The violent protests in San Jose, after the Trump rally here, have been national news in the last few days. A lot of people are debating about who started it, and who is to blame. Some people are pointing the finger at the police who were unable to prevent the protesters from hurting folks, and some are calling on Hillary and Bernie to exhort their followers to take a less violent route to changing politics. Others are blaming Trump for coming to San Jose. After all, if he hadn’t been there, no one would have had the temptation to go out and teach the “hate-bringers” a lesson.
But maybe the debate so far misses what was really happening there. When you see riots in the streets and violence in front of your very eyes, you start asking yourself – What does this all mean? What sense can we make out of all this pain and chaos?
I was at the rally to see for myself what Trump had to say – not as a fan of his, but as an open-minded individual who wanted to investigate what Trump and his supporters are all about in their own words. The rally was politically interesting, but it wasn’t until after we were leaving the rally that things got crazy. And what I saw surprised me and tugged on my heart strings.
Here’s how it went down:
As I walked out of the Trump rally, I expected nothing more than a couple blocks of exercise on the way to our car. You see, on the way in, we had passed a smallish group of protesters outside. They held signs such as “Hate breeds Hate” and chanted that slogan for a while. They weren’t being at all disruptive, and so, hours later when I walked out of the rally I expected to see a smaller subset of that group, perhaps folding up their signs to go home. What I experienced was completely different.
As my friends, my toddler, and I walked toward the street, past a line of police officers (stationed there for our protection), I gave a couple of them high-fives and thanked them! In this Spirit of love, then, I walked onto the scene of protesters – there were now hundreds of them, and the air was thick with tension. A lady was leaning out of a stopped car waving a Mexican flag proudly and screaming at us: “F*** you guys! F*** you all!! F*** you the f*** up!”
It was obvious to me that yelling back would only allow the spirit of hatred to be contagious and spreading. And I hoped instead for the more powerful Spirit (of love) to spread among the crowd. So when I responded to her, reaching out toward her, and loudly replied (with great positivity in my voice), “I hope that you find the love of Christ!” 😀
No one just wakes up one morning and decides that they want to be a hateful person. People become hateful when there’s nothing else they have left. It’s the pain left from not feeling love/loved. (God is Love – the lack of love and being loved is the pain left from not having God, and being around people who treat you without love, which happens to us all in this broken world.)
Would I want debate politics with aggressive Liberal protesters? Well, I wouldn’t really be mainly worried about their politics at some point. When I heard her cussing us out, I did not primary think to myself, “What this gal needs is some better politics! If she just knew why country borders and free market economics made sense, then she wouldn’t be aggressive!” No, because I have seen people who agree with me politically, and still live a life of pain and aggression.
Once we had turned down the next block (still just on the way to our car), then it came into view that there were now hundreds of angry protesters, worked up after discussing among themselves the evils of Trump and his supporters – there were signs everywhere, there was yelling and taunting, and the air was thick with tension. Protesters everywhere were pumped with adrenaline, and you could tell that the smallest thing would set them off; I saw one guy who paused to answer calmly to the objection that a short-haired lady protestor had yelled out, and she started freaking out and telling him to back off, go away, leave her alone. She was scared, and in her eyes I saw that she was a person who was carrying a lot of pain. If you look at these people and really see them, you find yourself feeling compassion toward them.
As I walked further down the road, next a guy chasing down another guy to start beating him up. If I hadn’t been holding a toddler, or a mob hadn’t so quickly formed around the two, I would have jumped right in there between them to protect the man about to get hurt. (It turns out that he was a Bernie supporter, and got hit several times by other Bernie supporters who thought he was a Trump supporter, and thus they stopped after realizing they were all on the same team.) Rioters started taking over the streets, cars were attacked and damaged – there was so much hate there, such a thick atmosphere of dark spirits at work in these people. Many more people were spit on, their stuff stolen, their cars kicked, eggs and bottles thrown at people, and several others were punched or cold-cocked. The victimization was real. The attackers had no compassion for the people they were hurting. And the chanting about hate breeding hate became a rally cry of vengeance, meaning: “You guys are threatening and hurting us, so you can’t complain if people attack back!”
