It is as old as the earth.
Its form is as variegated as life itself.
The whine of a bullet silences an eloquent voice of the civil rights movement. Four young people strip themselves and dance in the altogether before the United Nations building, a protest. An old man pens a letter to the editor, his palsied script an expression of disagreement. Justice Douglas, buried beneath an avalanche of mail, the result of the ’62 Engel v. Vitaledecision of the Supreme Court declaring as illegal the sanctioned prayer of the New York State School Board. Students mob the Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Four hundred worshippers exit during Mass at the St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington, dissatisfied with Cardinal O’Boyle’s defense of the Papal Encyclical on birth control. Bearded activists hurl rocks and 4-letter words at the Chicago police. Young rebels tear up the American flag in Los Angeles screaming, “Liberty and Justice.” H. Rap Brown entones, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” The local 282 parades in front of the Bell Telephone office. The phone lines burn with the blistering attack of an irate caller in the local telethon.
This is in the name of dissent.
Young people play a leading role.
It’s time that we make a sane appraisal of all this.
In doing so we must be careful to retain a proper mental balance. It is so easy for us to become the victims of our own stereotypes. We’re inclined to throw all dissenters into the classification of rebels. The temptation to do this arises out of the fact that the most vocal and outspoken dissenters are indeed rebels. Enflamed and passionate appeals are directed to the victims of discrimination, calling them to arise and take hold of their civil rights. This tirade of hate is broadcast throughout the land. The inevitable consequences—riots, arson, murder, looting are in turn made the “front page” for the day. Bloodied bodies, smoldering ruins, pot-bellied looters lugging merchandise under the permissive gaze of the troopers all make indelible impressions upon our troubled minds. All this is in the name of dissent.
Yet, we know so well there is more to dissent than this. All dissention is not rebellion. Public debate between those who take opposite positions on basic issues is still a cherished right in our land. The public forum elicits an opportunity to exchange ideas and to work toward understanding. The handing out of handbills which expostulate one’s convictions is still an important means of airing one’s dissent. All public marches do not violate local ordinances and excite public riot.
In surveying this situation, we often wrestle with a sense of guilt. I’m convinced that many covenant young people wrestle sincerely with the question, where am I supposed to be in all of this? Some ask the question,may we co-operate with others in trying to secure justice for our fellow citizens? Still others are still more emphatic and pose the question, must we not become involved in these issues which are so pertinent to our times? Must we not express our dissent to things we believe are wrong?
When these questions are raised, I am heartened. True, not all covenant young people raise them. Some don’t even care, some are quite convinced they have the answer and therefore can’t tolerate consideration of any other view, others are scared that if they raise the question for discussion their “orthodoxy” will be questioned. For our serious-minded youth however, the question of the right of dissent becomes a burning issue of conscience.
This is particularly true for youth. One realizes that the issue of dissent must properly belong to all of us. Age doesn’t dissolve one of the responsibility to give account for his acts. Marriage is not a retreat from the reality of everyday living. Financial success may not be a barricade to separate us from our fellow man. Everyone must give account of his whole life in all its relationships. This necessitates interest in all issues including the right to raise our voices in dissent.
Still, in a special sense the question is of special interest to youth, covenant youth as well. The fact that youth are young must go a long way in explaining this. There are certain things outstandingly characteristic of youth that accounts for their innate desire to express disagreement.
First, young people are often idealists. Their make-up allows them to form certain judgments, more often than not reduced to a very simplistic form. As they diagnose the world’s ills they latch upon one certain thing that if corrected will certainly evaporate the clouds and allow the warmth of the sunshine to revitalize our storm swept society. They envision their ideal within their grasp; it’s there for the taking. To some young adults it only takes a date, suddenly their dark world becomes peachy lovely. To others it takes a certain candidate for president; if only he’s elected the world will reach its utopia. Others firmly believe that if the United States would only get out of Vietnam the era of human brotherhood would surely follow. Youth can be persuaded to follow almost any cause, it just depends on how one goes about getting their support. Their spontaneous and oftentimes superficial judgment brings them to criticize the present situation and clamor for the perfect world just around the corner.
