What is going on in the streets of our nation?
In Seattle, protests against police violence sparked mob attacks that on a single day in July left 59 police officers injured. In Oakland, California, rioters wearing helmets and carrying shields attacked a police station and shot explosive fireworks at officers. For weeks in Portland, Oregon, Homeland Security officers have faced a battle every night as they guard the federal courthouse against vicious crowds armed with sledgehammers, blinding lasers and Molotov cocktails.
In Milwaukee, a black businessman named Bernell Trammell was executed outside his store where he had posted signs supporting Black Lives Matter as well as President Trump. Bystanders were killed by armed civilians at protests in Austin, Texas, and Aurora, Colorado. In the suburbs of Washington, D.C., protestors agitated by the federal officers in Portland got way too personal—going to the home of the director of Homeland Security to threaten him and his family.
In Minneapolis, the city where BGEA had its offices for decades and where George Floyd died in police custody, officials are considering dismantling the police department. Rioters inexplicably burned an apartment building that would have provided affordable housing for 190 families. That city reminds me of the Wild West—armed men are patrolling their own neighborhoods because law and order have broken down.
In cities across our land, courthouses, statues and even churches have been desecrated with crass and vulgar graffiti. One federal agent in Portland said the scene downtown reminds him of wartime Baghdad.
Protests are not inherently bad—our nation was founded on a protest, of course. I can understand why some of our citizens feel compelled to march in the streets and demand racial, political and economic justice. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Peaceably is the key word. A peaceable assembly should not be used as a cover for mad anarchists, looting gangs or organized agitators.
I think what we are seeing today is a problem with authority. The Bible warns us about those who “despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2 Peter 2:10).
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 13:1-6 that God expects us to be good citizens: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil.
“Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.”
Still, there are limits to the government’s authority. When the government tries to exceed the scope of its authority, we should say, as the apostles did, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Recently, in places like California, we have seen cases where politicians have tried to restrict how Christians worship. That’s unconstitutional. As good citizens, we should abide by recommendations to protect public health. But at the same time, we need to be on guard against some in government who would exploit this crisis as an excuse to infringe on the religious liberty guaranteed in the First Amendment.
What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis was horrifying, but we should not blame law enforcement personnel in general. Almost all of them genuinely seek “to protect and to serve.” Former Portland Police Chief Jami Resch put it this way: “How do we come together to stop the violence and destruction in our city so we can move forward to identify solutions that can work? How long can we, as a city, endure the extreme disregard for human life and property demonstrated by a small group of individuals? We have to collectively come together to stop those who are holding our city with violence. Every night, we are using all our resources and it is still not enough.”
We are at the mercy of a generation that seems to have no respect for God’s standards and no awareness of His redeeming love. One North Carolina policeman describes the streets as a spiritual battlefield. “We work where the devil plays,” he said.
If we are going to transform our cities, we need a new generation of godly leaders.
On the last Saturday of September, I’m planning to lead a prayer march along the National Mall Park in Washington, D.C. Our nation is at a crossroads, and as Christians we need to cry out to the Lord to heal our land. Thank you for standing with us in prayer.