By Bishop Dr. Rolston S.M. Jeffrey
“First, they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak, because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak, because I was not a trade unionist. Then, they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak, because I was not a Jew. Then, they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” These words were said by Dr Martin Niemoller, who was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known for his opposition to the Nazi regime during the 1930’s.
Of course, those sad words are extremely instructive today, as there is an apparent silence of the people of God in addressing the evils of our society. Free speech is guaranteed under our Constitution, and is also one of the tenets of human rights embodied in the United Nation’s charter of the Bill of Rights. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said these words, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak, is to speak. Not to act, is to act.”
The church is the moral fabric of society, and so the citizenry expects the church to be vocal when the moral block is broken down. Bear in mind, that the church is not the building, but the ecclesia or called out ones. Silence is a rather typical behavior, especially when we fear losing our privileged positions, not wanting to suffer, not wanting to speak up for fear of repercussions and/or reprisals.
There was a time in our society when our church was extremely visible and vocal. The citizenry looked to the church for answers and solutions to their problems. In the 1960s, the church marched against casino gambling, and in the 1970’s against prostitution. One will recall that a prominent and outspoken clergyman’s home was firebombed, and to date, no one has ever been charged.
There is a spirit of fear which has been pervading this society to the extent that the church seemingly has gone into retreat and/or a comatose state. Hence, the continuous question is: where is the church, or what is the church doing? Whilst I would agree that the church cannot be involved in everything, there are some blatant and critical issues to which the public would want to hear the prophetic voice of the church. The church should not be fearful either: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.” [2 Timothy 1:7].
What the church needs is unity. There is too much fragmentation and disunity in the Body of Christ, and hence, we have become rather ineffective. Unity is strength, and Jesus Christ, in his intercessory prayer in John 17, has much to say about unity. The apostles also have much to say about unity in their writings.
The Church is called to be the salt and light of the world; the church is called to make a difference, to share with God’s people, regardless of where they are. Salt preserves, whilst light illuminates.
The church is the answer and the solution for these days of dread in which we live, and Christians need to stand up to unjust laws and unjust forms of governance. We have a mandate to speak up for the voiceless and those who are vulnerable. We must speak out to judge the righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor [Proverbs 31: 8 – 10]
The church should be the voice to speak up, and march, if need be, to get better laws and governance which are equitable to all, and not just to favour one grouping over another – “Learn to do right, seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” [Isaiah 1: 17]. Many before, like the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, marched for the betterment of society. The church must never stop, until justice rolls down like a never-failing stream [Amos 5:24].
In closing, I quote the aforementioned Dr King: “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“Every other group is coming out of the closet, while the church is rushing into the closet.” By remaining silent, the church is giving consent!
Thoughts and views expressed in guest opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer NewsCo, its management or staff.