Happy Monday, my friends! Speaking about the lack of justice, the prophet Isaiah says, “Rise up, you people who are at ease, hear my voice; you complacent children, listen to my speech. In little more than a year you will shudder, you complacent ones, for the vintage will fail; the fruit harvest will not come. Tremble, you people who are at ease; shudder, you complacent ones; strip and make yourselves bare, an d put sackcloth on your loins” (Isaiah 32:9-11).
Complacency and silence are privileges enjoyed by the powerful. In a now famous poem, “First They Came,” Martin Niemöller reflects on the progress of Nazi oppression that eventually ended with his own arrest. But Niemöller omits a significant piece of his own story in saying that he did not speak up because he wasn’t a communist, a socialist, a trade unionist, or a Jew (the groups that came before him), he in fact was an early Nazi sympathizer who praised Hitler’s rise to power before condemning Nazi ideology and its forced takeover of the German church. While Niemöller would go on to found the Confessing Church with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth and oppose the Nazi regime, he remained steadfastly antisemitic. Even among political prisoners, Niemöller enjoyed a relatively high status as someone too prominent for even Hitler to order his execution. Complacency and silence are the property of the powerful.
Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor, wrote, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” That said, our interconnected, social media-driven world often clouds measures of silence, complacency, action, and advocacy. Is it action or complacency to share a Black Lives Matter graphic on Facebook and then go back to your normal life? Is it activism to tweet about a police involved shooting and then return to your largely segregated world? Is it complacency to teach your children that “everyone is human and should be respected,” but to say nothing about how white people have historically marginalized BIPOC communities? Is it complicity to go to a weekend protest because it’s cool, but never critically analyze how white privilege benefits you at work? Is it silence to praise God one day out of the week at church and deny God the other six days by your actions?
Where have you been silent in the face of oppression? Where have you wanted to stand up?
Let us pray: God who spoke and the world was made, who stands up and the earth trembles, who moves in the still small voice and brings change into being, bless the times we stand up and fight for equity. But more so move us to action beyond our silence, complacency, and comfort. You hear the cry of the marginalized but respond not to the thoughts and prayers of the powerful. You open doors when we co-create with you and slam doors shut ahead of fools. Compel and convict us to action, gracious God, especially when action is hard. Amen.