In a recent excerpt from his book entitled “Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere”, Paul Mason argues that the protests of 2011 and the times that followed through 2012 marked a ground-breaking shift in which the youth-driven horizontalist protests had developed a new mind-set which made the old certainties of the 20th Century as alien to the 21st Century as the 19th Century certainties became during the last.
He argues that:
There is a change in consciousness, the intuition that something big is possible; that a great change in the world’s priorities is within people’s grasp. The impervious nature of official politics – its inability to swerve even slightly towards the critique of capitalism intuitively felt by millions of people – has deepened the sense of alienation and mistrust.
He highlights how the protest movements from the Arab Spring to Occupy, taking in the democracy protests in Russia and other protests from Canada to Chile, mark a profound turn whereby the anti-hierarchical and anti-authority movements are more than simply an expression of young angst – although that is in part its driving force – but a new, levelled form of worldview that eschews the political and economic processes of the present and past and advocates a much more “New Age” view of the brotherhood of man and the being on the cusp of that elusive “glorious revolution”.
Yet what should the Church say to this? Church Peace was founded with a desire to see the Church engage with the protesters, the dissenters, and not in a “do as we say” methodology but by showing love and compassion, seeking to understand the concerns held by so many and drawing alongside.
The battle for social justice, social inclusion, and economic equality are matters of immense concern to the protesters and are also natural fields in which the Church should make its voice and actions heard.
Yet there are also areas where the Church must firmly abide by the words of God, and the revolutionary, anti-authority world-views of many in these protests – which Paul Mason argues are somewhat definitive of the new movements – pose a challenge to the Church, which is often seen as being part of the authoritarian problem and an Old Boys Club of hierarchical institutionalised corruption. The Church needs to remain both true to God’s word and also deal with the perception many have formed about it.
The message of the Gospel is not a system-loving, ruler-pleasing oppressor. No, it is a subversive, revolutionary message which in the first century AD acted in much the same way that these anti-authoritarian movements do today: it “turned the world upside down”.
It is, therefore, imperative that the Church does not become so rooted in its hierarchies and authority structures, built up over centuries of traditions, that it misses the revolutionary tide – a revolutionary tide which it can address with a real message: that sacrifice for the common good, given voluntarily and without selfish demand, is the basis of the most fundamental and greatest expression of love. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:13. And it is Jesus who laid down His life for us.
The Gospel message has a rich and massive potential amongst those who now protest against the injustices of this modern, corrupt world. Yet the Church has become the enemy: one of those structures to be torn down. Perhaps that is no bad thing. If the monolithic towering Babels of man’s glory expressed in structures and the lifeless stones of the great cathedrals are torn down, perhaps those in the protest movements will see the Glorious Temple that God is building from the living stones of redeemed men and women – a Church that is not so much an institution but more a real fellowship of God’s people yearning to share and show His love.
This is not to say that the Church should become one with the protests. The Gospel message is one which far surpasses any present world methods or goals: we look to another world, one without end: the glorious Return of Christ and the ushering in of His everlasting Kingdom. The Church must not become limited by focussing on social justice to the exclusion of the Eternal.
In addition, the Church should not be consumed by the anti-authority sentiment swelling the revolts and protests: we must be mindful that it is God who has made the authority structures as He has seen fit, and though we each have a role to play in any reform of those structures we must not become railing revolutionaries whose bitter desire is to tear down those we enviously see as being put “over us”.
The world is indeed at the cusp of something profound. Does the Church step up to the plate?
What are your views? Do you see that the Church can play an important role in the new movements spreading throughout the world? What is the best way in which Christians, and the Church as a whole, can engage with the protest movements?