“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Ghandi
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” -Elie Wiesel”
“Jesus replied, ‘…you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.The second is this,You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.'” – Mark 12:29-31
These are all quotes that inspire me to act. To speak up. To work for change.
My friend/family network is quite diverse. So much so that I don’t think they could all stand to be in the same room with one another. Yet, Facebook is a platform that brings them all together in one place. Often, when my friends respond to various things happening in the world that they deem unjust, others quickly respond to criticize and nitpick their response and/or to disagree with the situation being unjust.
People share news stories, photos, memes, quotes, and occasionally post their own thoughts on all kinds of issues. People share photos of or comments about their personal experiences of protests, boycotts, film screenings, or various other actions taken in response to injustice. Sometimes they go un-“liked,” and other times, people share, like, or comment.
It can get pretty heated. I’ve been “un-friended,” and I have “un-followed” several people, including some family members, because I do not care to see their posts (and they do not wish to see mine). Because of my line of work, I have to (or at least, am “supposed to”) be cautious about what I post, like, share, etc. It can feel quite restricting when I feel so compelled to do something or say something, especially in response to injustice, oppression, and discrimination.
Even more burdensome (though also a joy) is that I post for our church’s Facebook page. This past Sunday our church took action to respond to the systemic oppression of black males that has been brought to light by recent events and the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Some suggested protesting or blocking traffic; others were hesitant or critical of that type of response. So, to parallel a previous response to discrimination against the local Gay-Straight Alliance, we put up a rainbow banner with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
Our congregation is a member of Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), which works for the full inclusion of all people in the life of the United Methodist Church. RMN, the rainbow flag we fly at church, and our affiliation as a Reconciling Congregation is mostly understood as being advocates for LGBTQ people. But we, along with RMN, have an intersectional lens, realizing that all forms of oppression (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) are wrongfully devaluing. Our congregation is committed to being a place where all are welcome; we believe that ALL lives matter. So during announcement time, we invited those who wished to join us at the corner of our property next to the church sign and rainbow banner, to take a picture, which we would post on Facebook.
In the days following, the picture itself, the response itself, and the caption with the photo was thoughtfully criticized and questioned. While debriefing the response (and our upcoming responses) with the pastor with whom I work, it hit me: Of course, this is not a perfect response. It is not a perfect picture. It is not a perfect post. However, perhaps it is our own privilege that it demanding that any response be perfect before it is taken.
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” -Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel
We with power and privilege, are taught to maintain self-control. To not ask so many questions. To be quiet. To turn our heads. We are taught that those people deserve their plight. A perfect video clip from this past week’s Revenge episode illustrated the extremely wealthy Conrad Grayson dissuading his son from standing up for a girl who had been taken advantage of, telling his son Daniel that he would lose all his privileges and power, all for some insignificant “ant.”
In first grade I remember being made fun of for playing with a black boy named Nathaniel Jackson. I did not understand why the children were laughing at us. I was still friends with him. Countless times I responded with anger or frustration when my family told racist jokes. Did the jokes stop? No. But now they whisper or tell me to stop listening when they get to the bad part. I have a rainbow peace sign on my car, that in part, I believe, helped some gay youth feel more comfortable around me and I was able to show them love and support. I serve at a homeless shelter each week, down the street from my apartment, and get my friends and congregants to contribute clothing when we are low on donations.
These are not perfect responses. But they are something.
I am afraid to speak out sometimes, even among people who believe similarly, out of fear of being criticized or laughed at for not using the right words or for not being able to defend myself with the person’s weapon of choice, be it logic or scripture, or knowledge of the right theologian or historic figure/event.
I am afraid that the more I say publicly or post on facebook, the less likely I am to get a job in my field.
I am afraid that perhaps I do not have all the facts and am responding too hastily based on a biased report and later looking like an idiot or someone ill-informed.
But more than that…
I am afraid that my life will have been meaninglessly silent in the midst of my friends and neighbors being oppressed and discriminated against.
I am afraid that I will have failed to fulfill my baptismal covenant, to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin.”
I am afraid that I will choose the luxuries of privilege over God’s call to participate in building the kingdom here on earth, where love reigns and all oppression shall cease.
“Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love.” – Julian Assange
“Injustice is censured because the censures are afraid of suffering, and not from any fear which they have of doing injustice.” – Plato
If you are waiting for someone to tell you what response is legitimate, appropriate, safe, or agreeable, stop waiting. Do something. It may not be perfect. But silence is unacceptable.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu