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“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Throughout history, the destructive forces of oppression and abuse have been stoked by evil intentions, agendas and behavior. Yet, there is another source that can fuel insidious plans — the reliance on silence. Over the years, I have learned the value of silence for a specific reason — to listen closely to learn and grow. Keeping quiet for the purpose of being a student of others and situations is an admirable quality and discipline. But, the motivation to stay silent because of the consequences is a real fear gripping the hearts of many. Too often, our culture has exposed the destructive force of silence when it was necessary to speak up.

The fear to speak the truth in love and bring correction can be attributed by the addictive comfort of convenience. The convenience of not saying anything to avoid being the target of attacks, false accusations and slander certainly maintains the status quo. But, it can also lend itself to being complicit to a system, person or thought that only serves to cause greater pain. More than ever, our culture is facing some hard and inconvenient realities that must be addressed in an assertive manner. If not confronted head-on, it can serve to exacerbate conditions that are not helpful to anyone.


SEXUAL HARASSMENT & ABUSE


For example, the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are a few movements have shed light to a long-standing problem of sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation. Every time we hear a report of a celebrity, leader or influencer being toppled by substantiated claims, you may hear a collective sigh of disappointment. But, you may also hear others voice (after the claim) a lack of surprise. Why is that? It may be due to their knowledge of the person’s behavior in years past and a refusal to address it for the sake of their career or to curry favor. With all due respect, this is part of the problem. As more people speak out and share their stories, we must be diligent in investigating what happened and ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve wondered how many more people have stories that they are afraid to share because of what they think will be the consequences. How many more people are living in daily fear? While easier said than done, we must support the victims and their courage to speak out on their behalf and for the sake of others. We can no longer be silent or be silenced. As Dr. King stated emphatically, “the silence of the good people is the ultimate tragedy.”


OUR POLITICAL CLIMATE


The same applies to our current politics. For years, political allegiances have caused those who are supportive of a candidate or leader who has said or done something inappropriate to remain silent or to defend the indefensible. In the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton acted inappropriately in the White House, too many supporters of the President defended him. You may have agreed with his policies, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to speak directly to his lack of character. It also doesn’t mean you’re being hypocritical. When President Donald Trump reportedly called nations in Africa and Haiti, s**thole nations (Link to Story), such language from the leader of the free world has been universally viewed as unacceptable. Whether you agree with President Trump’s policies on immigration, the economy or his leadership of the nation, can we agree that such language will not make america great again? I’ve been dumbfounded by the silence of the good people and how anyone who values character and integrity can defend such remarks. The coarsening of our culture, the increased partisanship in our politics and the voluntary segregation of aligning with those who only agree with us, have led us to this moment. It is unfortunate to conclude that too many people will overlook clear infractions of dignity and respectability for the purpose of their agenda going forward.


SYSTEMIC INJUSTICES


Another area where silence has been destructive is the systemic injustices in the United States and our world. Whether it is the shooting of an unarmed person and its disproportionate amount in minority communities, the economic disparities amongst communities, gentrification, or even how American citizens are detained, incarcerated or addressed in our prisons, the silence is deafening. At times, the silence is due to not having enough information to address the matter. For those reading this blog, I encourage you to seek out reputable resources that can help in the study of these issues. The silence of the good people may also be due to the conflation of our opinions to facts. As the late NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was once quoted saying,

You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” 

In a culture that is peppered with the phrases “fake news” or “alternative facts”, we must be even more diligent in searching out the facts of an issue and debate the best course of action for the betterment of society. We shouldn’t dismiss debate, but we must reject the deliberate effort to intentionally mislead.


WHAT CAN WE DO?


I’m encouraged by those who are speaking out about injustices and inequality for the purpose of resolution and healing. There will always be voices serving the agenda of division. But, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., these voices are muffled by the collective voices of justice, healing, racial reconciliation and peace. It could be dismissed as naiveté, but I truly believe in the best of our humanity and civic discourse. The silence of the good people has reached a breaking point. Will we speak up on behalf of the defenseless, the helpless and the unprotected? And when we speak, will we add value to the national conversation? Join forces with a non-profit organization addressing societal injustices daily. Use your platform to address matters of concern and let your voice be heard. Call your local, regional and national legislators to voice your concerns. Make your voice heard in the voting booth. Hold your leaders to account for what they do or don’t do — what they say or don’t say. Collectively, let’s make sure when we speak, we have the courage of our convictions to follow through and backup what we say. In the words of Dr. King, “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – RF


ABOUT AUTHOR

Ryan E. Faison is the College and Young Adults Pastor at Christ Church in Montclair & Rockaway, NJ and the Executive Director of Young Adults United. Ryan also serves on the Clergy Advisory Board for HomeCorp in Montclair and the Nyack Alliance Theological Seminary Alumni Association. Ryan serves as a preacher, worship leader, and producer at Christ Church. Ryan has been married to Kristyn (an educator and worship leader) for 7 years and lives in Northern NJ. Connect with Ryan online at @RyanFaison (FB, Twitter, IG, Snapchat, Periscope).

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLKMTADTHE DREAMER.

The national Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday prompts almost universal praise for the well-known “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. National media outlets play excerpts of Rev. Dr. King masterfully describing the corruption of racial injustice and the potential of racial reconciliation. Dr. King articulated a great dream, but the “I Have A Dream” speech was more than a dream – it was a call to action.

DEVOTED TO SERVICE

Before ascending to the heights of leadership on the international stage, Dr. King was trained in the value of service. Serving the felt needs of people was his top priority. An urgent need that he could not ignore was the racial injustice poisoning the culture in America. He could not stand idly by while discrimination, racism and injustice ran rampant. His devotion to service was not lip service – he made the choice to service with action and devotion.

As an MLK Scholar at Seton Hall University, I was reminded of the great call to action that laid at the feet of my generation. Breaking the cycle of entitlement, it was (and still remains) our responsibility to serve and give of ourselves to the betterment of society. When I think of MLK’s life of service – I must ask: What are we willing to give to serve others? What time, talent, treasure and efforts will we give for the sake of others? As we dream for a better life and society, we can start serving where we are to bring about change.

DEDICATED TO THE CAUSE

Some historians and observers mistakenly limit Dr. King’s influence only to the realm of social justice and racial reconciliation. I would caution you not to make the same error. Dr. King’s cause was greater than seeing racism eradicated. It was extended to the root of the Gospel – love. Unlike the “love” defined by our culture in moments, Dr. King served out of a love defined by the Scriptures – sacrificial giving. His example was in the Savior he preached about. His model was in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of humanity. A young preacher and leader would not make such sacrifices on a whim; the surrendering of his life was in exchange for the agape love he longed to see.

Dr. King never claimed to be a perfect, flawless man. Such an arrogant presumption would violate the humanity and brokenness of this influential leader. He recognized his frailties, but did not excuse himself from the hard work of perfecting our union. He was dedicated to the cause of Christ, leading him to unchartered waters and the “fierce urgency of now”. Dr. King demonstrated he would rather face death than live in the man-made world of apathy and despair.

THE TIME IS NOW

The excuses of delay and denial are no longer acceptable. We cannot delay in taking action steps to make a real difference in our communities and neighborhoods. We cannot deny the need to serve others who we know and see need our assistance. In the words of Dr. King: “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Let this vigorous and positive action start in taking a small step to give what you can and when you can. It is my prayer and hope that the words of Dr. King go beyond a dream; it will become a reality for all of us to enjoy.