Secondly, youth stands at the door of his own individualism. Nurtured for years within the sphere of the home, school, church he now becomes a man and puts away childish things. Suddenly he has to appraise all that he was taught, he has to form a judgment on whether it is true or not. No longer is he satisfied to say this is true because my dad said so or because my teacher or preacher said so, he must know it to be true for himself. He recognizes his involvement, he is not just a passive receiver, but a co-participant in the action. He knows that maturity demands responsible judgment.
Thirdly, with this awareness youth rises up to act. He comes to a conclusion that something is wrong and he has the answer. He cannot sit indifferently by, he is responsible, he is one of the molders of the world and the controllers of human destiny. In conjunction with other youth they work together to fulfill their ideals, they must correct the ills and further the cause of justice and goodness. There are countless number of young people that are conscientiously working on what they consider desperately serious. All dissent on the part of youth must not be swept under the carpet of youthful insolence or attention getting. Many youth are marching on a crusade; they’re willing to take the front ranks.
Finally, youth are innately impatient. They are the “now” generation. The 40% of our population which is under 21 years of age are very vocal about this. The “war babies” are now in the university and their impatient voices are heard daily. As pioneers of a “righteous” cause they threaten to plunge our nation into anarchy rather than be subjects in a country that does not match their ideal. Unrest, violence, ghastly public displays are but the beginnings of change, a change that must come now.
You may say that these are not very nice things to say about young people. I’m only too glad that I don’t have to confront just any kind of young people. These are written for covenant young people who have the grace to understand. There is no simplistic ideal in a sin cursed world. Often times we lose sight of the fact that an ideal without the enlightenment of Scripture is actually foolishness. The idealism of youth must be sanctified by the Spirit. Even though we recognize that youth born within the covenant are sanctified by grace, yet their nature is the same. The difference is that covenant youth struggle against sin, also their sinful nature. The 4 things listed above surely apply to covenant youth as well. This accounts for much tension in our homes, schools, churches, and government. Dissent is natural.
The question we must ask is what is a correct form of dissent for covenant youth. That there is a place for dissent goes without saying. We expect our children to grow up and begin to think for themselves. As young adults they begin to express their ideas, some of which are bound to involve a clash, there is a measure of protest in every sphere. This dissent must be expressed responsibly, as those who must give account before God for all we do and say. Even our dissent must be to the glory of God or God will turn it against us and it will bring our own destruction.
In order that we may consider this somewhat in detail, we propose to look at this subject from three points of view.
First, what goal are we seeking to achieve? Dissent is purely negative. It means that we reject something because we object to it. Responsible dissent involves more than telling someone he is wrong; he must also be shown the right way. If we are to reject something, a way of life or a certain action, we must become convinced that there is a better way of life to replace it.
To narrow this down a bit, we have to ask ourselves what goal do we as covenant youth have. What are we striving to attain here in this world? What is our calling and purpose here in relationship to our neighbors around us? In order to see the uniqueness of this position we have to consider it over against the social goal of Humanism as well as the perverted goal of the corrupted church.
Secondly, we have to consider the proper means of dissent. This involves an examination of methodology used by the draft card burners, the proponents of violence as well as the advocates of non-violent demonstrations. We must ask, to what extent may and must the church become involved in these forms of dissent? Must we distinguish between the involvement of the church institute (office bearers and ecclesiastical bodies) from that of her members who are also citizens of America? We must wrestle with such problems as whether it is correct that if we consider a law to be immoral we may use illegal means to overthrow it. Is there a place for peaceful demonstrations? Should we become more involved in speaking out for what we believe to be the Scriptural answer to man’s miseries?
Thirdly, we should also consider the question of co-operation with others in the cause of dissent. To illustrate the problem, can and should Christians cooperate with non-Christians in the common cause of civil-rights and justice for all citizens? Is it not true that any attempt by Christians to eradicate poverty or correct social evils as a separate force will be inconsequential and meaningless? Would a joint effort by all men everywhere no matter what color, race, or creed be a denial of our Christian position?
We have laid bare the issues, we trust that in future articles we will be able to take a close look at them.