Protests and riots

Pastor Matthew Best
4 min readJun 3, 2020

The last few days has me thinking about protests and riots. These terms get used a lot. We use them without thinking about how they are defined.

We make assumptions about these terms. Protests are generally viewed in a more positive manner than a riot. Protests are assumed to not include violence or destruction of property. Riots are assumed to be chaotic and destructive.

Protests are thought of as a group of citizens marching or gathering, holding signs, maybe hearing speeches and possibly chanting something. The idea is to voice ideas about a situation/injustice/event/etc to those who are influencers and decision makers — it is a way to bring about change. Protests have been successful in the past, which is why they are still used. But not all protests work.

Riots are thought of as an unorganized collective of individuals who have turned off their intellectual thinking abilities and are expressing rage — riots are ways of lashing out at anything and anyone that gets in the way. Riots involve people with masks covering their faces to prevent being identified — those that have intent on doing something illegal or destructive or deadly hide their faces so they can’t be identified. Riots work from the stand point of reaching a specific goal — to cause damage and destruction. In some cases the damage is about physical property. In other cases the target of the damage is less concrete — institutions, ways of being, rights, forms of governance, etc.

How we use these terms is important. What I have watched in recent days is the interchange of these words depending on who is covering a protest/riot.

Protests and riots may not seem to have much in common — but they do actually. There is a thin line between a protest becoming a riot. Some protests are pushed over that line intentionally. Others just happen to go that way on their own.

Regardless, protests and riots have me thinking about a more theological idea. Christianity has been in the business of proclaiming a few key foundational ideas. One is summed up in three words — life, death, and resurrection. In most circumstances when these three words are proclaimed together, they don’t get much of a response, even within a church. It’s church-talk really. We know what these terms mean without really defining them, much like we do with protest and riot. And like these other terms we make assumptions about life, death, and resurrection. I wonder how accurate those assumptions are though.

Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.