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Jon Foreman Headshot

Why I Refuse To Protest Protestors

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Rock and roll has been my education ever since I dropped out of college. But not even college and certainly not rock and roll could have prepared me for what I experienced the other day. My band and I were in Oklahoma on tour -- hanging out backstage getting ready for the show when I heard a loud voice yelling out in front the venue. I thought it must be some sort of emergency so I grabbed a jacket and ran outside to see what had happened. As I rounded the corner I was shocked at what I saw. There was a line of people waiting to get into the venue. And across the street there were a few folks gathered around a man with a megaphone shouting that "Switchfoot will lead you straight to hell."

Have you ever been picketed against? Protested? I'm not talking about a drunk heckler on the corner, here. I'm talking about sober minded men and women (and kids), prepared with bullhorns and signs and sermonettes protesting our art and our presence in the city. And showing up night after night! Let me tell you, when people are protesting you personally it feels pretty discouraging. It's really hard to know what to do. The knee-jerk reaction is to fight back -- to buy a megaphone and start yelling back. Yes, I have some pretty big disagreements with these folks, but I don't trust myself with a bullhorn. I don't want to just perpetuate hostility -- I want a conversation. I want a better song -- for them and for me. So I just stood there for a while and took it all in. I wanted to learn from the situation, and move forward.

All at once I had an epiphany: these puzzling creatures that are yelling at you are human souls -- as unpredictable, perplexing and unpredictable as I am. Here's the shocker: this guy with the bullhorn could be my cousin! he could be a friend of mine! Better yet: this guy could be me! If our lives were swapped, who can say that I would be any different? I put nothing below me. Who can say what I would do if I had his reality? Compassion makes you realize what you have in common with the rest of humanity. From my perspective, it feels like he's in a low place. But shouldn't that necessitate that much more compassion on my end? I am not against this man. I am for him. I want his true song to sing out -- above the cacophonous din that he's echoing now. Above the yells -- above the hate and anger and hurt. Yes, I have to believe that his true song is better than that. And I am rooting for him. Pulling for him! It doesn't matter whether he is for me or against me -- I am for him.

These people might say that they are against what we do and who I am, but I refuse to be against them. I refuse to protest protestors. I will not be opposed to the opposition. I will not antagonize the antagonist, nor hate on the haters. I am not at all against them -- in fact, I am for them. I am rooting for them, praying for them. I honestly love them! They are flawed, beautiful, hopeful, hopeless people just like me.

Yes, there are many things that are wrong with the world. So many things to be against -- but you can't be against everything. At some point you have to begin to stand for something. Maybe the most important question is not what am I against, but what do I stand for? On my best days, I want to stand for love conquering a multitude of wrongs. I want to stand for forgiveness, for mercy, for beauty, for grace. I stand for you, sir and madame. Whether you are holding a megaphone or not. Even when you refuse to shake my hand I love you. Whether you insult me or not, drunk or sober; I honestly love you! I love your passion, your fervor, your dedication. I want to know you better. I want to find out what makes you tick. I want to know why you believe what you believe. I want to learn from you. I am for you, emphatically for you!

And whoever is reading this, I love you too! I don't love you because of our similarities. In fact, I make no assumption of shared faith. I can only assume that you and I are radically different -- we live in different cities, we have different pursuits, different jobs, different upbringings. And finally, when it comes to what you believe or disbelieve, I would imagine that we all hold widely different understandings of what God is or isn't. And in this diversity is where the conversation has to begin. If conversation doesn't start here in spite of our differences, the dialogue will never begin. I love you and I love our differences. I'm not secretly hoping that you become more like me.

In the arts, diversity is what gives us our color and spice -- it's the differences and the contrasts that make our world beautiful. Why wouldn't we celebrate our differences? Why wouldn't we learn from each other, letting the strengths of others enlighten our weaknesses? Maybe we're afraid. Maybe we've been wounded in the past and we fear more of the same. Maybe we question our own worth. If we find others who have more to offer, we begin to doubt our own purpose in the conversation. We begin to doubt our convictions and meaning in life. What if we made a mistake? What if we were wrong? We all have those fears from time to time. I know I do. In fact, I usually yell the loudest when I'm unsure about something. I have never been in a screaming match about a mathematical sum. Not since the days of Pythagorus has there been an argument in the kitchen about the facts of long division. No, we yell about the intangible, subjective stuff that makes us feel insecure. We yell about politics. We yell about God.

But God isn't yelling. God seems pretty sure of himself. It's the rest of us that are in question. But maybe there's a deeper reason why God's not yelling back. Maybe he refuses to oppose the opposition. Maybe he loves the haters and believes in the non-believers. Maybe he's rooting for the ones that no one cares about; the broken and the poor. The lost souls and the protesters. Who knows, maybe even me?