The Privilege of Silence

The Privilege of Silence February 6, 2021

This post is for those white evangelicals out there who are conflicted. They are politically and theologically conservative, registered Republicans or Independents, and serious about their civic duties and their faith.

They are conflicted because they didn’t really like or support Trump, or did so very, very reluctantly. They knew he was the opposite of everything they were told to support in a political candidate, but he did support many policies and views they favored. They didn’t like his tone, his anger, his bullying, his insults, and his general manner of, “governing.” And yet, they couldn’t imagine voting for someone other than a Republican.

They’ve watched now as the people around them, whether family, friends, or fellow church-members have fallen into two camps: Those who despise Trump and those who seem to almost worship him. Both sides are fairly vocal about it too. And here they sit in the middle. While they might lean more toward the side that despises Trump, so many of their views in other areas are shared by the people who seem to worship Trump.

Consequently, they sort of decide to check out and ignore both. They even begin to resent both sides. They become annoyed and bothered by social media posts or in-person conversations regarding the political. A pox on both houses seems to be their current attitude.

I would like to speak to this group and have them consider two things:

First, while much of all this has to do with the “political” such is only a surface understanding at best. The true underlying issues are theological, philosophical, and only then political or cultural. For instance, if one is thinking we should be more focused on Jesus, or the Bible, theology, spirituality, or evangelism, one has missed entirely the problem sitting before them.

Our current moment is one where Jesus, the Bible, theology, spirituality, and evangelism are understood and practiced via the political, rather than visa-versa. But one can only see this if they are engaged and looking for the deeper problems in play.

I would challenge this representative evangelical to see this whole area as a theological issue and not simply political—it is only made manifest in the political. The evangelical world must figure out whether Trump (or that type) is their future politically, or if a break from that type of politics is in order.

The only way that question can be addressed is through a deep theological/philosophical conversation. And don’t think part of that conversation isn’t possible through social media or long distance. It can’t be the only forum for such, but it can certainly be part of it, even if it’s only to educate and spur serious reflection. Social media can be more than just posting pictures of kittens riding on the backs of turtles.

If one is a mature Christian, and especially if one is a pastor or leader, they simply cannot ignore these issues or decide to check out mentally and emotionally. And these issues are not ultimately partisan or political: They are theological. They are right in the pastor’s wheelhouse and to ignore them is to shirk their duty and calling as a Christian leader.

Second, I’m not much of a social-media/internet, political, meme person as too many seem manipulative and shallow. However, there is one that makes this point:

 I want my friends to understand that ‘staying out of politics’ or being ‘sick of politics’ is privilege in action. Your privilege allows you a non-political existence…you don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake…it’s hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka ‘get political’). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.

Please consider how one’s “I’m sitting this out,” or “I’m tired of politics,” looks to the people who suffer from the ramifications of “politics” every day of their lives.  Is one aware of the number of people who don’t have the luxury of being tired of politics or sitting things out?

Evangelicals claim to care about their witness and the importance of witnessing. How do they think all those who bore the brunt of the last four years, immigrants, Muslims, black and brown people, Asians, women, non-Christians, the LGBT community, and others feel about that witness when it watched their suffering in silence, from the sidelines? Or perhaps was even complicit in their suffering?

White people, especially men, especially evangelicals, have lived through a time when they could keep the political world compartmentalized. They could stay above the fray and take the, “both sides,” approach and act the school yard monitor, when many could not. We lived in a time when while both major political parties had deep philosophical disagreements, they still had some common ground as to what fell in and outside the bounds of reason and ethics.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The Republican Party has made room for Qanon, the Proud Boys, white “Christian” nationalists, and those who clearly believe violence is a plausible and viable avenue for political change. This is no longer the party of Reagan, Bush, Romney, or McCain. It has morphed into something else, something very dark and destructive.

Before now, before that metamorphosis, we (white males mostly) were able to ignore politics if we wanted and go about our business. However, there come times when such simply isn’t possible, at least for anyone with a conscience. Two examples would be Europe in the 1930s and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in America.

In those moments, the challenge was to engage, to be aware and present. Many didn’t, however. We look back and see them as having failed. When the time came, when the moment was darkest, they decided to, “sit it out.” And they didn’t want to talk about it at parties or in public. The only ones who hid in those moments, who were annoyed by it all, were the ones not initially threatened. However, they soon learned it would touch them as well, one way or another.

I truly believe we are in one of those moments now. The rise of a violent, pseudo-Christian, white nationalist, fascist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, conspiracy riddled, authoritarian-right-wing movement, wedded to the Republican Party, should be a deep cause of concern to all of us. We saw the results of such a movement on January 6th.

Every Christian, and this has nothing to do with partisan politics in the slightest, should be standing against this movement and being vocal about it. I note, “vocal,” I do not mean insulting others (ad-hominine attacks) or responding with hatred. They should do it for no other reason than they are a faithful Christian who cares about their neighbor, especially the least of these. If one thinks this is being, “political,” I feel sorry for them. It’s about being human.

Rather than the pro- or anti- Trump sides, consider this: Is it possible that the group doing the most damage right now, who will end up being the most culpable for future violence and divisiveness, are those who remain silent, those who are tired and annoyed by it all, and refuse to engage?

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