“When their members are involved in protests, pastors should of course provide them with counsel and prayer. Sometimes, the issues behind the protests will need to be illuminated by clear teaching from God’s Word. But in general, the mission of the church is not well served by its direct involvement in government action.”
Last Friday, September 2, 2016, a group of students at Clemson University gathered to protest the suppression of free speech by campus officials. Christian evangelist Robbie Roberts had been removed from campus for sitting in a chair with a small sign marked, “Prayer” (see video and Wall Street Journal coverage). According to Clemson officials, Roberts was not in a “free speech zone,” even though he was seated in a public park. WeRoar, a student group in support of first amendment rights, saw this as a violation of the US Constitution, as well as a betrayal of the spirit of inquiry for which a university exists. Many of the protesters were Christians, which has raised objections from some observers. Let me respond with five questions and answers on the theme, “Should Christians Roar?”
- Q: Some observers have claimed that this is a safety issue for colleges. Is safety a valid reason to limit free speech in public places? A: Only if we believe that ideas are dangerous. Of all the nations that have ever existed, America stands out as a nation that does not believe that people – university students least of all – need to be protected from ideas.
- Q: Is it sinful for Christians to protest against government (or university) actions? Doesn’t Romans 13:1-2 forbid civil resistance or disobedience? A: Romans 13:1-2 is often cited against Christians who resist or protest, since God has established the secular sovereign over each nation. However, in America at least, our sovereign is not a king but the United States Constitution. This is why government leaders enter office by swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution. Christian students who protest campus officials in defense of the Constitution are fulfilling the requirement of Romans 13:1-2, as in the case of the WeRoar protest, by showing loyalty to the authority God has established for our blessed land.
- Q: Should church leaders or campus evangelistic groups enter into campus protests? A: As a rule, the answer is No. Churches and their evangelistic auxiliaries on campus are charged by Christ with the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), which focuses their calling on the spread of the gospel and the discipling of believers. When their members are involved in protests, pastors should of course provide them with counsel and prayer. Sometimes, the issues behind the protests will need to be illuminated by clear teaching from God’s Word. But in general, the mission of the church is not well served by its direct involvement in government action.