Protesting the Church

December 2, 2008 by

A couple weeks ago more than 1,000 people marched in front of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church to protest his support of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that banned gay marriage. I’m not interested in talking about Prop 8, gay marriage or Rick Warren (this is Church Marketing Sucks, not Church Politics Sucks). I want to talk about protesting the church.

When I heard that news report I had two contradictory reactions:

  • Churches should act in such a loving, honest and humble manner that no one ever wants to protest us.
  • Churches should act in such an outrageous, radical, counter-cultural manner than someone is always protesting us.

Of course life is more complicated than those kind of blanket statements. But I think there might be something to those reactions.

No Protesting
On one hand, as Christians we’re supposed to be full of love. Jesus had his share of detractors, but he engaged them and loved them. That doesn’t mean we roll over on our convictions, but it does mean we should find a way to disagree well. It means we have to find a way to truly love the people we disagree with. And that love should be disarming. If we can engage our critics with that kind of love and grace we should leave them with little reason to protest us.

Protesters outside your church are a sign than you’re not communicating or at the very least not connecting well enough. If you really love your enemies you should be able to reach those protesters.

Always Protesting
On the other hand, as Christians we’re told the world is going to hate us. No matter how much we love them, people aren’t going to understand, they’re going to get mad, and they’ll protest us. And if we’re taking a stand on the issues that truly matter, we’re going to make a few people mad (and if we really do it right, some of those people will be inside the church). Jesus certainly made people angry. And this shouldn’t be limited to the usual hot-button cultural issues (which really obscure my point). What if people were protesting your church because of all the homeless people hanging out? Or because you preached about Jesus dying for Osama Bin Laden?

Protesters outside your church are a sign that you’ve got convictions. You won’t be able to reach those protesters (they wouldn’t listen anyway), but that stand will send a powerful message to others who can be reached.

Let’s Get Real
It’s never that simple, but it is interesting to consider the ramifications of a protest outside your church and how you respond (either way). For a more practical approach and some lessons in public relations, check out the story of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and how controversial pastor Mark Driscoll defused a protest.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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6 Responses to “Protesting the Church”

  • Cyndi
    December 2, 2008

    You are so right about the two reactions and both are correct. We will have to be unpopular. It goes with following Christ We must love and love fiercely and better than anyone else. Finding how to do both is difficult but possible.

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  • Lindsey
    December 2, 2008

    Wow, what good points for both sides. There is such a need for balance and weighing out ever individual situation. Its tricky for sure but the best thing we can do is follow Gods guidence.

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  • Lex
    December 3, 2008

    I think the Church needs to get over people not liking us.
    I love CMS and church communications and church marketing and all that, but I think this is where the whole (movement? field? idea?) goes overboard. We get our church marketing hats on sometimes, and think a line of protesters means we’re doing something wrong.
    I realize this post didn’t take one position over the other, and I appreciate that both sides were presented. I just don’t think we need to get defensive when people protest. We need to turn the other cheek and just keep loving people, understanding that not everyone will get it.
    Jesus loved people better than any of us ever will and they crucified Him.

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  • Hal Thomas
    December 3, 2008

    Well said. My two cents: Christians with picket signs are never DISarming.

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  • SeanPdesign
    December 6, 2008

    Not to be nit picky and I know this post isn’t about debating Prop 8, and I’m not making a prop 8 debate, BUT you’ve misrepresented the purpose of prop 8, and misquoted its intent.
    Proposition 8 over turns a court decision that over turned a bill that voters passed in 2000 to DEFINE marriage as man/ woman. Your language is suspect to your position, and to truly be “fair” and neutral it would be best to represent the pro prop 8 people more accurately. Prop 8 was re-written by the California Attorney General.
    On another point, you should never base your convictions on what man might think, or how he will react. You might as well navigate a ship by which direction the wind is coming from. We must base everything we choose to stand for on what God’s word, Old testament and New, says. God is the North Star, of course we will fall short, however May God have grace on the one who looks to man to base his decisions and not to God’s word.

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  • e. barrett
    December 9, 2008

    I agree with your reaction. As Christians we walk this tension between grace and truth all the time. If we don’t walk that balance, we end up with everyone hating us or everyone liking us. And that’s clearly not what Jesus told us to expect.
    It’s a tough thing to do, and it’s easy to fail at. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to find that balance. Or as Noel Heikkinen calls it “walking the razor’s edge.”

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