Flick, flick, flick. My ears were burning, and I could feel my face burning red from embarrassment. It had been two weeks since a school-bus bully named Greg decided to entertain himself by sitting behind me and flicking my ears with his pointy, middle fingers.
Back then I was just a scrawny elementary school kid. How was I supposed to stand up to this tyrant, who was three years older and 30 pounds heavier?
Complicating the issue: I was a Christian, and I knew Jesus probably didn’t want me brawling on the bus. What about all those Bible verses about being a peacemaker, turning the other cheek, forgiving others? I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to absorb the abuse — but boy, were my ears hurting.
One day after a brutal ride home, my mom spotted my red ears. When I explained what was happening, she gave me some much-needed advice. First, I needed to get to the bus earlier and tell the driver what was happening. Secondly, should this bully’s torture continue, I needed to find the courage to stand up for myself: “Sometimes you need to stand up for what’s right. And this is one of those times!”
As we survey our own times, more and more Americans seem to be standing up in protest. Some protest to have Confederate statues removed. Others protest the decisions of Congress or the president. Still others protest in the hopes of bringing media attention to their favorite social cause. Almost every week, we hear about another protest in another city.
Many Christians watch these public displays of discontent and feel just as uneasy as I did sitting on that bus as a little kid. We know what the Bible says about submitting to government authorities (Romans 13:1-7), and praying for those in leadership (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Jesus wants His followers to be gracious, patient, and loving to all people — even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). But when is it right for a Christian to protest? When should we stand up and speak out? The answer is this:
When the government prohibits what God commands. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples proclaimed to all Jerusalem He was the only way to salvation. The Jewish authorities disapproved, so Peter and John were promptly arrested. “Stop preaching about Jesus,” the rulers insisted. But Peter and John refused to comply, believing obedience to God takes precedence over obedience to men (Acts 5:29).
As a general principle, Christians respect and obey the rule of law. But when authorities insist we disobey God or disregard the Bible, we have no choice but to hold fast to God’s clear-cut commands. Personal prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship, the religious education of our children, talking about Jesus in the public sphere — these are just a few nonnegotiables. If any human government tries to restrict or rescind any of these religious responsibilities, Christians are right to rise up in protest.
When the government commands what God prohibits. Americans are some of the freest people in the world. We can choose to have three jobs, three cars, three children — but not everyone in the world is so fortunate. For instance, it was only very recently that China finally ended its horrific “one child” law. Over a 30-year span, this despicable law forced thousands of Chinese families into abortions and sex-selection killings.
Scripture says God created human government to promote good, restrain evil, and punish criminals. But sometimes, secular governments enact unjust laws that command people to do what is explicitly prohibited by the Bible. In those instances, Christians must stand firm and resist the flow of wickedness (1 Thessalonians 5:15). No matter how loudly governments say “go,” faithful Christians must say “no” when God’s moral law is on the line.
When the government gives you a voice in the governing. Three little words make America beautiful in the eyes of the world: “We the people.” We appreciate the poetry of these famous words, but have we forgotten their power? In America, we don’t listen to a king — our people are the true voices of government. Since every citizen has the right to vote, assemble, and speak freely, Christians should use these rights to endorse the good and extinguish the evil (Micah 6:8).
America gave you a voice — use it for God’s glory and your nation’s good.
Are you disheartened by government-assisted abortions — or disgusted by the proliferation of pornography? Make a phone call to your congressperson or senator. Attend a rally or a march. Give money to an action committee. Vote your biblical values in the next election. America gave you a voice — so use it for God’s glory and your nation’s good (1 Cor. 10:31).
America’s schools are back in session, which means you and I are back to sharing the roads with those slow-moving school buses. When I see one of those yellow buses lumbering along, I can’t help but think back to my burning ears and that awful bully. Thankfully, with an ounce of motherly advice and a pound of moral courage — I put an end to the flicking fingers and kept my Christian testimony in the process.
But I also learned a powerful life lesson that has stayed with me. Everything doesn’t always go right in this broken world, and on some days — wrong may even have the upper hand. But you don’t have to take it sitting down.
Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for eighteen years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.