This is where the way of the cross is different.
If it’s “an eye for an eye,” then the whole world ends up blinded. It’s an unsustainable strategy.
In this world, people will hurt you, people will harm you, and you will be wounded or forced by people who don’t care. This is true. Fleshly logic is to hit back, to taunt back, and to teach those guys a lesson. The way of the cross was when Jesus took the pain, absorbed it, and didn’t hold it against us or make us pay. To forgive, to give back good for evil: that’s the alternative way of responding.
Violent people go home at night and they have emptiness on the inside. Those who treat others like crap operate on the belief that sinners are worthless people who should be treated like crap, and then they spend their lives hiding in pride from their own sin, to avoid the logic of their own position that THEY might be a worthless person who should be treated like crap. These are people who come from broken homes, who have controlling or absent fathers, who have gotten picked on and mocked at school – they have anger, they have pain, they have fear, and they look for people to blame it on.
These people wouldn’t be using intimidation to stop Trump supporters if they weren’t scared of what will happen if he is elected. Some of them have family who are illegal immigrants. Some of them are poor and think that socialism (getting provision by force) is the only way they will be able to make it in life. Some of these people are sick of the hatred they have been around their whole lives, and they see Trump as the symbol of hatred and racism, and so they attack (as though they can use hate to get rid of hate). They are wrong about who or what is causing their pain, but their pain is real.
No fire of hate burns without the fuel of real pain, real loss, and real fear. People satisfied in life don’t go out looking to taunt or beat up someone. Not having Christ hurts (see also: not having Love hurts), and it’s the walking wounded who go out and hurt others. The truth is, in this world of pain and darkness, we have the Comforter, and they don’t.
As Christians, we can forget what it’s like to live in darkness, to be separated from God, not feeling loved or cared for, without any peace or joy to tap into. We know from James that when the tongue is a world of fire (verbally abusive speech), it is set on fire by hell. That is, while we on earth in the Spirit experience some of Heaven and the presence of God, most other people in the world are already experiencing hell on the inside, and living in that hell drives people to do the things that we condemn most – violence, abuse, stealing, using force, lust, control, murder. Using others, controlling others, needing threats and violence to keep people in line to keep giving us what we “need” just to survive and get through the day without falling to pieces. That’s the life one has without God, and it’s no picnic.
Liberals vote for government redistribution of wealth (welfare, free health care, free college, socialism) because they have needs and know people in need, and have given up on people out of voluntary love helping them out. So they turn to force – to government taking from the “haves” to give to them the “have nots.” These are people who already believe the lie that no one cares about them or their needs, and the only way to survive is to take what they need by force. And the Republicans are getting in the way of that use of government force, standing (in their mind) between them and what they need.
In this setting, I believe, is the best application of Christ’s saying: “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” In this context, you have people who are poor and needy (maybe physically poor, but definitely poor in feeling love from or for others, relying on force to provide their needs), and just when they start to depend on forcibly taking, then love gives even more. The gift is not the just the physical goods of the cloak or the extra labor, the GIFT is that they can see that you actually do love them.
In the world, there are the Haves and the Have-nots. Even billionaires can be the Have-nots if they do not have Christ, and live in darkness, emptiness, misery, and rely on using others for validation and using things to try to fill up that hole when people let them down. And among the vast throng of haters at the rally, I saw the Have-nots. They need, and they demand, and they are right – they don’t even have enough to survive on, because they don’t have God. They don’t know there is Someone who will provide for their every need if they ask, for they think No One Cares and they are afraid of the future they will have if they don’t use force and intimidation to take what they need.
When Christ looks down and sees a violent group of political protesters, what does He see? I don’t know, but as I walk in His Spirit of love, I wish to see those people through His eyes. God cares about the people who got hurt – those are people He loves. The Lord also cares about the hurting people who hurt people.
We need to hear their pain, hear their demands, and provide what they really need, what would satisfy their hearts – the gospel of the love of God in the Lord Jesus, so they will be born again and have the Spirit filling their cup to overflowing with love, joy, and peace.