In Defense of Riots

Luca Giordano – Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple

When thinking about riots there are two primary faith stories that come to mind.

The first is Jesus in the temple, outraged at the exploitation happening at the hands of the religious and governmental authorities. His anger motivates him to turn over tables and turn a rope into a whip.

The second is an older story, that of Samson, who after being unjustly imprisoned tears down the temple killing himself alongside the spectators.

While violence is not necessary a “solution,” our faith traditions teach us that when the systems that are supposed to support and sustain us continue to deny voice, humanity, and any hope of change … those systems must crumble.

As a white woman, I cannot imagine the daily violence and stress this world places on the shoulders of people of color. What I do know is that my tradition teaches me that there is a place for riots. And if I had to guess, Jesus would be on the streets, crying out for change, and turning over tables.

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Riots

  1. I don’t think I see the justification for violence – Jesus was turning over tables in the temple because they were selling in his house. I find it difficult to believe that Jesus would think burning down another innocent man’s house/business was a legitimate way to protest.

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  2. What you say is true, Natalie, but violence against anyone is not acceptable, nor is destruction of property and looting. The latter two are used as an excuse to feel free to do just that. They’re not protesting police brutality by some renegade cops who have deliberately killed innocent people like George Floyd and other African American men. They’re dishonoring Floyd’s life by doing this presently. I feel you should have expressed yourself more carefully. Violence against another does not beget violence. Look to Martin Luther King Jr as an example of insisting on peaceful protesting. He’s the example we should all embrace and condemn the violence that is currently occuring.
    Peace be with you, Natalie
    Joanna Chmielinski
    St. John’s Episcopal Church, Hingham, MA

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    • Hi Joanna, good to hear from you, even in these circumstances. I sent a reply using the back end of my wordpress site but it’s not appearing here – so I’ll write again here and if you’ve already read it, please forgive me.

      I think that we understand the role of the police in this situation differently. While there may have only been a group of people who murdered George Floyd, the police force as an institution has been maintaining the oppression of black indigenous people of color since the dawn of our country. I say that married to someone who works in public safety! I don’t think everyone in law enforcement is “bad” but the institutions themselves are far from innocent and I think it’s especially important that right now we empathize with the collective experience of black people.

      In terms of violence, there are a lot of scriptural stories (Samson, Joshua, Moses) that include rage at oppression. And, in terms of Jesus in the temple presumably, everyone who was in the temple lost their merchandise that day, meaning they were hurt financially and perhaps their children suffered too. I think it’s a little clean cut to say that no one was hurt in the temple.

      Finally about Dr. King, I found this post by Austin Channing Brown particularly helpful on facebook. I linked it below. While I cannot argue with the fact that he preached non-violence, I see his work as part of a tapestry of many people who were taking different actions. And, though he didn’t join in violence, he empathized with those who acted out their rage differently than him and reminded us that the source of the riot was result of injustice.

      https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=3005490502878844&set=a.726423080785609

      Also, this work of discerning God’s voice in such situations is something best done in relationship with one another and I’d be very happy to connect over the phone if you’d like that – you can email me at nefinstad@gmail.com and we can find a time.

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