Historically, church leaders have spoken prophetically about complex problems and systemic sins. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke against the Nazi regime. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the leading voice of the Civil Rights Movement. In these perilous times, a large part of the evangelical leadership remains silent. In a hurting world that is divided by politics and race, I think of Dr. King’s words: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal."
Stories Open the Door
Several years ago, I worked at a conservative Christian university, leading the effort in racial reconciliation. It was challenging. I was always trying to find the right balance of speaking truth and not offending. I was happy to have white co-workers laboring and lamenting with me. The people who served with me did so at a personal cost. One year I led a group of faculty, staff, and students on a Civil Rights Bus Tour. We spent days visiting important sites and discussing racial reconciliation. I was concerned about how honest I should be about my feelings. I was the leader, after all. I had to set the example. I chose to be vulnerable and bold, being brutally honest about the pain of minorities.
This opened the door to life-altering conversations. We experienced laughter and tears together. We disagreed, had our feelings hurt, and saw raw emotion. We felt anger, grief, guilt, pain, and forgiveness. We didn't have all the answers, but by the end of the trip, we did have true racial reconciliation. Many of those students went on to become champions of racial reconciliation. In fact, one student contacted me earlier this year to tell me how that trip and our interaction changed her life—all because I set the tone for speaking honestly, prophetically.
What will you do? Will you speak up or keep silent? Bonheoffer writes, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” It’s my desire to see us speak up when we witness injustices in our churches and around the world. I understand, however, that it can be a process to find your prophetic voice and speak out with thoughtfulness. Here are some practical ways you can begin that process: