A Petition about Petitions


The latest form of protest seems to be petitions and thanks to Al Gore the process of gathering “signatures” is so much easier to do. I’d like to raise a contrary voice to this development. I thought about starting an ipetition against ipetitions just for the irony factor, but decided against it because I don’t want to trivialize what I think are genuine reasons to be concerned about this issue. Allow me to share three of them.

Whose weapons are these? I find it very hard to see how the use of online petitions to accomplish even good things can avoid fitting into the category of weaponry that the Apostle Paul denounced—“we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor 10:3b-4). Paul was confronting a genuine problem, but he refused to do it in a way that would accomplish his objective via carnal methods. I know this could sound simplistic and naïve, but I simply don’t see any biblical warrant for public pressure tactics like a petition. I do, however, see those who don’t know Christ and don’t believe in the divine power of biblical truth using these kinds of tactics. Our world is full of protest movements. The mood of our day is anti-institutional and full of a distrust that propels petitions, boycotts, and protests. I don’t see that in the NT.

Coercion versus appeal. This fall I preached through Philemon and was challenged by Paul’s desire for Philemon to do the right thing for the right reason. Although he could have commanded or compelled Philemon into receiving Onesimus, he “for love’s sake” appealed to him (v. 9) and wanted Philemon to make the decision not “by compulsion, but of [his] own free will” (v. 14). A coerced decision, even the right one, is not acceptable. We are called to speak the truth in love so that we grow up into Christ (Eph 4:15). If a person or organization will not listen to truth, that reveals the real problem, which is a heart problem. Bringing external pressure to bear in order to force an outcome does not address heart issues. It does not bring real change, only conformity.

Loving or trashing your neighbor? I can’t understand how trying to destroy the reputation of a person or organization ever qualifies as a display of love or as an effort to seek restoration. Now, I will grant that some petitions may not do this, but it seems like the online kind inevitably flow in this direction. I imagine some of that is because of the relative anonymity and safety of posting comments online as compared to saying the same things to someone’s face. Internet communication really can bring out the darkness in people’s hearts, including my own. This is, again, a way in which we are being pressed into the world’s mold rather than being shaped by biblical ethics. We aren’t to pursue justice by vengeance. We don’t show Christlike love by adopting the strategies of the marketplace.

In an attempt to prevent misunderstanding, let me be clear that I’m not saying that we ignore evil or foolish decisions by people or institutions. I am speaking only of the means by which we communicate our concerns, confront problems, and try to effect God-honoring change. I don’t see how online petitions fit within a biblical framework for these things. They fill up with vitriol. They try to force change rather than appeal for and accomplish real change (i.e., right thing for the right reasons). They usually produce a mixed result that proves less than satisfying—just watch the reactions after the “goal” of the petition has been achieved.

So what should we do instead? Speak the truth in love. Challenge disobedience and foolishness with biblical truth. If the person or institution heeds, praise God. If the person or institution refuses, then walk away knowing that you’ve done what you believe God wanted you to do and leave the rest to Him (Rom 12:19).

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