Much of the world has witnessed riots, demonstrations, and protest marches this year. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which originated in the United States as a protest against perceived greed and economic inequality, has now gone worldwide. And regardless of political affiliation, thoughtful people everywhere yearn to make a difference, to secure freedoms, and to see the standard of living improve for everyone. One protester said, “These protests are already making a difference. The dialogue is now happening all over the world” (Reuters, New York, October 15, 2011).
Have you ever thought of prayer—a spiritual response to world events—as a form of protest? After all, the word protest means not only to be against something, but also to stand for something. Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines protest as both “to state positively; affirm solemnly” and “to make objection to; speak strongly against.”
The prayer of protest is an effective spiritual response to troubling situations.
While public protests can often make a difference in heralding change, the danger is that the strength of the objection and choice of words can become inflammatory and incite violence. We see a vivid illustration of this in the life of Christ Jesus. Just days before his crucifixion, he was the focus of a positive street demonstration as he entered Jerusalem. Adoring crowds, lining his route with palm branches, shouted, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). However, only a few days later, the mood changed. Stirred up by the chief priests, who were opposed to Jesus’ growing popularity, the crowd turned violent and shouted “crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:21).
Amid the turbulence of the crowd and the imminent crucifixion, Jesus turned away from the human scene to prayer that protested for his own and his followers’ unity with God. He prayed, “I have given them the glory you gave me—the glorious unity of being one, as we are—I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one” (John 17:22, 23, The Living Bible). He turned away from turmoil to the glory and reality of his oneness with God, forever sheltered in his Father’s care. Days later, Jesus’ resurrection proved that man’s oneness with God overcomes betrayal and greed (his own disciple betrayed him for money), and that unity with Love triumphs over hate and injustice.
Mary Baker Eddy explained that Jesus’ prayers “were deep and conscientious protests of Truth,—of man’s likeness to God and of man’s unity with Truth and Love” (Science and Health, p. 12). Whether we’re marching on a city street or sitting in our living rooms, the prayer of protest is an effective spiritual response to troubling situations. It is neither passive nor inactive. It does not ignore the ills of the world, but mentally protests against them as being unlike God. And, at the same time, prayer conscientiously protests for, or affirms, each individual’s identity as God’s image, inseparable from His eternal blessings (see Gen. 1:26–28).
Prayer is as effective a form of protest today as in Jesus’ time. During the recent tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I was invited to join others around the world in a 24/7 prayer watch for the protection of New York City, which was on a high terrorist alert at the time. There was also concern that a planned protest near Ground Zero could turn negative and endanger people’s safety at the day’s memorial events. As I joined others in prayer, I turned away from apprehension to gratitude that prayer can replace fear of discord and disruption with confidence, peace, and security. The protest did take place, but it was not as large as expected, and it proceeded peacefully and respectfully. Protesters gave a voice to their cause as planned, and at the same time, were included in the safety and harmony of the day.
Man’s likeness as God’s image, unites us with the infinite Truth that reveals solutions that correct what is wrong in society or individual lives and establish what is right. It unites us with the divine Love that illumines and leads the way to fair and equitable answers to difficult situations. It enables us to trust the Scriptural promise that “for all who are mistreated, the Lord brings justice” (Ps. 103:6, Contemporary English Version).
Margaret "Midge" Campbell is a Christian Science practitioner. She lives in Madison, New Jersey.