The Hope of the Christian in Times of Unrest
One weekend recently, I made the seemingly simple decision to go to a chain store to shop for a swimsuit.
"Oh, wait," my husband said, and pulled out his cell phone. "Okay, so you shouldn't go to the one on State Street, because that's where the protestors are tonight."
No problem. There's another one. I got in the car. My husband appeared at the door to the garage, holding up one finger while again looking at his phone. "Don't take North Main, either," he warned. "There was just a shooting there."
Good grief, I thought to myself. This is getting ridiculous. But I complied, made it to the store, parked, and started walking in.
That's when I realized I had forgotten my face mask, which was required at that point in Illinois in any circumstance in which social distancing wasn't possible—so pretty much everywhere indoors. I turned around with a grimace. The man behind me clearly had done the same thing, and swore loudly as he returned to his car.
I finally completed my errand and returned home, but the experience left my head spinning. "What is happening to this world?", I couldn't help but wonder.
Plagues & Riots Are Perennial
Plagues. Riots. Wars and rumors of wars. Violence. Unrest. Racism. Calls for dismantling the police. And the list goes on. It's the type of world wherein one feels afraid to raise children—perhaps that's one of the reasons why the United States' birthrate has fallen to historic lows.1
For the Christian, though, some historical perspective might be helpful here. As Peter Biles summarized in March on the Salvo blog,2 this is not the first time that the world has faced plagues. Plagues have riddled every age of human history, from the ancient era, to the Middle Ages, to the Renaissance, and right up through to modern times. Medicine has progressed so far in our day that we often forget that the human body is still susceptible to new, frightening, and unknown maladies, such as those unleashed with COVID-19 this year.
Social unrest as a response to injustice—real or perceived—is also a historical reality. The ancient Romans rioted at the assassination of Julius Caesar. In the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the English rioted at the imposition of a new poll tax. A group of American colonists dumped an estimated (modern-day) one million dollars' worth of tea into the Boston Harbor during the 1773 Boston Tea Party. More recently, there were race riots in Detroit in 1943 and again in 1967, the Rodney King riots of 1992, and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
In a 2015 TIME piece on American rioting, psychology professor Sherry Hamby wrote that "riots are not great solutions, but riots are usually caused by real injustices."3 Social unrest is often a response to injustice, and oftentimes it does bring about some degree of social change, though whether for good or ill is another question.
The Christian Path Forward
What are Christians to make of such times? How should Christian families respond? History has given us some good insight into what works. Historian Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity,4 writes that Christianity actually grew rapidly in times of plague, for a number of reasons. One of them is that Christians took care of the sick, whereas pagans refused to come into contact with them. And so, unsurprisingly, Christians had a better survival rate.
Moreover, Christian compassion made Christianity attractive to those who were suffering. Even in the midst of widespread chaos, Christian parents in the ancient world continued to eschew the practices of contraception and infanticide, both of which were widely practiced by the pagans all around them. Again, unsurprisingly, this led to better survival rates and the continued spread of Christianity.
Christians also have some clear directives from God's word regarding the way to treat our fellow man. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). We are also commanded to live at peace with one another: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18). We are to refrain from stealing, and hence also from destroying the property of others.
Interestingly, when it comes to racial injustice in particular, Stark writes that Christianity is actually the reason why slavery was eventually abolished in medieval Europe.5 In the nineteenth century, William Wilberforce and others were motivated by their Christian faith to work to abolish the African slave trade. Thus, treating people with the dignity and respect that they deserved as children of God eventually led to the abolition of an evil and inhumane practice.
Let such things be a lesson to us to live charitably, and to remember that these times, though awful, have had their like in the past, and will have it in the future, until our Lord returns. And let us also have hope—enough hope to continue to raise families.
Finally, let us remember the lessons that God's word and church history give us regarding how to best "love justice" in a way that builds up the Church. These lessons are timeless, and they will teach us the way forward even as modern-day events remind us of historical tragedies.
1. Sally C. Curtin and Paul D. Sutton, "Marriage Rates in the United States, 1900–2018," CDC National Center for Health Statistics Health E-Stats (April 2020): cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/marriage_rate_2018/marriage_rate_2018.pdf.
2. Peter Biles, "We've Done Plagues: Church History as a Guide to the Coronavirus," Salvo blog (March 24, 2020): https://salvomag.com/post/weve-done-plagues.
3. Sherry Hamby, quoted in "When Rioting Is the Answer," TIME (July 9, 2015), originally published at Zócalo Public Square, available at https://time.com/3951282/riot-violence-use-american-history.
4. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (HarperOne, 1997).
5. Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (Random House, 2005), p. 28.
is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #54, Fall 2020 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo54/always-burning