Spiritual roots of protest

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Catholic News Service

Hordes of protesters have flooded the streets over burning concerns crying to be addressed. Will racism continue to divide society? Will those protecting law and order become more neighborly with those they protect? Will African Americans and Hispanics continue to die from COVID-19 at a higher rate?

Will the realization that immigrants enrich our country grow? Will access to healthcare increase for all? Will the less advantaged receive more opportunities for an education? Will the rich share their wealth more generously with the destitute? Will the word "politician" connote humble selfless service and wisdom? Will the media strike a better balance between inspirational news and the provocative and sensational?

Creating a forum on issues like the ones above is one of the positive results of a protest march. When conducted with dignity, protests contain powerful means for the governed and those who govern to live true democracy.

To be effective, reasonable expectations are needed for protests to succeed. Jim Forest, in his memoir, "Writing Straight With Crooked Lines," reflected on a three-day retreat given by Thomas Merton on the spiritual roots of protest.

Forest wrote: "Merton forced us to consider that protest, if it is to have any hope of constructive impact on others, has to be undertaken not only for good reason but with great care for those who feel accused and judged by acts of protest.

"What is needed, Merton argued, was genuine sympathy and compassion for those who don't understand or who object to one's protest, who feel threatened and angered by it, who even regard the protester as a traitor.

"After all, what protest at its best aims at is not just to make a dissenting noise but to help others think freshly about our social order and the self-destructive direction in which we are going. The protester needs to remember that no one is converted by anger, self-righteousness, contempt or hatred. ...

"If it is to be transformative, protest needs to be animated by love, not love in the sentimental sense but in the sober biblical sense of the word. Hence, Christ's insistence on love of enemies."

People bending their knees during the marches was touching. It would be equally touching if it caused everyone to bend a knee to God.

Father Eugene Hemrick writes “The Human Side” for Catholic News Service.