No More Silence

At first I thought that David Brooks was on to something in his New York Times editorial, August 8, 2017: “Getting Trump Out of My Brain.” I nodded in sympathy with Brooks’ observation: “For the past two years Trump has taken up an amazing amount of my brain space. My brain has apparently decided that it is not interested in devoting neurons to that guy. There’s nothing more to be learned about Trump’s mixture of ignorance, insecurity and narcissism. Every second spent on his bluster is degrading rather than informative.” I’ve abided by that sentiment for a while. I have been so overwhelmed by what I have seen happen to my country and its institutions that I simply haven’t known what to say. But I remembered whose I am and who I follow, and my own Christian saints and mentors, and I cannot remain silent.

After the violence and murder in Charlottesville and Trump’s response and subsequent behavior, I respectfully conclude that David Brooks is not only badly mistaken in his conclusion but, if he holds to his decision to remain silent, is morally irresponsible. Trump’s behavior during the past few weeks, culminating in his initial almost dismissive statement about the violence precipitated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, then his sing-song recitation of a scripted follow-up two days later finally calling racism evil and naming neo-Nazis and white supremacists, followed by another statement suggesting that the people who protested the fascist rally shared the blame for the violence and murder, was so morally repugnant it makes withdrawing from the mounting national crisis irresponsible.

Now is not the time to be silent. People of good will have watched him with patience and the hope that he would somehow grow into his office, listened as he demonized immigrants and racial minorities, demeaned women and people with disabilities, questioned the near unanimous consensus that human beings are endangering the life of future generations and the health of the planet by ignoring the environmental crisis, attempted and is still attempting, to take health insurance from 18 million Americans, listened in dismay as he insulted allies, inspired our foes to contemplate a nuclear attack, humiliated leaders of his own party, and threatened to jail his political opponent who actually won the popular vote by a substantial margin – must not withdraw from this critical moment in self imposed silence.

There were Nazis, anti-Semites waving Nazi flags in the streets of Charlottesville. A few days later, standing in the lobby of Trump Tower with two top advisers who are Jewish and his proud Marine Corps General Chief of Staff, his head hanging down, looking humiliated and bereft, The President of the United States made the outrageous claim that the people who came to Charlottesville to protest the vile fascist, white supremacist rally were equally responsible for the violence and the murder of a young woman. He went on to claim that some of the neo-Nazis are “fine people,” suggested a moral equivalence between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and a military leader who committed treason by leading an army of rebellion against our country.

Clearly, alt-right leaders believed, based on his words, that the President will not only tolerate them but, to a degree, will support them and their sick cause. In one of the most tragic but telling incidents of all, David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, thanked the President for his courage and reminded him that fascist anti-Semites helped him win the election.

It is all so bizarre and unbelievably sad that the temptation to turn it all off and withdraw into silence is very real. But David Brooks was wrong. There is more to learn. The last two days taught us, if we didn’t know already, that the President of the United States is not only spectacularly unfit for his office but dangerous, perpetrating profound damage to the Presidency, our precious institutions, the international trust we have earned and enjoyed for years, our world leadership, but perhaps most tragic of all, the very fabric of our nation.

I cannot be silent. As a Christian who stands in the tradition of Jesus and aspires to follow him, Jesus who did not flinch and withdraw from political, social and religious opposition, the same tradition that inspired and nurtured Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. both of whom who died resisting racism and oppression, I am called to speak and act. All of us are.

It’s time to stand up and be heard: Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Christians, Jews, Muslims. Speak out, join a protest group, write letters and make telephone calls every day. And, by the way, if you are a Christian or a Jew, go to church or synagogue, communities that know a lot about depending on one another and remaining faithful and surviving in times of chaos and oppression, communities that are at their best when they are faithfully, critically counter-culture.

Silence is not an option. Not so very long ago, in the face of a movement in his nation not unlike the fascist, anti-Semite, white supremacists in the streets of Charlottesville last week, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “the sin of respectable people is the refusal to be socially and politically responsible.”

No more silence.

Comments

  1. Martin Camroux says:

    You are absolutely right. Silence is complicity.

