Another Protest, another Petition

I almost attended my first protest the other day. It was the morning of the day the Reproductive Health [Access to Terminations] Bill was debated in our Parliment's Lower House in Tasmania. A silent (anti-abortion) protest was organised for Parliment lawns for around midday. It was a Tuesday (16 April) and I was in my office at work just thinking about if and how I might attend, but I had a feeling of tension that I wrestled with. 

I wanted to attend; after all I care so much about this issue. I had already signed two petitions, had written to every Member of Parliment and sent a submission to Public Health, trying to encourage opposition and a vote againt this Bill. I had missed the first protest, and now there was a second. But in dilemma, I didn't really want to attend this protest - or to be more accurate, there was something else I really wanted to attend to, that I felt was even more crucial: another form of protest. It's also another form of petition. At that moment, feeling like most of us were - impelled to do whatever I can to try change the outcome of this day in Parliment - what I really wanted to do was rally all-together to send up a protest to... God!

Prayer is the Christian form of protest and petition. It is of course the Church's protest to God; when we pray, our petitions go before him. In the end, what I decided to do, with no other option that day that I believed would be more effective, was go on my usual mid-afternoon walk and present my prayers to God (albeit privately).

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with, or not good about, Christians getting behind appropriate protests and petition efforts. But what I did feel that day of debate in Parliement is what I think is so easy for us to forget in all forms of activism: there is something better, profoundly better, that we can all be doing to change the outcome of any day.

In all that we do as Christians, we need to ensure our actions are motivated by faith in him not faith in human effort, organisation and influence. And in all we do, we need to focus on responding in love for the world, not judgement of the world. And this will change the way we protest and petition publicly.
Firstly, of course, we need to be praying in the first place, before we do anything else. Prayer is the Christian's work as we respond to him in faith, and prayer works because he responds to our faith in him with his work! But if we really believe this, not only will we be changing the world by praying privately, we'll be praying publicly as well. As Christians we are always praying privately, but we pray publically often too. Our public meetings are examples of public prayer.

And when we do pray publically, we are in fact protesting and petitioning in a whole new way, in a distinctly Christian way. And therefore in a more effective way.

Prayer is more effective as a form of public protest and a form of petition, firstly of course because it is guaranteed to be heard by the law giver and highest authority himself. But not only that, it's more effective in an 'earthly' sense as well as a means of speaking to the world, albeit indirectly.

And that's because by praying publicly -- not to be 'seen by men' (cf Matthew 6) as a show of righteousness but certainly to be 'heard' by them as they listen in to our appeal to God -- we can sound a clear and intelligible note to the public that sends a better message to them and to the members of Parliament and the media than a 'silent protest'.

They need to be able to easily hear in our careful and thoughtful prayers both a compassion for the world and a respect for government; we are not against the government or against the world - we are for God and godliness and good and healthy society. 

But by praying rather than protesting, and audibly rather than silently, we can hold together both these things without separating truth from love, criticism from good works. 

For when we pray we are expressing both faith in God and works for men. We can protest God with a petition not just to change the law and the government, but also to change us ourselves and then from that, our society. We can stand not just publicly but spiritually too, standing not just before Parliament but primarily before God for him to change us all from the inward out, from our hearts to our minds to our works to our society.

I'll be the first to admit, I've got a pretty poor track record as far attending prayer meetings goes. Almost as bad as my track record for attending protests (not quite!) I think I need to lift my game, definitely, and these reflections have helped me to identify that. And also, they've helped me to clarify which form of activism I will be focusing my efforts on. I need to get with the destinctively Christian program of petition to the God whose agenda it is to hear our protests.

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