In a recent article in The Christian Post, Pastor and Theologian John MacArthur warns that pro democracy protests in the Middle East are in violation of biblical commands. With nostalgia he asserts “I would have wished the American government, which has a history of Christianity, would have risen up and said 'this is wrong, this is forbidden for people to do this, this is intolerable". As an Egyptian American I was disturbed, saddened, and frustrated with this claim, but my main concern was as a believer.
This kind of proof texting at the expense of the rest of scripture is not only demeans the current struggle for justice, but distorts Scripture, and above all it casts doubt on all-powerful, just, and loving God. It is surely a dangerous path. A comprehensive reading of scripture would indicate that any (in)action that allows, encourages, or sustains oppression is the truly forbidden and intolerable act.
MacArthur’s reasoning seems to ignore the beautiful story unfolded in scripture of God ultimately redeeming all things unto himself - sometimes in the face of corrupt and oppressive political authority. Scripture commands us to submit to authority for it is God who has established leadership. However, Scripture demands that we “learn to do right. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows." Isaiah 1:17.
There are hundreds of passages that resound with similar commands urging Gods children to defend the oppressed - not persecute them. Great heroes of the faith like Moses, Mordecai, Joseph, Isaiah, and even our beloved savior Jesus defied political authority for the sake of Gods Kingdom. Scripture unequivocally commands us to stand for righteousness, justice, and to side with the weak - and by example shows us that this stand is sometimes in opposition to political authority. Scriptures intolerance is for those who exploit the weak and powerfulness, not those who stand with them.
We don’t need to look that far into history to see where God used the Church’s defiance of political authority for His Kingdom. What would our world look like if MacArthur'[s reading of Scripture ruled the day during the civil rights movement, the fight to end child labor, and the end of the transatlantic slave trade? Each of these social movements, strongly rooted in the church, used tactics that MacArthur calls forbidden, wrong, and intolerable. Only a reading of scripture rooted in power and privilege could call these social movements unbiblical. I believe the same applies to the pro democracy uprisings in the Middle East, no matter the outcome.
Not every struggle for justice ends in success. MacArthur opposes the protests in part because they will not succeed in their securing freedom and justice: “This is another form of bondage. They’re going to end up in another form of bondage; they’re going to end up the same, sinful, corrupt, unsatisfied, unfulfilled people taking their same anxieties in a different direction. So it’s not a solution to anything." However, we do not stand for justice only if it “wins” but no matter the outcome. As followers of Christ we must stand on the side of the oppressed, and trust in a good and sovereign God no matter the outcome. Let us not limit God and His plan for redemption in our world - who knows, He might even use Muslims to accomplish His will on earth.
As the church in the United States, I hope we go beyond simple proof texts that allow us to sit back in comfort and security and condemn those who peacefully desire the same. May we have the courage to stand with the oppressed in the Middle East and surround them with our fervent prayers and support. May we also use this as an opportunity to proclaim a just and righteous God who grieves at oppression and the abuse of political power; a God who every day is reconciling the world to himself; a God that loved the world so much he gave His Son that we might be saved.