Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

The Spiritual Discipline
           of Protest

I learned about civil disobedience from Shiprah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives who defied Pharoah and refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys – including Moses. I learned about disruptive protest from Jesus, who barged into the temple in a rage, turning over the tables of imperial and economic injustice. So, for me, participating in the protests in St. Louis the past few days has been an act of spiritual discipline.

I have joined three of the official protests since Friday, September 15th, and have attended several planning meetings for clergy and protest organizers. I left the three protests when they were officially disbanded by the organizers partly because my aching knees forced me to, and partly because I wanted no part of the violence that seemed to erupt once the official protest was over. Some of my colleagues have courageously stayed, in order to protect those continuing to express their outrage. But for me, the line between “protection” and encouraging violence is a very thin one, and I want no part of it.

These are some of my learnings and observations from the past 5 days:

  • Holy Disruption, Holy Disobedience, and Holy Disturbance are all spiritual disciplines called for in scripture and modeled by a radical rabbi named Jesus. Holy Destruction is another matter – and such violence undermines the courage and prophetic power of disciplined protest.
  • As a relative newcomer to St. Louis, I am convinced that this city is – and must be – on the front line of confronting systemic racism and white supremacy in our deeply divided nation. The founders of this city arrived with their slaves and so the inequities endemic to this city were there from the beginning. And the old downtown Courthouse still holds the shame of the Dred Scot decision, publicly proclaiming that people of color are not equal to whites. This is our white burden and our calling as people of faith of all colors – to work persistently to repent of the original sin of America and help create a new heaven and the new earth of inclusion, equality, and equity for all.
  • I have been impressed by the intelligence, strategic wisdom, and skill of the official protest organizers – mostly black – some secular and some sacred -passionate, eloquent spokespeople who do not mince words. The white clergy have been asked to provide support and protection and to step back to allow others to lead. This called for humility in spiritual leaders is new and refreshing in my protest experience.
  • For me, the role and power of the police is the most confusing part of this political moment. I have family members who are law enforcement officers – moral, calm, community oriented. And to my eye, the police presence during the official protests was respectful and appropriately peripheral. But the scenes of riot police with pepper spray, trapping both agitators and innocent bystanders in a “kettle” formation, seems both excessive and unnecessary. The criminal justice system in this country, from arrest to incarceration, is both racist and broken – and these reoccurring protests will not – and should not stop – until real change happens.

Many people have asked, “What is the purpose of these protests?  What are the demands that the protestors are asking for?” I have asked the same question. I have finally accepted the answer – which is very simple. What is the demand? STOP THE KILLING!

I hope there will be concrete changes ahead: subpoena power for the recently created Citizens Review Board; implementation of the Ferguson Commission recommendations; independent review for all incidents related to questionable police actions; a cultural transformation within the Metropolitan Police Department.  My tired body may keep me away from some future protests, but my heart will continue to support Holy Disturbance in the Spirit of our Disruptive God.

Rev. Susan Andrews
Interim Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church
September 20, 2017

4 Responses to “Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front”

  1. Steven Schumacher on

    “Stop the killing” Interesting pharse.

    In conversations with my black Christian brothers and sisters, my question is always why isn’t this phrase welcomed in the black community, regarding black on black killings? Too many innocent children and adult bystanders have died. No one seems to want to discuss this. I’m perplexed. Please help me understand why it isn’t addressed and especially by clergy.

    Reply
    • Bill Perman on

      Steven, I often wonder why white people want to change the subject of police violence, particularly against black and brown people, to “Black on Black” Crime. The implication seems to be that Black people don’t care about their own lives, why should we? This, at its root, is a White Supremacist notion. Yes “black on black” crime is a problem. So is “white on white” crime. People tend to be violent with those around them. In a segregated society, that means white people tend to be killed by white people and black people tend to be killed by black people. But why change the subject of police violence to the problem of criminal violence? Both are problems. Both need to be addressed.
      But here is the real problem I have with white people changing the subject of police violence to “Black on Black” violence: The police are paid by us to uphold the law and to protect all citizens. Criminals, black or white, are after all criminals. Who expects a criminal to obey the law? Black criminals are routinely convicted and sentenced – At a higher rate than white criminals. There is surely not a problem of Black people getting away with murder in this country. So there is nothing to protest. If black people were getting away with murder because the justice system was corrupt, of course we would protest that system. On the other hand, White police officers, who are paid to protect and serve all of us, are almost never charged or convicted of brutality or the murder of black people. The system is not working for all Americans and so it is our duty as disciples of Jesus to work for justice for all. Peace to you. Bill

      Reply
  2. Diane McCullough on

    Thank you for your thoughts and your actions! Count me in for supporting peaceful protest and, even more necessary, finding solutions by acknowledging systemic racism and the existence of belief in white supremacy, then acting on those solutions!!! Really getting to know others who are different from us is so important.

    Reply
    • Susan Andrews on

      Dear Diane: Thanks for your comments. We all need to keep informed, and add our voices to the public conversation about concrete changes in our justice systems. Subpoena power for the Citizen Review Board, and vigilance about the selectin of the new police chief are two places we can begin.

      Reply

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