A lesson on Capitol Hill: Destroyers, deliverers, and the fine art of protest

Wallace Henley, former Senior Associate Pastor of 2nd Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.
Wallace Henley, former Senior Associate Pastor of 2nd Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. | Photo by Scott Belin

I can still see the disappointment in the eyes of two young people who sat before me in the Capitol Hill office of then-Senator Lloyd Benson on a May afternoon in 1971.

The University of Texas students had come to Washington to help shut down the federal government to halt the Vietnam war. But they became disillusioned when they heard the brutal strategies proposed by the protest leaders.

The dream of the two students from Austin had perished in the rallies and backroom strategy sessions planning the details of the protests set for May 1,1971.

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They had come to Washington to stand for principle, only to discover that the leaders of their movement seemed only to want destruction.

What the young man and woman heard alarmed them. They had tried to argue against the planned violence but had been ignored. They decided to reveal their concerns to one of their Texas senators, Lloyd Benson.

Alarmed, Benson’s staff then contacted the U.S. Department of Justice’s Internal Security Division, to which I had been detailed from the White House. Bob Mardian, assistant attorney general for internal security, dispatched me to Senator Benson’s office.

The young man and woman said they had come to Washington to, among other things, protest the napalming of Vietnamese villages, only to learn that protest planners were renting big trucks to load with drums of oil that that they would set ablaze in Washington’s traffic circles during rush hour, and incinerate people going home after a workday in the despised institutions of government.

The Texas students said the protest planners also spoke of gathering boulders and sending them crashing down the slopes of the George Washington Parkway also at rush hour, aiming to crush drivers and passengers.

Ironically, all this planning was going on in the campgrounds the federal government had allowed the protestors to occupy while they rallied their minions.

“We’re the only government I know that gives free camping space to people who’ve come to town to overthrow us,” I quipped. The young couple from Texas failed to see the humor.

The two students’ alert got all the way to President Nixon. He acted quickly to mobilize troops. On Mayday morning soldiers were positioned eight feet apart along all the bridges leading into Washington, and throughout the city itself.

A routine drive into Washington across the Potomac bridges that I took every day was transformed from dullness into a surreal experience.

Meanwhile, the protests went on mostly without violence.

But those two students were unwittingly exposed to the shocking truth that in every generation there arise destroyers and deliverers. One must carefully discern which side to follow: “the angel of the abyss” (Revelation 9:11) or the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Peace.

In every generation there arises the destroyer spirit whose aim is the obliteration of the City of God which is the expression of His Kingdom, and the highest form of civilization.  In the words of Isaiah, the destroyers will try to cause the earth to “tremble,” kingdoms to shake, the world to become a “wilderness,” and the “cities” intended to be refuges of order and security, demolished. (Isaiah 14)

The Destroyer-Deliverer motif repeats in our day—along with the confusion concerning the nature and motives of leaders and their causes asking our allegiance, 

Cultural commentator Alexander Zubatov cited factors now contributing to the growth of increasingly anarchic support for socialism among young people in the West. At the top of Zubatov’s list is “ignorance of history.”

When youths today “think socialism, they don’t think Stalin; they think Scandinavia,” he says. A major factor in this ignorance is the “ideological monoculture” in many of today’s institutions of higher learning. “The supporters of socialism are not simply the young, but they’re disproportionately young people who are college educated,” writes Zubatov.[1]

Destroyers thunder through civilizations like the proverbial bull in a china closet, shattering, scattering, demolishing everything in sight. Deliverers, the best civil leaders, grasp the deeper implications and importance of civilization, and become strengtheners of positive values and principles. They govern with a sense of stewardship.

That stewardship was given pre-fall humanity in the Garden of Eden, when God authorized Adam and Eve to be “fruitful and multiply ... Fill the earth and govern it.” (Genesis 1:28 NLT) God’s image-bearers were to be custodians of civilization.

The Texas students I talked with that day in 1971 had a rude awakening: they had actually signed on with the destroyers who pretended to be deliverers.

I think now also of the protest movement that Dr. Martin Luther King led in my native Birmingham, and the many articles I and other reporters wrote about it. His was a protest of deliverance. Dr. King urged peaceful demonstration, not destruction, even as the destroyers were bombing and unleashing police dogs.

Dr. King understood that the art of protest requires great discernment, otherwise it can harm those who deserve it the least.

The destroyers assaulting our society now could learn much from him, and the Lord he proclaimed.


Wallace B. Henley’s fifty-year career has spanned newspaper journalism, government in both White House and Congress, the church, and academia. He is author or co-author of more than 20 books. He is a teaching pastor at Grace Church, the Woodlands, Texas.

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