As we continue to look at how we, as persons of faith, should respond to the injustice and unrest we are seeing in our world, there is one more very important truth that we must understand. (There are many truths we must understand, but one of them is also that the more we talk, the more likely we are to put our foot in our mouth or to start twisting the narrative, neither of which is helpful. So I am planning on simply this one more important truth, and then shift gears.)
It's easy to look at issues that we don't quite understand, things that we haven't personally dealt with in our lives - or things that we're told we can't understand, that are so far outside what we could possibly experience that it's futile to even try - and to think that maybe the best thing we can do is nothing. The best thing we can say is nothing. After all, if we don't understand - if we can't understand - then what on earth makes us think that we should speak?
I am not a racist. I could be. I have known in my life a handful of my relatives who grew up in a different time and place, with a different perspective of the world based on their own experience of it and the cultural realities of their time, and I've heard some things. I could have become someone who adopted those views, who spouted those same words. But I didn't. I don't. I never have. And to be honest with you, I don't really feel the need to spend my entire life trying to prove that I'm not a racist. I don't want to have to define myself by one very specific thing that I'm not. Because I am a lot of beautiful things, too, and it's easy for those to get lost if the only statement I want to make with my life is that I'm not a racist.
So it's easy to want to disengage, to say that I have nothing to say. It's why so many of us so easily back out. We have, in many cases, wrestled free from our own demons on the issue - from our family histories and early exposures and in some cases, sheltered existences - and we don't have any desire to taunt those haunting memories; we are ready to leave them buried where they lie and try to just...move on.
But then, there are these words:
How dare you quote my decrees and mouth my promises!
You hate discipline.
You toss my words behind you.
When you see a thief, you want to make friends with him.
You keep company with people who commit adultery.
You let your mouth say anything evil.
Your tongue plans deceit.
You sit and talk against your own brother.
You slander your own mother's son.
When you did these things, I remained silent.
That made you think I was like you. - Psalm 50:16-21
You've probably heard it said that our silence is complicit. That is, by saying nothing at all, we are standing with injustice - not against it. Our refusal to speak is akin to our affirmation. It is a condoning of the actions of others, whether we mean it to or not.
Look at what David says, or rather, what God has said to David. He's said, You're a sinner. You do all of this wicked stuff. You and I both know it. But because I didn't say anything about it, you thought I approved of it. You thought I was like you - for no other reason than that He never said He wasn't.
And that means that when we speak, we don't just speak for our friends to hear us. We don't just speak for those who are speaking out and need us to join them. When we speak, we don't just speak for the marginalized.
We speak for the perpetrator. We speak for the instigator. We speak for the sinful man who has committed the wrong. Because when we don't speak, maybe he doesn't understand that what he's done is wrong. Maybe, because of our silence, he thinks that most of us are just like him. That given the same set of circumstances, we would do and think and believe the same things he does. When he does these things and we remain silent, he thinks we are just like him.
Which means we have to speak. Not so that the world knows we are not like him, but so that he does. So that he sees that what he's done isn't the status quo. What he's doing isn't just the way things are. Thousands of persons just like him...are not just like him. Millions of persons who could easily be just like him...are not like him. He is a sinner; we are sinners, too. But we do not condone sin - ours or his.
So as much as it seems foolish to us, as much as it seems unnecessary, as much as we don't want to tempt our troubles or dig up a past that we've done our best to bury, one of the best things we can say right now is: I'm not like you. I don't approve of what you've done. I don't agree with what you've done. I can't fathom a world in which I would ever do what you've done. I'm not like you.
To say that, though, we have to speak. We have to take that chance to raise our voices even in an issue that maybe we don't understand, maybe we can't understand - maybe they're right. But we do know sin when we see it. We do know what wrong looks like. We may not understand everything, but we can understand this.
For that reason alone, we cannot be silent.
And on that note, let me say this, as well: this runs both ways. There are, right now, factions of these social movements that are simply not interested in change. They are hijacking the message and bringing destruction on communities, even on their own communities, and destroying so much of what is being worked for. And what we need is for those working for real change, those opening the dialogues and having the tough conversations and doing the hard work, to not just assume the world can tell the difference between a change-maker and an instigator. We need you to come out, too, and use your voice, look these violent forces in the face and declare, in no uncertain terms, I'm not like you. They come in and stand with you before they break out and take you down with them, and we need you to look around your communities and those who claim to stand with you and say, I'm not standing for that. That's not who I am. That's not who we are. You cannot be silent any more than the rest of us can.
We must all speak and declare not just who we are, but who we aren't. And never, never let these instigators - on either side of the issue - think, even for one second, that we're just like them. We cannot be silent.