If you were walking down the street and saw someone beating an elderly person, or a small child, how would you react? Would it change things if it were your child, or your parent? If your child fell in the river, how would you react? What if the neighbor’s house was on fire, and their children were trapped? What would you do? How would you react?
Sometimes, the truth is so clear, you can do nothing but react. Sometimes, the right thing is the right thing – one must react, instantly, and just do it.
Other times, the situations unfold more slowly and the issues are more complex. It is often difficult to discern what the right thing is and how it should be handled. But that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility, nor does it remove the call to action. Whether the issues developed with lightening speed, or glacially, corrective action may still be required.
Somehow I have been
cursed blessed with the ability to connect invisible dots. I see connections, I see issues, I intuit meaning into situations. Of course I’m not always right, but that doesn’t mean I should doubt the call to action.
If I were to come across someone being beaten on a city street-corner, I could not NOT act. It would be wrong to ignore the situation. Now, how I react is a different issue. If I assessed the situation and saw an opportunity, I could render aid personally. However, if the situation appeared too dangerous, I might have to resort to calling 9-1-1 and waiting for professional aid to arrive. In some situations I’d go into a burning house to rescue the neighbor’s children, in others, I’d wait for the better equipped firefighters.
The man whose daughter fell into the Clackamas River tried in vain to rescue her. He almost lost his own life in the process. Should he, or could he have tried harder? I doubt it. In fact, he might have come very close to doubling the loss to his family. It’s a judgment call, one he will have to live with the rest of his life, but one upon which it appears he handled well.
It is rarely, if ever “fun” to stand up for what is right.
What if you were put into a position of leadership and you saw that things were not right within your organization? The issues were such that they could not be ignored. How would you react to an organization that promotes love and sacrifice, but is in turn ignoring the least powerful people within the group. People are not aware of the oppression – even the oppressed are mostly unaware of the abuse directed their way. Indeed, even if they were aware of it, it wouldn’t be safe to address it. The powerless rarely have a voice to change the oppression they face, and the powerful rarely contain enough compassion to see the inequities and unfairness they perpetuate.
It was exactly this situation I found myself dumped into four years ago. To make matters worse, I had become powerless and broken myself. Many prophets throughout history have been asked to some strange and offensive things to illustrate God’s simple message. Isaiah was asked to walk around naked for three years. Ezekiel was told to lye on his side for a year. And Hosea was asked to marry a prostitute. I believe my family was asked to lead in the midst of depression, burnout, and loneliness, yet at the same time, preach a message of inclusion, compassion, and repentance.
It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t turn out any better for us then it did for Jeremiah. To make matters worse, I made mistakes – but that could be a part of the message. The Church was given an opportunity to do the right thing, to start treating people with respect and love, and to repent of their pride and indifference. Instead, they chose to kill the messenger.
Could I have kept my mouth shut and ignored the hypocrisy and abuse? Of course – yet, I really couldn’t. That isn’t me. Was it a mistake to not enable and coddle the abusers? Some might think so, but I tend to agree with the Gandhi quote above – when it is the right thing to do, one should never apologize for doing what is right. Should I have been more political, gone at a slower pace, and been more gentle with those who were entrenched in their sin? That’s what my former employer would have had me do. But how does one ignore the injustice and pain being inflicted on the invisible and silent majority in the church?
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. ‘I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!’” ~Jesus
This is where it gets hard. This is where the real rubber meets the road. What if the person beating the elderly person on the street-corner is your sibling, or your best friend?
At what point do we ignore inconsistencies, abuses, and sins within the church, and at what point do we step up and call for repentance? Are we like the proverbial frog in the pan? Do we only notice when things get hot quickly?
“For over forty years Jeremiah had walked these streets, preaching, warning, entreating the people to return to a real relationship with the true God. For forty years he was predicting this destruction that would come if they insisted on turning their backs on the only One who could protect them. But they wouldn’t listen. Instead they mocked Jeremiah, God’s messenger, they whipped him, they put him in stocks, they threw him into a muddy pit, they put him in prison, they accused him of treason and plotted to kill him. Even his own brother, members of his own family (Jer. 12:6) betrayed him and the men of his home town of Anathoth threatened him, demanding, ‘Do not prophecy any more in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands.’” (Jer.11:21) ~Ulrike Unruh
Ultimately, it isn’t the prophet who loses this battle of wills, but the people. The oppressed remain oppressed, but the abusers, the prideful, and the hypocrites lose an opportunity to be blessed. The short term losses deprive them of the abundant life, and the long term consequences may cost them eternal life.
Yes, it’s been a painful few years. Indeed, I may be blacklisted for the rest of my life for speaking up. But I didn’t pick this battle. It was thrust upon me and I couldn’t ignore it anymore than I could have ignored my little girl being swept down the river. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. So, I have to believe that there are a lot of people who either don’t love themselves very much, or they are living a disobedient life.
It is rarely, if ever “fun” to stand up for what is right. It is even worse to have a sword thrust between us and those we love. In the past few years, I’ve lost many good friends – including close family – over this issue. I hate it. But it was the right thing to do, even if I was clumsy at it.
(For a little different perspective on this, you might take a look at this exchange.)