The Value of the Protest: Promoting Cooperation for Positive Change

Why do people demonstrate and protest? Most would say it’s because they want to bring attention to themselves or a cause. We then ask, “Why?” Usually it’s because they desire some sort of change. The next question is something like, “How do you expect your demonstration or protest to assist in making that change?” Normally, if the whole business has been well thought through, the answer would be, “I expect to get people to cooperate with me once I’ve been seen or heard so that the current condition is improved.” So the value of the protest is promoting cooperation for positive change. Does antagonism garnish that kind of cooperation? It appears Jesus didn’t think so…

“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?’‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him.’But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’”
-Matthew 17:24-27

What was the point? Jesus was sent to spread the Gospel and encourage repentance for the sake of our salvation. He certainly was not sent to coddle us in our sin, but neither was he sent to cultivate bitterness in futility. His efforts were to get people to make a change and he knew that making them unnecessarily angry would not elicit their cooperation in accepting what he had to say and make the necessary changes to save their souls. St. Paul made similar observations in his subsequent letters to congregations throughout the region. In this instance, among other things, Jesus circumvented the counterproductive resentment of others that would interfere with his goals…namely by paying a customary tax.

“Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”
-Mark 12:17

So why would anyone commit themselves to a demonstration or a protest that does nothing but make people angry? Unless the only goal is to get attention (negative attention) without the hope of influencing people to make a change, the whole thing is a silly waste of time and effort. If the motive is merely to get attention, we can reasonably assume the protesters’ single desire is to draw the approval of those who agree with them in the first place. Ah, so they’re simply indulging their egos and wallowing in pride…a deadly sin that leads nowhere.

If I desire to get not only the attention, but also the cooperation, of people for the higher motive of making a positive change, Jesus has shown me the least thing I want to do is anger them. Common sense, if not wisdom, dictates that anger is an impediment to my goals. If my intent is to move a nation, it makes sense not to trample on the symbols that represent the virtues of their country.

So what do we see people doing today? Are they embracing virtues and encouraging positive change? Or are they just stroking those egos by slopping up public attention? Frankly, I learned as a child that throwing a tantrum or squatting down in a huff never resulted in getting what I wanted…but then, I had parents that weren’t moved by disruptive behavior any more than a nation is by having its admirable qualities disparaged.

Photo by Joachim Pedersen via Flickr

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