Charlottesville and Silence: Is It OK?

A home in a houseless community communicating anti-hate during the Charlottesville events.
A home in a houseless community communicating anti-hate during the Charlottesville events.

Many of us watched in horror as the events in Charlottesville unfolded through various forms of the media. Newscasts, reports, and social media exploded with information concerning hate language, freedom of speech, historical reminders of a dark and evil American past, and experiences from those victimized and oppressed in a country that boasts, “the land of the free” and “all humans are created equal.” The death of three individuals sparked a continued outrage against the demonstrations of this day. It is an event that I will not forget.

I will also not forget the responses to this horrible event throughout social media. One response was to speak out and condemn the hate language, Nazism, White Supremacy, and racism surrounding the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue. Another response was to offer prayers, thoughts, and sympathy to the suffering and oppression not only from hate speech, but violence during the event as well as the history of our own nation. Another response was to “call people out” in order to motivate posts to speak out on social media. I do not believe that the term pressure would be appropriate, but there were tones of expectation for many of us to post. The climate “we all need to speak out,” or “now is the time for white males” or even “faith leaders” to speak out or preach that Sunday morning paralleled the implicit posts and quotations that “silence is siding with hatred.”

I did respond by posting my views of Christianity, the Kingdom of Christ, and responsibility to oppose racism and hate speech. However, I have thought about our connecting silence to inactivity or siding with evil, and feel more and more uncomfortable in the wake of Charlottesville.

Sometimes Silence Means “I’m Processing This.”

The wisdom from Solomon’s Proverbs teach us that silence is many times the preferred option. “The one who guards their lips guards their life, and the one who speaks rashly will be destroyed,” (Prov. 13:3). Another Proverbs states “When words are many, sin is not absent but the one who holds their tongue is wise,” (Prov. 10:17). While I believe that we should speak out against injustice I admit that many who are silent are simply trying to process what has happened. The events and images from Charlottesville were overwhelming both emotionally and physically. Many were overwhelmed with what they witnessed and have spent weeks trying to process, understand, and discuss both what they feel and what they saw. To suggest that people “must speak out” or that those who don’t “must be compliant with evil,” seems inappropriate. Even more encouraging those who are not ready to speak to do so rashly, also seems unhealthy to both the communicator and the reader/listener.

This may be why Social Media has lost credibility in our world.

Sometimes Silence Means “I’m Open.”

While many on social media expressed outrage at the Charlottesville events, responding to hate with hate or anger can be difficult for some. Being open to hearing and processing information is not typically practiced in social media platforms. We are used to “shutting down arguments” or “silencing people” or also “unfriending those who don’t agree with us,” yet this does not foster openness and honest dialogue. Some feel strongly that they must process and then respond with kindness, which is not always a bad idea. Again the Proverbs suggest that, “An anxious heart weighs a person down, but a kind word cheers them up,” (Prov 12:25).

Openness does not mean, “I agree with everyone,” it simply means that one is listening to and trying to make sense of what they experience. Even as a minister, using my Sunday morning platform to speak must be done with respect to all who are suffering from the events at Charlottesville, our country’s dark past, as well as the events of the future.

Silence Can Lead to More Appropriate Action

I am surprised that there was more pressure to “post” or “speak out” than there has been pressure to “practice” justice. Sunday morning sermons fulfilled the call to speak, but what happens next? Are there ministries created to actively help congregations (which are the most segregated institutions in the US) become more diverse and open dialogue on our own dark histories? Social Media overwhelmingly condemned racism, injustice, and those who did not speak against this evil. Yet are there posts showing our continued discussions, work to end racism, or repentance of our own hate language? Protesting offers the opportunity to speak out at larger venues, but are we practicing justice or only talking about it? Is our activism in word or is it in work? What about the quiet conversations that need to happen with our neighbors, other parents at school, leaders in our community who fail to address hate language in our communities? What steps need to happen beyond speaking out.

As a minister of a congregation addressing social justice in our community I understand that we didn’t talk much about Charlottesville. Most of us have been working weekly in our communities to support those who are silent due to fear as well as those who speak out rashly and without consideration for others.

When we are doing the work, there isn’t always a need to craft a sermon, speech, or long social media post. People know who we are and what we believe.

Not because we are silent, but because we are active.

“Mockers stir up a city, but wise ones turn away anger,” (Prov. 29:8)

Silence is not apathy—sometimes its just silence, offering us a chance to reflect and search for peace.

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