Today, Friday, August 18, 2017, South Main in Durham, NC, is closed to traffic. Civil employees have been sent home. Some banks and many businesses in the downtown area have closed early. And a group of people have gathered on the Courthouse lawn. All this because of the possibility that a group of White Supremacists would march there at noon today. That hasn’t happened yet and now the news is they will march at 4pm. The official news from City Hall is that no permit was obtained by anyone to march today, though as we saw Monday night, passionate people will show up without permits.
Many have called the Council offices today to ask what we are planning to do, how they can help, and how they should respond? It is an age-old question: What should Christians do in the face of violence – verbal and physical? The answer is the same today as the first time Jesus answered it for us: “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). For those trained in nonviolent resistance and who regularly train to keep these skills sharp, you might consider going downtown. But when we are physically threatened or verbally insulted our instinct is to revert to our base tendencies–we react violently. Not to do so requires practice and discipline that far exceeds the training provided to carry a concealed weapon in North Carolina. Think about that before you go downtown and ask yourself if you have been adequately prepared to meet violence with nonviolence.
Such a response is crucial in these tinderbox days, lest we find ourselves “fighting fire with fire.” Who really wins when counter-protesters shout louder than protesters? It’s still a protest, a shouting match (hopefully not physical), and a violent engagement. Followers of Christ are called to have a different response, a more creative response than simply using bigger sticks or louder megaphones than our antagonists. Until we have mastered the tactics of nonviolence, we should gather in our sanctuaries (safe places) where we can pray and practice together becoming more like Christ, the One who did not shy from violence or fail to defend those in harm’s way, but who never resorted to violence, even when they came out “with swords and clubs” to arrest him.