David L. Goetsch
Riots Across America: A Scriptural Lesson on Self-Control (Proverbs 29:11)
Proverbs 29:11 states, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” We have seen both sides of this Proverb come to pass in cities across the United States recently. Peaceful protests and riots have occurred every day since the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a rogue police officer. In the aftermath of Floyd’s heartbreaking death, we have seen a lot of foolish behavior in the form of rioting, looting, arson, and other destructive behaviors. We have also seen wisdom displayed by people who conducted peaceful protests as a way to voice their concerns. The latter group includes the grieving family of George Floyd.
In the beginning, concerned citizens showed great wisdom in expressing their outrage at this travesty of justice through peaceful protests. Americans of all persuasions were united in rejecting what was done to George Floyd. As a result, they conducted themselves in a manner respectful of his memory and his family’s grief. But the voices of the wise were soon drowned out by dissidents, malcontents, and agitators who care nothing about George Floyd or his family. Rather, they saw his death as an opportunity to act out their own grievances against the world or indulge their criminal mindsets by attacking innocent people, engaging in arson, looting stores, and generally behaving in destructive ways. As a result, an opportunity for productive dialogue concerning what happened to George Floyd was lost. Instead, the coverage of his appalling death was quickly supplanted by more “newsworthy” scenes of violence, burning buildings, looted stores, and rampant destruction.
The Bible warns of the dangers that accompany the lack of self-control and personal restraint we are seeing in the recent riots. In spite of these warnings, self-control and restraint are often lacking in contemporary society. This is why such dreadful tragedies as road rage, workplace violence, school shootings, sideline rage, and violent riots have become so common in our country. All of these unfortunate manifestations of poor self-control are the result of people refusing to restrain their sinful nature. When this happens, people often behave in a manner that is destructive to themselves as well as others. This is what we are seeing now in cities throughout the United States.
In every city where violent riots have occurred, the perpetrators had a choice. They could have consciously chosen to exercise self-control, as those who protested peacefully did. Unfortunately, as news programs have shown in graphic detail, they didn’t. There are a lot of people who, if they feel like saying or doing something, barge right ahead with no thought for the consequences. They believe nothing matters but their personal feelings and nothing is more important than acting out those feelings. Add out-of-town agitators with an agenda to the mix and you have an explosive situation. This is what has happened in hundreds of cities across the country.
So how can wise, caring people in the cities in question regain control of the situation and put the focus back on George Floyd, his family, a rogue police officer, and the thousands of dedicated, responsible law-enforcement professionals who do their jobs every day with restraint, professionalism, and compassion? Is the answer to establish curfews, use more tear gas, call in the National Guard, or seek out the agitators and arrest them? All of these things may have to be done and may be appropriate in the short term, but they are only stop-gap measures. The only true and lasting solution to these periodic eruptions of destructive behavior is to apply what Scripture teaches about self-control and restraint.
By showing incredible self-control and restraint in the face of hatred, prejudice, and violence, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers changed the world. Because he had the wisdom to choose non-violent, peaceful protests as his principle strategy for overcoming a culture of hatred, prejudice, and violence against black Americans, Dr. King was able to garner the support of Christians and Jews for his cause. Not only do the rioters of today dishonor his legacy, they generate suspicion, resentment, and ambivalence toward what he fought for.
Race relations in America have improved since Dr. King’s day, but there is still much work to do. In fact, establishing and maintaining positive, productive relations among the races is and will always be an on-going challenge in a pluralistic society. As they did in Dr. King’s campaigns for civil rights, Christians like you and me have a key role to play in meeting this challenge. As individuals and groups, we can demonstrate what self-control and personal restraint look like in all situations. When agitators instigate riots, we can organize peaceful demonstrations. When agitators and their mindless minions tear down, we can help rebuild. When agitators and their followers destroy the lives of others, we can step in and love our neighbors as ourselves. The power of Christian love always trumps the evil of hatred. The effects of Christian love may not be as newsworthy as riots, but in the long run they are more powerful, productive, and lasting.
The riots that are occurring in cities across the United States are a tragedy, but for a Christian every tragedy is an opportunity to show others the face of Christ. Don’t fall into the trap of letting the riots discourage you. Instead, view them as an opportunity to apply the appropriate lessons from Scripture for others. Set a Christ-like example, pray, and know that in the long run God’s will is going to prevail.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veterans’ Lament: Is This the America Our Heroes Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press: www.david-goetsch.com