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15 July 2016

Where's Christ in civil unrest?

Where's Christ in civil unrest?

Usha Reifsnider is director of diaspora missions at Go To Nations. She is also a PhD researcher at Oxford Centre for Mission Studies

'Civil unrest', what a tidy term to describe the spilled out frustration on the streets of the world today. No longer are these scenes of savage foreigners crying out against the control of despots in distant lands. In the past the West could have looked down with compassion - and yes, condescension - and be thankful for our civilised democracies.  

This week, Trump warned America that there would be "four more years of civil unrest" if Hillary wins, and says America has "11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage". Referring to the marches across the US with the Black Lives Matter movement, following the killing of the fatal shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, the presidential candidate said: "Marches all over the United States. And tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred!" With the US locked in this out-spill of frustration, it seems that with or without democracy, the whole world is a simmering volcano of barely containable anger. 

My father was a young lad in India at the time of independence. His civil disobedience was to grow, spin and weave cotton to make his own loincloth (dhoti) as his protest against British rule. He spoke with pride about satyagraha, led by Mahatma Gandhi, bringing India's independence. Yet millions of lives were destroyed violently during the transition and violence continues there,  as well as in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the US. Perceived or real injustices, taking on the offence on behalf of another are not the causes, but the symptoms of a hurting world, made up of hurting individuals who feel unheard and marginalised.

Gatherings that start off as a show of solidarity attempt to bring sufficient attention to the cause. Violence, bloodshed and fear transform the underdog's whimper into a terrifying growl, demanding action, but at what cost and to what end? The disgruntled disenfranchised mob doesn't merely become a mass of unruly hatred. This is a group of people who individually and collectively have lost hope in leadership to resolve crises.

Can the Church bring the peace of Christ into these situations? Or have we become so involved in our own rights that we have lost our responsibility to be agents of peace. Are our prayers reduced to online shopping wish lists, while we ignore intercession for others?

John 14:27 says: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I don't give to you as the world gives. Don't let your hearts be troubled and don't be afraid."

As Christians we believe the peace of Christ is one of the many benefits of our religious expression. Have we neglected being agents of peace? Not only modeling Jesus to those around us, but actively taking interest in individuals and leading them to hope in Jesus.

Many of us are guilty of spending time flicking through online videos and pictures on Instagram. Do we spend the same amount of time building day-to-day relationships with people in need?

When we see the vulnerable, we can't wait until brutal civil obedience is the only voice they have. We, you and I, must go to people and places were hurt abounds and get our hands dirty with the lives of the lonely and the desperate. We must give them a voice and share their burdens. Not just to those who look or sound like us and share our principles, but those who are way outside our own comfort zones.

Civil disobedience might be a rare occurrence if we genuinely love our neighbours as ourselves. If the Christ we profess was the Christ we lived and followed, how quickly might the glaring injustices be examined and addressed?

When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met Ghandi, he asked him: "Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?"

Ghandi replied: "Oh, I don't reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."