Portland Is Still Protesting. Where Is the Church?

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Christian leaders weigh when and how to engage in the city’s mounting clash over racial justice.

From rural towns to major metros, protests for black lives have swept the country in the wake of George Floyd’s horrific death at the hands of Minneapolis police. But none sustained the way they have in Portland, Oregon, which on Tuesday reached its 75th consecutive night of protests.

Even in a city known for its activist spirit and progressive politics, the recent protests over racial justice and policing represent unique circumstances.

Last month, after federal agents surrounded Portland’s downtown justice center, nightly protests intensified. As the hours grew later each evening, the front lines of the crowd pressed forward with walls of umbrellas and homemade shields, while the feds fired pepper balls and deployed teargas and rubber bullets to disperse protestors.

Every morning, the headlines chronicled the tit-for-tat violence, with national news featuring glimpses of the scene: speeches by Black Lives Matter activists, the festival-like atmosphere of volunteers handing out “Riot Ribs” and making art, and the “Wall of Moms” linked arm in arm to take the first round of teargas.

As the marches continue, local Christian leaders have weighed how or whether to get involved. Many care deeply about standing for black lives, yet the protests are complex and the goals and tactics of the participants vary widely.

The violence—stoked by a few—is real, but so is the dancing, music, kindness, and courage. Add in the concerns of some about the ideology of groups like Black Lives Matter and the moral ambiguity of joining a crowd of thousands to protest in the middle of a global pandemic, and many find themselves caught in a conundrum: How ought Christians fight for justice for the marginalized …

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