Quit Being a Voice for the Voiceless
Girl Rising, a new documentary about girls around the world pushing for their place in school, had me alternately gaping and smiling during a recent screening at Wheaton College. The film moved me—darn near broke me—not because of the facts or figures it presented or the stories it told, but because of who told the stories: the rising girls themselves.
I already knew the horrifying statistics of the millions of girls in this world who don't—or can't—go to school. I understood the connection between lack of education and global poverty. I agreed that educating the girls of this world is key to reducing—or eliminating this poverty, among other societal evils.
But this time, I heard these girls' stories, written by their own hands, spoken in their own (well, translated, narrated) voices. Girl Rising confirmed something I've long suspected: When we Christians speak of "being a voice to the voiceless," we'd better be careful. We'd better think hard about what it means, what it does, what it communicates when we toss out this oft-used line. We better ask, Is being the voice of the oppressed, the poor, the maligned, and the hurting really what God wants from us?
When God tells us in Proverbs 31:8 to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" and in Isaiah 1:17 to "learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow," God means it. No doubt. Good things happen—his Kingdom sparkles all over—when we pipe up and plead on behalf of others.
But when those of us who care about living lives of justice and mercy seek to become the "voice of," are we speaking up and pleading on behalf of? Or, are we speaking for or speaking over them? Certainly there are people in this world who depend on us to be their voices; those with no access to authority or difference-makers, those who live in terror, who stand to suffer greatly for raising a voice, need our voices to rise for them. But not everyone who suffers lacks a voice. Not everyone who is oppressed or maligned or terrorized or victimized is truly voiceless.
And even if they are—even the girls trapped in dungeons, those too terrorized to speak out—voicelessness shouldn't their permanent state. As Christians, instead of setting out to be someone else's voice, we can instead listen—and get them heard.
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