What Happens in the Theatre Should Not Stay in the Theatre

You may not have read before but there was a massive riot in the Bible and it might show us how the Bible teaches to respond to mob riots. First, the story from Acts 19.

"About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.’"

Commentary: Paul is converting people away from the religion of the state and this is affecting the finances of the silver business who makes money by selling silver statues of the state goddess: Artemis/Diana. The silver traders get angry and stir up the crowd.

"When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling-companions. Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre." 

Commentary: The mob is wrapped up in a frenzy and begin to chant the mantra of the state. This mantra functions as a quick way to determine who is the 'other'. Like if you are at a soccer game and your team begins to chant their songs, you can quickly see who is on your side and who is not. The crowd sees there are a few people not chanting the team mantra and they drag them into the theatre. Also notice that Paul wants to get into the thick of things, but his disciples do not allow him - they know he will be killed. Paul's disciples know what happens to leaders who step into the mob. The heard what happened to Jesus and did not want the same thing to happen to Paul. 

"Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defence before the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’" 

Commentary: Notice that the crowd is clear who is on their side but they do not agree who is the cause of their tension and scandal - "they did not know why they had come together". Some might have been shouting it was one of Paul's disciples while others blame Paul and still others blame someone else. There is confusion. Then Alexander is pushed forward and it is now clear to the mob that here is an outsider (he is not chanting the mantra) and he is also being pushed forward by a small group. These two factors is all it takes to have a cascade of agreement in the mob. Before Alexander can even say a word, the mob is unified and for two hours chant the mantra of the group. For two hours Alexander knew he was in great danger of death and for two hours he faced the reality that he was the mob's scapegoat. He could have chimed in on the mob's chant, but he remained faithful. His faithfulness is not just that he would not agree that there was another god, but he was faithful to exposing the cycle of violence. Even if he joined in the mob's chant, they still were in frenzied scandal and they would find another person to scapegoat/kill. Alexander is like Christ in that he was pushed into something that he did not choose but then chose to stay in the bullseye of the mob in order to expose the cycle of violence. He did not fight back. He just took the unjustness of the crowd and faced death. 

 Theatre in Ephesus

Theatre in Ephesus

"But when the town clerk had quietened the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple-keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. You have brought these men here who are neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly."

Commentary: Just as Alexander teaches us how to behave like Christ when you are being scapegoated, the county clerk teaches us how to behave like Christ when we are a part of the mob. The clerk has cultivated the authority to speak to the group and call out the real nature of the scandal. Both Alexander and the clerk reveal non-violent resistance in a very hostile situation. 

Who can be the clerk of today? Who can speak with authority to a group and be clear to the scandal of our times? I would submit that the voice of nonviolent resistance is in the Church. The problem is that we have lost our voice. We have become so timid to speak out of fear we will be thrown into the center of the mob's hate. We fear we are going to lose members and money so we instead of calling the mob to task, we are often the ones who quietly join the chant of the mob. 

Personally, I do not know how to be a voice speaking to the mob. The complexities of the world and the lack of knowledge and effort on my own part leads me mute. For all the failings in the Church, it is clear that these failings are in me. So I pray that what happened in the theatre with Alexander and the clerk does not stay in the theatre.