My first personal encounter with protesters occurred in 1971 when I was a proofreader at an advertising business in California. It wasn’t one of those glamorous places depicted in Mad Men. It was a “mom and pop” operation in the industrial section of town and turned out the ads for a major drug store chain, a couple of department stores, and a whole slew of grocery stores. The twelve of us in the art department worked in the basement. I learned the difference between “catsup” and “ketchup” and I had a reputation as the person who would catch your mistakes before they reached publication and embarrassed you. The artists either loved or hated me depending on how much effort they had put into the work I asked them to change. Keep in mind that most of it was done by hand, in ink.
Mom and Pop, mostly Pop, had some financial and anger problems. Turned out later that while Pop was buying Cadillacs and airplanes and hiring all his children and yelling at customers the business was going downhill fast…- something we didn’t know until one day when our paychecks were refused by the bank. But that’s the end of the story and my point is in the middle. There was some sort of problem with the printing side of the business and the printers went on strike. They paced outside the building and held up signs and chanted. What shocked me was that when I arrived for work each day they yelled at me and called me names! What had I done? I had kids to support! I needed the job! I didn’t care about their problems with the union or whatever…they were already making three times as much money as I was!
My next experience was even more painful. I was driving downtown several years later and the driver behind me was so preoccupied by some people protesting a local store that he rammed his car into mine! He not only damaged my vehicle, but injured my faith in my fellow human beings by giving me a phony name and insurance information. Thank goodness I wasn’t physically hurt!
I immediately thought about those two experiences when I saw the Occupy protesters disrupt a wedding in Chicago. It seems that no matter what the issue or who is involved in protesting it, innocent people are affected in ways that can’t be predicted. And the more people who band together in a cause, the more likely it is that violence will erupt. People have a deep-seated “group mentality” that emerges and it’s not always a good thing.
We have the right in our country to protest anything and everything. I have added my “two cents” to many causes and issues and topics over the years. I do so now with some degree of confidence that no one will come to my door and arrest me. But something has changed dramatically in my lifetime. Most of my protests were about things that affected me personally, things that were going on in my community. There have always been a few national issues to argue about, but for the most part they had to be very, very important to make it to my local news broadcast or newspaper. Now anything and everything that happens anywhere vies for my attention on my computer.
It intrigues me to see how social media and the internet are encouraging us to protest things that might not otherwise even come to our attention, and then the same medium gives us the power to increase the impact of our individual objection by joining with others. That prompts me to ask several vital questions: What do we choose to do with that power? What do we protest? How much do we participate in group protests? How do we know we are doing the right thing? Where do we draw the line?
And it is the line that concerns me. There is a point at which my rights cross over and trample yours. I care about that. I contemplate that. I worry about that.
Yesterday a Facebook status alerted me to an issue that I wasn’t even aware WAS an issue. Apparently the new JCP catalog features a gay couple from Dallas as part of their Father’s Day sales campaign. The photo shows the couple playing with their two children. And a quick internet search informed me that the same concerns were expressed over a photo in their Mother’s Day catalog. Well, I didn’t look at either! I immediately threw both catalogs in the trash because I simply HATE the format of the new catalogs. I think they are a waste of paper and if I need something I know how to find it on the website or in the store. That’s my protest! So, if it had not been for FB I would not even have known about the controversy.
Some lifelong customers are cutting up their cards. Others are complaining to their local store managers. Many are sending hate mail to the gay couple. Others are nicknaming the company “Gay C. Penney”. The group protesting the most about the ads says that JCP is “promoting sin in their advertisements”. Whoa!! Do we really want to go there?
Let me remind you that this old woman will not be watching America’s Got Talent this year because of the addition of Howard Stern to the show. So I probably share some of the group’s ideas about sin. But in our complicated world one must be careful of overly generalized statements such as theirs. If we are actually going to protest and retaliate against any major company or organization “promoting sin” we’d better be prepared to start pulling away from society and living a much simpler life!
We could start with abstaining from watching any movies or television shows because most major companies in the entertainment industry either openly promote sin or employ actors and actresses who are living sinful lives. And if we use that logic as the basis of our protest then we’d better include the music industry as well. How about the local casino? Or the convenience store that sells beer? It’s a slippery slope.
Someone on FB made the comment that while other retailers might also use gay and lesbian models, they were not as “in your face” about it as JCP. Does that mean we can condone sin as long as it remains hidden? We can ignore the questionable lifestyle of someone as long as they don’t make a public display of it? Does that mean a gay soldier is free to defend my safety as long as he doesn’t demand the right to tell me that he is gay? The separation of church and state is a minefield of complications.
I have an idea that the basis for the group’s “promoting sin” stance is the mistaken notion that there is a hierarchy of sins. Homosexuality is in the “top ten” for some folks, along with murder and drinking and taking drugs. I have found that the top ten sins list created by most people is based on the ones they don’t commit. But it is my belief that God isn’t as concerned with the actual sin as He is with the fact that we have told him “NO”. Think about your teenager, in your face, telling you she is going to do exactly what she wants to do, no matter what you say. Are you really concerned about the issue of the moment, or her general attitude and blatant act of defiance? We tend to think of our actions in terms of “little” and “big” sins, but really, sin is sin. Sin is us telling God “No, I won’t follow your commandments.” Do we really think it matters which one? I don’t drink, smoke, gamble, steal, take drugs, or hurt people, yet my sins are as real and as serious as anyone else’s.
I didn’t intend to write a book this morning, but I think we need to be cautious about judging others and letting our rights impede on theirs. I think we need to give our actions serious thought before wielding our power in protest of something. We need to make sure we aren’t just caught up in the emotion of the moment, and that we don’t cross the line between criticism and condemnation. The Bible teaches us to judge the sin, not the sinner. Our task is quite clear- “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage- with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:2
The photo I used above was taken years ago when we lived near Manzanar in the California desert. Manzanar was the site of a “relocation center” authorized by President Roosevelt in 1942. Over 10,000 Japanese people, two-thirds of them American-born citizens, were kept at Manzanar against their will because people were afraid of the potential actions of people of Japanese descent. The camp was closed in 1945. During their years of imprisonment 146 people died. I think the monument is a solemn reminder of the power of prejudice combined with panic.