The Bible says we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
I’ve gotten better at this as I’ve gotten older — maybe partially due to diminishing reflexes, partially due to accumulated wisdom — but I’m still challenged to know exactly how to live out these principles in everyday life.
It’s especially challenging when my quick(ish)-listening ears hear trustworthy people telling me that I need to quickly — not slowly — speak out. In anger! How do I balance these competing principles? I don’t want to be slow to listen. But neither do I want to be quick to speak nor quick to anger.
Suffice to say: I have been troubled by the last week of news and commentary, regarding the recent rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia and subsequent violence against those who came out to protest against the rally. In no uncertain terms, I want to be clear that I find the ideals and rhetoric of the white supremacists repugnant. Further, I think it’s especially reprehensible — and downright wrong — that the beliefs of Neo-Nazis and Alt-Right thugs get so frequently wrapped up with the beliefs of “Christians” or “Evangelicals” (to the point that I genuinely don’t know what to do with these terms of identification any more!).
At the same time, I’ve also been troubled with the idea that I have to make a grand declaration of my sense of repugnance and reprehension on social media. I’m not exactly sure why, but this pressure and sense of obligation works as a deterrent to me, more than an encouragement. It’s a broader phenomenon than social media; I have similar attitudes toward, say, American militarism, or Disney vacations, or vegetarianism, or the Harry Potter books (anything that others say I “must” do, say, buy, or endorse). Not that a social media denouncement is all that difficult or opposed to my principles. I’m just like, “Who am I to ‘make a public statement’ about race relations in the American South?” “Why should anyone care what I have to say?”
As I listen to the voices of minorities and activists, however, I’m convinced that there is benefit in voicing my vehement opposition to white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the Alt-Right.
I’m particularly compelled by historical voices: speaking into situations which have allowed some time for perspective. Being reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail this week has been especially convicting: “I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” But another point of compulsion and conviction came yesterday, from an unexpected source. I was taking pictures of my kids on their first day of school and preparing to post the pictures to social media when my first impulse to caption the pictures was literally, “Obligatory first-day-of-school photos.”
How can I be willing to oblige the social media standards for posting photographs of my (blue-eyed, blond-haired) children, yet stubbornly resist the obligation to say something publicly about the hatred and violence fomented against people of color in my country?
So here and now: I recognize that I am a part of the problem when I stay silent about oppression which ultimately has the effect of benefiting me, in a position of privilege. I recognize that the American Church has uncomfortably-deep roots in white supremacy, even though this is patently contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I repent of my own sins of omission (not talking about racism) and commission (even harboring racist attitudes in my own heart). To whatever extent I carry authority in the American Church — though my part feels so small — I repent on behalf of my people who have allowed these evils to persist among us. I commit to being active, not passive, when it comes to responding to white supremacy, fighting against voices of hate, and working against the systems of oppression in our country. And more than anything, I want to say that I’m here to listen: especially to people of color.
I may not always succeed in finding the right balance between quick-to-listen, slow-to-speak, and slow-to-become-angry. But at least I want to try.