In my last post we looked at how dissent relates to Romans 13, checked out some of the legacy of dissent in the Bible, and how today’s meme-based, Facebook-bound efforts seem a little disappointing in comparison.
The modern trend of ‘social media dissent’ is a reflection of a world where dissent is becoming more and more popular. People seem angrier than ever with the way things are, and seem to be exploring more and more extreme avenues in order to realise some kind of change. It’s created something of a crisis, as protest movements claim power. Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Corbyn within the Labour Party, Trump in the States. Even the so-called Islamic State must be seen as the most twisted and perverse kind of protest movement. It is a statement of dissatisfaction, an attempt to create what its members would view as a better reality.
Why the political recap? Because I believe that what all of these people are looking for has already arrived. The Kingdom of God which forcefully advances and which forceful people lay hold of. As Christian artists who, following Francis Schaeffer’s imagery, aim to carry big, mysterious ideas down the staircase to the majority, our role at this point is more profound and important than it has ever been. It’s perhaps a little damning of the church that so many people are turning to completely unhinged methods of dissent. For too long we have betrayed the Kingdom by mingling too closely with the spheres of power, offering nothing different to the prevailing narrative other than the prospect of a personal conversion and individual holiness.
Jesus is the model Christian artist when it comes to the Kingdom of God. It’s very difficult to find an occassion where He tells you what His Kingdom looks like without incorporating a short story or some kind of visual artistic device. We can do this too. We need to present to people the beautiful, radical Kingdom to which we belong. I genuinely believe a lot of people are getting pretty sick of The World, but the alternatives they are turning to are terrible.
I really don’t want that last statement to be seen as unsympathetic towards these protesters. Supporters of Trump and members of Isis are seeking desperate measures because of difficult times and horrific environments. I also don’t want it to come across as a bourgeois call to moderation. This whole piece is about why I think dissent is important. Dissent is dangerous because it can lead to evil (if appealing) options. As members of the best, and ultimately only, alternative movement against the powers and principalities of this dark world, our responsibility to communicate that Kingdom to people is enormous.
This isn’t always smooth going, and sometimes bad things have to be broken in order for something better to be birthed. This isn’t all that comfortable, particularly if it comes into conflict with that earlier stuff about breaking the law. However, Jesus’ episode with the money changers in the temple seems to show us that on occasion the destruction of something bad and old is necessary to bring about something good and new. I think it’s more an exception to a ‘don’t break stuff’ rule rather than a justification for breaking things we think are bad, but it’s an important exception.
So, then, after three posts on this important topic, here are some of my conclusions:
- Submission is the most important part of dissent. Submission to the authorities, submission to the consequences of our actions, but most importantly submission to the Spirit as we seek to be part of God’s creative story.
- Within the church we should foster and encourage healthy dissent. The political dynamic of ancient Israel was to have Kings with power, and prophets who reminded them of their calling when they strayed from righteousness. One of my favourite protest figures, Benjamin Blower once told me that he didn’t want to rebel in a way which meant his children would rebel against him. This is spot on. We need to continually be open to dissent; not for dissent’s sake, that we might swing from one extreme to another, but that we would be continually reminded of our calling.
- The most profound way we can artistically advance the Kingdom against the forces of The World is to make things that are better. Kingdom art should be more beautiful than the world because the Kingdom is more beautiful than the world. ‘Be the most excellent’ is particularly patronising advice, but we don’t have to aim at provocative art. The excellence of the Kingdom, when compared with the World’s offering should surely be offensive enough.
And now, once again, over to you:
- How do we as Christian artists do dissent well?
- How do we most profoundly combat The World in our art?
- Do you know of any Christians who excellently practice dissent?
Luke Sewell is a one-time archaeologist interested in vegetables, history, photography and decolonising everything.