disciples, to be salt and light. This is where we make the change needing to be made. We become part of the solution instead of just throwing stones at the problem.
We never—never!—lose sight that what our culture’s need is not more (or even better) laws. What it needs is a whole lot less arguing between Christians and a whole lot more of Jesus.