Interrupting Silence: Speaking Out Against Injustice
Some believe that the church has a role to play in speaking out against injustice. Others disagree. The aim of this class is to explore the argument for speaking out from a Biblical perspective.
Our denomination supports two advocacy offices – The Office of Public Witness in Washington DC and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and a variety of other advocacy committees, for example, the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC). This suggests that our denomination considers advocacy work to be part of the Church’s mission.
As we look at the Biblical basis for speaking out against injustice, we will draw from a variety of resources, but primarily Walter Brueggemann’s book Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out (available from Amazon or your favorite book dealer), and a study from the Office of Public Witness called Advocacy as Discipleship, prepared by Rev. Blair Moorhead, Director of Christian Mission and Outreach Clarendon, Presbyterian Church in Arlington. The chapters from Brueggemann’s book will be made available as PDFs. The material from the Advocacy as Discipleship study is available online and in PDF form.
This discussion-based class will meet Sunday mornings, 9-10 am, from April 24 through June 5, excluding May 29 (Memorial Day weekend). This is a hybrid class with options to meet in the Family Room or online through Zoom. A schedule of topics, with associated reading materials and class materials, is listed below. This will be updated weekly. If you aren’t able to keep up with the readings each week, no worries. The topic and the format will be inclusive, so we hope you'll feel comfortable participating even if you aren't reading all of the materials or get behind at any point. Just come when you can!
4/24 Introduction (Kathy Drinkard)
In this first class we introduce the topic and two points of view regarding the appropriateness of addressing political, social, and economic issues within a faith setting. Two articles are discussed:
- Biblical Justice, Mark Achtemeier: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/biblical-justice/
- Russian priest speaks out against war in Ukraine despite threats: https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/04/08/russia-ukraine-war-priest-police/
As you read, consider these questions:
- How comfortable are you with the introduction of social, economic and political questions in a church setting? What contributes to your comfort or discomfort?
- What do you make of the Rev Burdin’s assertion that if he stays silent about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he cannot be a priest?
During the discussion we briefly looked at the historical precedents that inform our views today of how much the church should speak about or involve itself in the policy and social issues of the day.
5/1 Connecting to God, Listening to Neighbor (Kathy Drinkard)
This week we delve into the importance of staying grounded in our relationship with God as we consider whether to speak to or act on societal issues that concern us, both as individuals and as churches. Also, in response to several comments in the first class about the difficulty of having conversations with those with whom we disagree, we will spend some time talking about how we might approach such conversations.
Below are the four resources we draw on for this class:
- Week 3: "In the Lord I Take Refuge: Restoration on the Journey” from Advocacy as Discipleship by Blair Moorhead.
- The first two pages of "Truth Speaks to Power" (Chapter 7) from Interrupting Silence by Walter Brueggemann.
- A one-page list of helpful tips for engaging in difficult conversations
- A longish article from a United Methodist Church project by the Rev. Scott Hughes entitled Courageous Conversations, which talks in some detail about how to have both individual and church-wide conversations when people have strong disagreements.
Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for this week’s class:
- Think about an experience you might have had when worship, prayer, study, and/or conversation with another helped you make a decision or solve a difficult problem.
- Think about indicators that might help us discern whether we are acting in accord with God’s will.
- Think about your experience with difficult conversations and disagreements. Can you identify something in your approach that helped the conversation go in a productive direction?
In our discussion we looked at the importance of staying grounded in our relationship with God as we consider whether to speak to or act on societal issues both as individuals and as churches. This included tips to keep in mind when engaging in difficult or “courageous conversations.”
5/8 Naming Injustice; The High Cost of Silence (Kathy Drinkard)
This week we will look more closely at the cost of keeping silent in the face of transgressions, whether our own or those of our society. We will then consider the benefits of acknowledging wrongdoing, which opens the way for reconciliation.
We will draw primarily on two resources,:
As you prepare for this week’s class:
- Think about an experience where keeping silent has hurt you. If you eventually spoke up, how did your feelings change as a result? Was speaking up helpful?
- Consider whether you think the practice of repentance and forgiveness that is so much a part of Christian theology can be useful with regard to actions by groups of people, or even whole societies.
Our discussion focused on the impact of keeping silent about our own transgressions or about wrongs being done in society. There are benefits for individuals and society for speaking up and naming things that are against what we think is (as we are best able to discern) God’s plan for the world.
Click on "A Conspiracy of Silence" for the podcast on Hidden Brain that Kathy mentioned during the class.
5/15 Truth Speaks to Power: The Judge and the Widow (Kathy Drinkard)
This week we will turn to the Biblical basis for speaking up, especially in challenging the decisions of authority.
This week's readings:
As you prepare for this week’s class, give some thought to the principles, values, beliefs and precepts that inform the positions you take on political, social, and economic issues.
We touched on the concept that injustice directed at the most vulnerable in society is built into the structure of society itself. Brueggemann argued that the society in which Jesus placed the widow in the parable was a society that didn’t concern itself greatly with the plight of widows and other vulnerable people – it was normal and inevitable that they should suffer injustice. That’s the “way things were”.
5/22 True Compassion For Our Neighbors – Restructuring The System; Justice (Kathy Drinkard)
We back to the idea that injustice is created by the way we structure society and maintain order. We’ll consider both Brueggemann’s and Moorhead’s suggestions that the church’s task is to challenge the structures that create suffering and imagine an alternative way.
One of the questions that came up last week was “how do we discern God’s will?” It may be helpful to make a list of passages that seem helpful in that discernment. Here are two:
- Luke 22: 49-51: In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stops the disciples from fighting the soldiers who come to arrest him and heals the ear of the soldier who was injured. Jesus wasn’t willing to hurt others in order to save himself. His love for his enemy, God’s love for his enemy, was stronger than that.
- Luke 6:43-45: Jesus says, “No good tree bears bad fruit nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. You can judge a tree by its fruit."
Email Kathy if you have a passage and we'll expand the list.
This week's resources:
- Chapter 1: "The Oppressed Break Silence" from Interrupting Silence by Walter Brueggemann.
- Week 4, “Bear One Another’s Burdens: Advocacy in Relationship” from Advocacy as Discipleship by Blair Moorhead.
- Some of the class will be based on a lecture Brueggemann gave at the 2015 Fuller Forum entitled “Justice: From Zion Back to Sinai” which expands on the study he presents in Chapter 1 “The Oppressed Break Silence”. You can watch it at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxJld8cdScw
6/5 How We Can Take Action