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A day at the protests

Spending time with a confused mob united by hate

A day at the protests

Demonstrators march in downtown Philadelphia during Trump’s visit to the city on Jan. 26. (Matt Slocum/AP)

“We’re at the gallows sight, and it’s a beautiful day for a hanging!” (The Three Stooges, In the Sweet Pie and Pie, 1941).

The scene in a Saturday morning TV episode from my youth came to mind as we stepped onto the site of the Jan. 26 Philadelphia protests and inhaled the vapors of murderous dissent as President Donald Trump and GOP members of Congress met in our fair city. The Philadelphia Inquirer says, “Many in the crowd outside the hotel booed and shouted obscenities as the presidential motorcade arrived …,” but I can’t vouch for that personally, as our view was obstructed by sideways-parked dump trucks in intersections and metal fencing.

The protest was supposed to be over repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but not enough people had good things to say about the ACA, so other kinds of signs predominated. A sampling: “Trump Putin,” “No Sanctuary for Trump,” “Racial Economic Gender Justice,” “No One Is Illegal,” “It’s not a hoax, idiot,” “F—k Off,” “F—k White Supremacy,” and “Fascist Pig.”

These charges were so low in informational value that I remembered not Moe, Larry, and Curly but Bible verses: “… taking some of the wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, [and] set the city in an uproar” (Acts 17:5). “So the city was filled with confusion. … Most of them did not know why they had come together” (19:29, 32).

What deep mystery might band this vulgar street movement together and make its members thick as thieves?

I knew that in the papers the next day the crowd photo would look impressive on the front page, but up close it was like my first ever street-side view of the Mummers Parade on New Years Day, when you saw beyond the spectacle of colored plumage to the bloodshot eyes and liquored breath.

For lunch we walked a few blocks to the Reading Terminal Market, and standing in line for a bottle of water, I asked the woman next to me who was about my age and was raving to the guy frantically making her sandwich, “What is your issue?” “Justice,” she turned and said. 

Which struck me as if someone had titled his postgraduate dissertation something like “The History of Women.” I tried to hone in: “For example?” She answered, “We invite the immigrants in and then we exploit them.” “You mean the illegal immigrants?” “Yeah.” “We didn’t invite them; they clambered over concertina wire to get in here.” Then I thought I’d go straight to the nub: “Do you think illegal immigration is right?” “Yes,” she said proudly. The conversation petered off at that point because I don’t do well with illogic. 

Back at the table, I asked my companion why it is that you can pretty much predict, even without interviewing everyone, that all the people we were rubbing shoulders with in the movable hatefest around City Hall would be of identical opinion regarding a whole raft of causes that aren’t in themselves necessarily logically connected.

For example, one would not expect to find a protester who was mad about climate change, and building a wall, and voter registration, and LGBTQ exclusion—but who at the same time happened to be pro-life. And yet why not? For if you were to consider the separate issues from a purely rational standpoint, free of extraneous influences, you would expect that someone strident about protecting Antarctic ice floes would be as strident about not killing babies. Zeal for life is zeal for life, is it not? 

My companion and I considered hypotheses for what deep mystery might band this vulgar street movement together and make its members thick as thieves. We settled on this: If you have no God in your life, and therefore no meaning, you will seek to satisfy the innate thirst in you for transcendence by belonging to a Cause. You will crave admittance to an Inner Ring of kindred spirits.

Saving the world becomes your Religion. The heavenward shaken fist of the rebel crying, “Nobody tells me what to do!” makes that Religion dark. And what can emerge but the profanity on parade on Market and Broad Streets that we saw today? It is the great delusion from the father of lies.


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  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 05:00 am

    Bringing in Acts 17 and 19 is a prescient reminder. Thanks for these insights.

  • Rich277
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 06:37 am

    Looking at the picture, I see a woman holding a sign that reads, "I will not normalize hate."  How's that workin'?

  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 07:03 am

    It's usually easier to express passion for protecting the Antarctic ice flows than giving my neighbor a hand, especially when my neighbor has other priorities like wondering how he will get a ride to the hospital for his weekly chemo treatment. Isn't that Trump's job too?

  •  David Troup's picture
    David Troup
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 01:47 pm

    Depends on whether or not your a socialist.

  •  HeJets's picture
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 09:29 am

    I would add that all of the rage, hate, name calling and blind allegiance to, as Andrée wrote, issues they do not understand....all of that not only thwarts any chance of a logicical or principled dialogue, it also masks any legitimate grievances that arise.

  • lexrex
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 09:45 am

    The unifying factor in that protest was anger at Trump. All sorts of interest groups piggybacked their pet causes onto the core reason for the protest - which, ironically, escapes me at the moment. The LGQTXYZ factions actually have very little to protest regarding our new president but were all too happy to come out anyway. The crowds I observed were pretty well behaved but the scripture passage which came to my mind was Rom. 1:18-32 and, in retrospect, Ps. 2. It was all Babylon.

  •  David Troup's picture
    David Troup
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 01:55 pm

    To indicate the seriousness of this article, I really want to post it on my FB, but I have relatives I'm trying to maintain a relationship with who would immediately unfriend me, but I'm sure it can't be hate.  I think it's a Luke 12:51-53 kind of thing.

    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 05:19 pm

    Unless one can prove that all laws are right and good, then the protester who said that illegal immigration is right is not being illogical. The next time a Christian shows up at Reading Market to ask questions, let's hope they are filled with Christ-like humility so they may ask questions for the purpose of truly listening to an answer, not to mock the person in print later.

