Pastor Jones was new to the church and soon found himself having to confront a challenging situation with one of the deacons. Deacon Jackson was dependable and helpful, but had a cussing problem. Pastor Jones felt he needed to connect with Deacon Jackson on a personal level before attempting to correct him. He figured a short fishing trip might do it. As they were packing their gear, a tacklebox fell on Deacon Jackson’s toe. This prompted some mild profanity. Jones raised an eyebrow at Jackson, who replied, “Sorry Pastor, but somethin’ needed to be said.”
As they drove down the road, a car cut them off and caused the truck and the boat trailer to swerve back and forth.
Deacon Jackson blurted, “#@*>!”
Pastor Jones raised his brow and again Jackson replied, “Sorry Pastor, but somethin’ needed to be said!”
After they got their boat in the water, Deacon Jackson jabbed his finger with a hook and hollered, “#@*>!”
Pastor raised his brow and Deacon looked down and mumbled, “Sorry Pastor, but…”
Jones sighed with resignation, “I know, I know. Somethin’ needed to be said.”
After they cast their lines into the lake, they got their lunches out. As soon as Pastor Jones began to take a bite out of his sandwich, there was a tug on his line. As he hurried to reach for the pole with both hands, his sandwich dropped from his mouth. While he tried to catch the sandwich, the fish pulled the pole out of the boat. With both his pole and his sandwich floating away, Jones raised his brow at Jackson and grunted, “Deacon, I think somethin’ need to be said!”
What do we do when somethin’ needs to be said about justice issues? Silence can be the worst kind of profanity when somethin’ needs to be said. As Zora Neale Hurston stated, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
Whatever kind of societal pain “it” is, here are some ways to address it. (I emphasize societal, because I believe Matthew 18:15-17 provides a key starting point to address individual situations.)
Articulate it – One of James Baldwin’s many witticisms is “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” That’s why God commanded prophets like Isaiah to clearly communicate His expectations to the people. Yes, He has a general promise, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Yet the promise is connected to a specific willingness to, “Wash yourselves… Cease to do evil. Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
Amplify it – Have you ever heard of a person or organization described as a voice for the voiceless? You know there’s no such thing, right? Everyone has a voice. If the blood of the innocent cries out to God from Genesis 4:10 to Revelation 6:10, how much more the voices of the living? Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has a platform. When you have a platform, why not lend it to others once in a while? Sometimes we do a disservice by trying to be someone else’s voice, when what’s needed is for us to decenter ourselves and hand over the mic!
Chronicle it – The Actes and Monuments, better known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, was John Foxe’s way of protesting against Medieval Catholic persecution of dissenters. Widely considered a Christian classic (although not without strong criticism), this testament of torture is an influential warning against religious intolerance. The Equal Justice Initiative’s Museum and Memorial is one example of how we can chronicle the suffering of racial martyrs and inoculate ourselves against ignorance.
Litigate it – From the daughters of Zelophehad petitioning Moses in front of the tabernacle to Paul appealing his case to Rome, we have scriptural precedent to leverage the legal system to seek justice and equity (Numbers 27:1-11; Acts 25:1-12). From Belinda Sutton to Charles Houston to Sherrilyn Ifill, we have a rich, diverse, and successful heritage of African American litigators to learn from and build upon.
Enact it – On July 28, 1917, about 10,000 African Americans silently marched through downtown New York City carrying signs with messages like “Mothers, do lynchers go to heaven?” The style and dignity with which they carried themselves undercut the dehumanizing caricatures common in society. The wide media coverage helped gain them some allies, especially among Jews whose people had suffered pogroms in Europe.
Boycott it – Note that it was more of a monetary crisis, rather than a moral awakening that desegregated Montgomery’s bus system. The courts had their role, but the loss of capital applied the pressure. When and where we choose to spend or withhold our money makes a difference. These choices aren’t always convenient, but that’s why it’s called “The Struggle.”
Resist it – As cathartic as it is to watch, emulating Mr. Tibbs by returning Endicott’s backhand with equal or greater force isn’t always the best way to make a point. Yet note that even Mohandas K. Gandhi, the greatest practitioner of massive nonviolent resistance, preferred violence over cowardice: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.”
Satirize it – The ‘70s was an era of satirical shows that lampooned bigotry in various forms and settings, such as “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son.” Yes, this is loaded with possibility of trivializing prejudicial attitudes and behaviors or creating sympathy for the bigoted character. Yet there’s educational and transformative possibilities when done right. By the way, Jesus himself used a touch of satire here and there (Matt 7:3-4; Matt. 19:24; Matt. 23; Luke 16:19-31).
By Carl McRoy