Talking of speaking

‘We need you to speak’: US evangelicals urge Trump to condemn racist ‘alt-right’ in open letter.

According to Christianity Today a group of conservative evangelicals have written an open letter to The Donald urging him to very publicly disown any ideology which appears to endorse white supremacy. Good on them; that’s what I say.

It is of course important that Christians speak out on matters of dignity and justice. No one should be made to feel second class on the basis of temporal identity markers for God is recorded as saying ‘let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’ (Genesis 1, 26).

It is this foundational  scripture that humankind has struggled with since the start of history. We like to rank and categorize but God doesn’t. We like to put country first but God, I fear, puts humanity first.

Maybe repentance means, in part, a turning away and repudiation of any ideologies or theologies that seek to rank and create hierarchies of being based on the crudest of measures? Maybe repentence means throwing off the false yokes of apathy and passivity and speaking out as an ally of those who live their lives in fear of the consequences of injustice and tyranny?

If this is true it is to be lauded that a group of ‘conservative evangelicals’ have written to President Trump seeking to hold him to account and, in some senses, repent. Of course ‘liberal’ Episcopalian types have also expressed dismay and outrage over the direction of policy, or do I mean ideology, in the US. ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’ (Psalm 133, 1).

Speaking out against injustice is, of course, part of the biblical tradition. It is part of the prophetic mandate placed upon the church. Speaking out even, especially, when the very act of speaking courts ridicule, a barrage of tweets, or even physical danger is part of what it means to ‘take up (y)our cross and follow,’ (Matthew 16, 24).

Speaking out often means standing in opposition to the actual or emerging civic and political culture and that is why I am glad that the open letter written this week by the General Synod Human Sexuality Group calls on all Anglican Primates to continue to speak out against the criminalization of homosexuality. For some Anglican primates to do so will take significant courage. Speaking out also, on occasion, means being a a disruptive and challenging influence in the cultural and political life of the church. The church needs a stream of voices calling it to be its true, and liberating, self.

It has often been said that ‘you can’t be neutral’ on issues of justice. I agree. The Christian faith is, or at least should be, a liberating faith; a faith where our most significant act of fast or sacrifice should be ‘to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke,’ (Isaiah 58, 6).

Because it is impossible to be neutral on issues of justice surely it is the case that if the Church (and her leaders) aren’t working to ‘loose’ the ‘yoke’ then it must be the case that we are contributing its tightening? Passivity, apathy and complicity may be, I fear, the greatest sins of our day.

Thursday was National Poetry Day. A well-known former Cathedral Dean asked on Twitter for nominations for poems that have really inspired people. I suggested Martin Niemoller’s ‘I did not speak.’ It is a chilling and haunting poem, written just after the Holocaust. I suspect it is very much a poem for our times.

Let’s let Niemoller have the last words:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.




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