  • dawntreader
    Posted: Sun, 02/05/2017 11:25 am

    Psalm 52:3 comes to mind with S. Lewis' response. To misunderstand and misapply the meaning of the adjective "illegal" goes to the heart of the matter. Perhaps having a common definition of what is meant by "illegal" in a society where the necessity of laws to constrain evil are respected might help communication. But when a definition has been inverted, as S. Lewis in their response strongly implies, there is little chance of dialogue, and lots of room for judgemental presumption, as is evidenced by S. Lewis' last sentence.

  • passing through
    Posted: Sat, 02/04/2017 05:24 pm

    "Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?"  Jeremiah 8:9

  • Caminho
    Posted: Sun, 02/05/2017 07:56 am

    Concerning what binds all these matters together I think could similarly be asked of the Republican platform: Why should opposing gun laws and opposing abortions go together? I'm not saying there isn't any logical connection, just that they aren't really that united; yet I suspect you'd have a hard time at a Tea Party rally finding someone who didn't oppose both. Both parties have done a good job of having "their" position on a subject, and convincing people that they have to buy the whole package (if for no other reason, so as to not dilute the vote).

  • Jebby
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 12:50 pm

    There is a logical connection between gun control and being pro-life.  To argue that the Tea Party's ideas are just as fragmented as liberals is not realistic.  Our founding father's believed in a Creator God and wrote the documents that founded our nation as a direct result of that belief.  The resulting "natural law", which as they believed, were laws that were the direct result of having a God in heaven (through our knowledge of Him from the Bible), include the right of the people to defend themselves from an oppressive government (the 2nd amendment).  Those same beliefs would also result in a person believing in the sanctity of life as a result of being created in God's image.  I would argue that any person who believes what God says in the Bible would also support most things on the Republican Party platform.  But how the climate, LGBT,  and abortion are related is beyond me....

  • Caminho
    Posted: Sun, 02/05/2017 08:04 am

    Also, to label all their doing as "hatred" is a bit too strong. God speaks of his hatred for those who lie, deceive, and swindle the poor. Hatred of evil is not inherently wrong, and really can be a correct form of love; I cannot not say I love my neighbor if I do not hate the evil being done to him. Correctly or not, these folks genuinely believe Trump is evil incarnate, and has it out for the vulnerable. Indeed, this may be a great inroad into the gospel for them, if they can see how their hatred of oppression and evil is how God views them in an unregenerate state.

  • MTJanet
    Posted: Sun, 02/05/2017 02:47 pm

    I think the problem for us who have no desire to march is that we find their conduct rude and their desire for change via the approach they are taking inadequate.  I would like to know what percentage of these people even bothered to vote, and if they have ever written a letter to a senator or representative at the state or federal level.  All that aside, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority need to hear the gospel, as we all do, and that there may be an opportunity here (as someone already pointed out) to do so or at least we can be praying for that.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 12:36 am

    Thanks for this excellent observation of a major reality in the United State today.

  • KJACOB's picture
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 09:15 am

    I was looking to post this on fb but the date on the article says Feb 18, 2017?  I'm sure anyone who doesn't agree with this will simply disregard the message for one little typo and then tell everyone else to do the same ;)

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 10:57 am

    Feb. 18 is the issue date of the print magazine in which this article appears.

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 11:50 am

    Here is yet another article from Ms. Peterson in which she reports on an experience where she ventures out to ask questions of people she isn't interested in listening to so that she reach the conclusions she already held.

    These would be far more interesting if you found points of common agreement and then gave a carefully reasoned critique of your differences such that the person who was on the other side, whether they agreed or not, would at least see themselves fairly represented. Instead, we just hear that all THOSE people were a raving mob of hate mongerers who have no God in their life and are therefore inventing a reason for existence (political activism). Strangely, I happen to know some people from Ms. Peterson's denomination who were at that rally, but I guess she didn't talk to them.

    The fact is that these are complex times, and there are a host of very legitimate complaints against the new administration, just like there are a whole host of (yes, reasonable) defenses to be made of positions for and against issues like how to address dealing with illegal immigration. Don't make much of winning a battle against straw men.

  • Matt Y's picture
    Matt Y
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 05:15 pm

    I suggest that a lot of the explanation for why groups of people believe mostly the same things, and get really angry at the "other side", is found in crony beliefs and tribalism/outgroups.

  • E Cole
    Posted: Sat, 02/11/2017 12:34 am

     It might surprise people to know that there are quite a few pro-life feminists, and yes, many of us care about the environment and still feel like America can show mercy to those who desperately need it. There are many Christian women who despise the way Trump treats women and yet we still pray that God will use him for good. It is true that a lot of women are feeling angry and hurt, and most of us don't show our best selves when we are angry. I'm sad that so many of the protestors used vulgarity and profanity, and I wish the pro-abortion groups hadn't commanded so much attention. But maybe instead of labelling the entire group as godless, we could care about them as people and acknowledge that there is a lot of pain underneath the anger. It feels like we are desparately trying to condemn all opposition so we can feel better about the evangelical support Trump has received, despite scant evidence that he believes in God at all.  I'm afraid the church is completely losing its moral authority as it fawns over a man who has no respect for marriage or for women, and who brutalizes anyone who dares to criticize him. He has not changed who he is and I have heard of no repentance. He is elected so we pray for the best, but if the church insists upon being his defender I'm afraid we are going to end up a laughingstock.