  2. Barbara Fountain says:

    John, I applaud you for saying what so many of us think. We do need to speak up.
    I hope I have the courage to do so.
    God bless you. B

  3. You state it so well, John. I, and others, have been taking the steps you suggest, and shaking our heads sadly that we are having to spend this last stage of our lives engaged in this truly epic battle. May God’s grace guide us.
    Nancy Stevenson Greenberg

  4. Milton D Hakel says:

    Dear John,
    Lee and I love getting your posts.
    The attached essay was written for psychologists, and will be published in newsletters for two international groups and a third that is primarily US-based. I hope that it gets passed on to you.
    Loving mercy, doing justly, and walking humbly is getting to be more challenging in these days.
    Best wishes to you and Sue,
    Milt Hakel

  5. marylehoczky says:

    Cogently assessed, eloquently stated, and vitally important for all of us who attempt to follow Christ and/or do good to heed your wise words. Thank you for not disappearing into retirement!

  6. Mary Logan says:

    I have been waiting for religious leaders to stand together on this with a loud voice. I’m encouraged to see John’s powerful post. It’s not enough, though, because people who are reading it are interested, thoughtful individuals who are searching for a strong message like this. Imagine what an impact John could have if he pulled together a large group of interfaith pastors to lead our country where our elected leaders are failing to do so. We need a moral compass. Comments like those in John’s post are probably being made from pulpits, but that is “preaching to the choir.” The majority of Americans are not going to church on Sunday, so the moral compass this year has been the “fake news” media. While I’m grateful the media is not letting up, they can’t lead us where we need to go. We need the clergy to stand united and be our role models, with actions and words that are loud enough for all Americans to hear and hopefully listen.

  7. Maintaining balance between silence and speech, stillness and action is as challenging as I can ever recall. Jeff Japinga, whom you likely know from his previous position at McCormick and now Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities, posted a fine reflection on the same topic you’ve addressed here. Like your fine piece, Jeff’s deserves a wider hearing.

    “What should I say as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as an executive presbyter, as a Christian? And how should I say it? Silence is not an option. Do I emphasize prophetic outrage against certain people or ideas on social media? Should I advocate for common ground, a way forward? Do I say less, lest my words be misconstrued or add only fuel to a burning fire? Or do I say more, perhaps about the power of Jesus Christ to transform the world, and us?

    “My questions and reflections are not new; things did not suddenly turn uniquely grim in the past two weeks. And so I have tried this week, as I have the past couple of years, to let whatever I might say or do in response to the world around me be guided by the PC(USA)’s newest confession, The Belhar Confession (https://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/belhar-confession/). The Belhar, in both word and spirit, was born out of the hearts of faithful people in a racial and cultural setting far more egregious than what we saw last weekend in Charlottesville, a time in which the fundamental tenets of the gospel and the heart of our faith were under threat. Yet because of the rootedness of the Belhar’s words in the Word, its time becomes all of time, its clarity our call, its setting a universal reality.

    “Anyone can speak out of bold outrage or human certitude. But can we speak out of a belief “that God’s life-giving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s life-giving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world.”

    “May our unique witness as the church in these troubled times seek neither to attack nor defend, but to uphold and affirm; not to condemn nor rationalize, but to testify and proclaim, the good news we know in Jesus Christ.”

  8. Carol & William Bedford says:

    Thank you, John for your thoughtful comments on this situation. They are appreciated. Carol Bedford >

  9. Louise westfall says:

    Fortunately, even David Brooks has not kept his silence.

  10. Stephen Littell says:

    Thank you, good Dr. B! As I read your words, my heart rose up. I will continue to write and call!

  11. Reblogged this on Views from the Edge and commented:
    Views from the Edge re-blogs john Buchanan’s essay as a first step in opening a window into the inner struggles of religious leaders in this day and time. Other such posts will follow.

  12. John, What a powerful essay. You speak to all of us who value equality, justice and truth. Anne and Dick

  13. Elise Magers says:

    Thank you, John, for this blunt and appropriate blog. I wake up every day with a sense of dread about what will happen next. Your reference to Bonhoeffer has led me back to his books for inspiration. You are correct – we must not be silent and I, for one, seek constructive ways to be active in confronting the evil that has surfaced in our world. May none of us flinch.

  14. An off-topic ray of hope: Cubs score 17!

  15. Terrill L Stumpf says:

    And to note: David Brooks is speaking at Dominican University, River Forest on Thursday, November 2, 2017 7:00 p.m. http://www.events.dom.edu/siena-center

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