I commend the entire interview series that Ed Stetzer recently did with Esau McCaulley. Among many highlights, I appreciate McCaulley’s following answer to the question of negotiating the differences between protests and riots. Again, read the whole interview and series, but here’s a key section related to concern about rioting and lawlessness:
[Ed Stetzer] We both agree: Protests are good. Riots are not. Unpack that for us from your context.
Esau: There is a cycle of what happens. There’s a racial incident. African Americans protest. Some of those protests from people inside and outside the community turn violent. People say, “Hey, look at this. Why aren’t the Christians who are speaking out against the racial injustice equally strong speaking about the riots?”
There are couple of things that I want to say about that. First, there is no real question as to where Christians stand on riots. There isn’t a kind of evangelical pro-riot, black riot faction. Therefore, on one level there is not a need to condemn rioting as a form of social protest, because everybody’s clear about this.
The problem is that the very people who are mad at us for not being strong enough against riots are the same people who say systemic racism isn’t a problem. This only manifests the contradiction.
There is no question we are all opposed to riots. There seems to be a question as to whether or not Christians should speak out against systemic oppression.
There needs to be a public and robust statement that the followers of Jesus are on the side of those who are being unjustly treated.
The second thing that I want to say about that is that if you want to talk to someone who is behaving in a way that is counterproductive, the first thing you need to do is actually show some empathy. If the first thing you do is you come in and say, “Law and order, law and order, law and order,” you’re not understanding the deep sense of frustration.
A riot is the manifestation of hopelessness.
The first thing that I try to do, and you’ve seen many African American leaders do this, is to say, “I get it. You’re frustrated. It seems like these videos will never stop, and this has been going on for years.” Then, once you’ve established that you care, you can begin to push back on the riot themselves.
You can’t come to a community that you hate and then rebuke them for behaving in a way that you don’t find is appropriate. You didn’t care about them anyway.
The only people who have the social and moral standing to speak to a community of unrest is people who at least can begin to understand the cause of that unrest.
As a Christian, I believe that the means and the ends must be one. You can’t have a good end with an improper means. If the end is justice, for the Christian the means themselves have to be just. The Christians who are protesting against systemic oppression, at least those who are biblically faithful, are the ones who are saying, “Ultimately, even if I understand some of the frustration that is going on, these riots are not a Christian means of advocating for social change.”