Sunday 27 March 2011

Is violent protest ever necessary?

I'm a firm believer in direct action, and spent most of my time during the protest in London against the cuts supporting those engaged in 'occupying against cuts'. I had planned to help conduct a church service in a Barclay's bank, but the corporation stepped in and closed the branch for us before a single hymn could be sung.

Then it was down to Topshop, to see it get a quick repaint to the chants of 'Philip Green pay your taxes!'. Later I enjoyed watching the cheeky occupation of 'Fortnum and Mason', and thought that the chalked message 'Tax the rich' got to the heart of the matter. The week's Tory budget had seen another £2 billion give away to the corporations, at a time when we can least afford it as a nation.

The media was filled with coverage of the 100 or so protesters who choose to use the cover of the direct actions to smash windows and attack police vehicles. Their violence is uncreative and unhelpful and gives our enemies plenty of ammunition against us. I want our resistance to be courageous, colourful, creative - and occupations and paint play their part. Smashing up things is mostly counterproductive and I really think that we have to braver in standing up to those who 'tear down', but fail to 'build up'.

But I am nagged by a Jesus who was prepared to drive out the traders with whips. When he witnessed them ripping off the poor, he decided on determined and violent protest. I'm sure that the Daily Mail of the time would have labelled him as an anarcho-terrorist, intent on turning society upside down. He certainly did that.


  1. Seriously ... you want to compare Jesus' actions in the temple to the 200 or so thugs who smashed and vandalised private property in the name of "class war". I'm sure Judas would have applauded but certainly not Jesus.

    Jesus was driven by passion for his Father's house not about the "poor being ripped off". Where does it say that the poor were being ripped off but the rich weren't?

    Talk about eisegesis. Get a grip.

  2. Rebel Saint: I hardly think the tone of your comment is warranted. I'm not sure what Chris' train of thought was when he posted this article, so I wouldn't presume to speak on his behalf, but I took this post more as an open question or provocation of thought, not necessarily as a definitive conclusion on Christian discipleship.

    Secondly, of course Jesus was "consumed by zeal for His Father's house," as the scriptures say. However, does this need to be mutually exclusive from the political reading of this text? Scholarly evidence has revealed that the Temple in Jesus' day was almost synonymous with merchant traders who were most certainly exploiting the poor. The economics of this time was driven by landowners who made their wealth off the backs of agrarian peasant communities. What do you think Jesus was referring to when He said "You have turned my Father's house into a den of thieves?"

  3. For the record, Jesus' use of a whip to drive out the moneychangers is troubling to me. In fairness, there isn't any evidence from the one Gospel reporting Him to have used it (John), that it was used for anything other than sending out the animals. Nonetheless, a whip in and of itself is a violent weapon, and would most certainly have intimated those present. At first it would seem inconsistent with Jesus' own message of nonviolence. On the other hand, Jesus Himself is as much human as He is God. I don't doubt that seeing the plight of the oppressed at the hands of the rich and powerful caused Him to feel uncontrollably indignant. Jesus demonstrated righteous anger when confronted with the injustices of His time, and He wasn't afraid to become aggressive when the occasion called for it. While, as a Christian, I don't condone violence of any kind, I concur with Chris in asking the open question: when and how is it appropriate for us to show righteous aggression, while doing so in love?

  4. I can express it no better than this.

  5. The key difference is that Jesus does his acts of defiance openly and is prepared to take the consequences. Those who 'mask up' and run away leaving others to take the reprocussions fail to live up to the tradition of 'open protest' led by Jesus

  6. REBEL SAINT, I was shocked by the tone of you post. I understand that every one is entitled to their option but may be words should be chosen more carefully when posting online as we can not see the expressions on peoples faces as we can when talk face to face.

    I can not say I openly agree with everything that Chris does but I know this for sure he is a fantastic role model. He has the guts to get out there and stand up to the people that want to beat us down. He is not afraid to be who he and I am very proud and blessed to say that I know him.

  7. I'm with Adam on the point that the whip Jesus used was to drive out the animals. Having seen people use a stick to drive animals it is completely harmless and can be done calmly.

    But then there is the other point about 'openness'.

    Sophie and I were part of a successful action that relied entirely on secrecy, although it was nonviolent. At an AWE recruitment even we dressed up in suits and sat downstairs with badges and clipboards pretending to be AWE human resources. We interviewed several undergraduates who then gratefully turned themselves away from the AWE presentation. AWE never found out. WWJD?

  8. Shameless image plug: []

    In Jesus' time there was no 'surveillance state' - no electoral register or database with living details, no ID to be 'stop-and-searched' for, no CCTV around every corner and no radios for soldiers to co-ordinate by. These are what black-bloc tactics have arisen in response to (well, as well as ridiculous 'public order' laws) - they've only appeared relatively recently. I guess infiltrators and paid informants were the equivalent in Jesus' day?

    - If Jesus was never secretive or covert, why was it necessary for Judas to betray him?
    - Are there really no instances of Jesus being secretive, or even deceptive, to avoid the authorities? (i.e. John 7:10)
    - Is there only one way of living Jesus' way? Could there be different valid ways of protesting that are consistent with his message?
    - Is the argument for 'open protest' based on the assumption that the justice system is essentially fair? Would it still be valid if we lived in a country where simply expressing an opinion contrary to that of the state could result in one being disappeared or tortured?

  9. @Zoe ... I'm surprised that you're shocked! Didn't think there was anything about my post that I wouldn't say to a friend face-to-face (I guess "get a grip" is a bit blunt!). Maybe the problem is what you state: "Posting online ... we cannot see the expressions on peoples faces". Because I am disagreeing doesn't mean I'm being disagreeable (not intentionally anyway). Like you, I admire Chris' activism - though I'd disagree with the direction of it a lot of the time.

    Interesting point about the openness. Christians in many parts of the world of course can't be open at all ... and I have no problems with Bible smuggling, or meeting illegally, or misdirecting the authorities to protect them.

    I do have lots of problems with what you did Keith (even though I have no idea what AWE is). I admire (and am amused by) your brazenness. However, you've basically deprived some people the opportunity of legitimate employment by deceit.

    Wonder if you'd feel the same if I'd misdirected people away from Chris' book signings in an attempt to save people from filling their minds with woolly liberalism?!

    On the other hand I have no problem with hiding my identity to avoid the ubiquitous state surveillance.

    Anyhow ... there is absolutely no equivalence between the UKUnCut rioters and Jesus' action in the temple.