All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
Some will say that silence is the ‘higher’ road rather than speaking out against what is perceived as wrong. I don’t agree. Sir Edmund Burke spoke the truth when he nailed ‘silence’ in the face of wrong for what it is – a crime of omission. When you speak out, those who have experienced abuse or have been victimized in other ways gain a voice that they may not have had if shame or fear have silenced them.
Marybeth Gasman quoting Martin Luther King Jr. exposes the true nature of silence in the face of evil; “‘He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.’ King reminded us that we cannot merely sit back and watch injustice; we need to speak out and consciously push back against it.” She reminds us that our silence may convict us in the memory of our friends; “Whenever I feel strongly about an issue but fear the idea of speaking out, I think of the words of King. He said ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ These are simple words, but they are wonderfully profound in their message to all of us.”
Zach Dawes takes the stand; ” . . . we who follow the prophet named Jesus must not remain silent while injustice and inequity are present in our churches, communities, states, nations and world. Micah’s message [Micah 3:5-12] is a reminder that to see injustice and inequality surrounding us and then step into the pulpit – wherever our pulpit may be and whatever it may look like – and continually offer a palatable message for fear of losing pay or position is to lead people astray and, ultimately, to participate in the injustice and inequality itself.”
Silence can be a darkness that fosters the conditions for wrongdoing to flourish; “Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist, introduced the concept of the Spiral of Silence in 1974. This theory suggested that fear of isolation will cause people to remain silent when they feel their views are in the minority. More troubling is her suggestion that, even if the majority agree, they will individually support a contrary position if they feel they’re in the minority. This phenomenon of holding the majority viewpoint while incorrectly believing you’re in the minority is called pluralistic ignorance. And I suspect it’s rampant in the church.” (Christianity and the Spiral of Silence by Jason Bradley)
Silence when motivated by fear or selfishness, promotes ignorance. Ignorance allows injustice. Jason Bradley explains how the Spiral of Silence can work like bad yeast in a church.
There’s a disastrous problem in the church when the “common opinion” is allowed to silence a contrary opinion. A stupid belief is a stupid belief even if the majority hold it, so it’s not just the minority who need to be willing to entertain opposing ideas.
There shouldn’t be fear of censure or shaming for those who struggle with contradictory ideas or opinions.
Maybe they’re wrong, but there’s no way for them to work through these important issues if they feel forced into silence. Maybe they’re right, and there’s no way for our perspectives to change if we’re not willing to give them a voice. But maybe we’ll never agree and it’s important to learn that fellowship can be built on something more profound than acquiescence to a wooden orthodoxy. (Christianity and the Spiral of Silence)
Yes, the Bible tells us not to judge others; “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11,12) This instruction pertains to condemnation of individuals and not their actions. We shouldn’t judge or condemn those who struggle with temptation but we can speak against actions and conditions that are wrong.
Jesus does tell us to make sure we deal with out own sinful conditions before we ‘go after’ others (Matthew 7:1-5); “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. ” (v. 5) Others point out that the ‘judge not’ scripture is often abused; “How often have you heard somebody blurt out the words, “Judge not lest ye be judged?” And that’s all they quote, of course. And it is almost always after someone has corrected them for sinning. “Judge not lest ye be judged” is easily the most misquoted and misused bible verse of all time.”
Tim Chaffey writing about the misuse of Matthew 7:1 states; ” . . . notice the absolute hypocrisy of the person who tells you not to judge. What did they just do when they told you not to judge? They judged you. They made a judgment that what you were doing was wrong, and then they went ahead and hypocritically told you that you shouldn’t ever tell people that they are wrong.” The entire teaching of Jesus about judging (Matthew 7:1-5) has to do with proper judging without hypocrisy as the final verse (5) concludes.
If we look at how Jesus dealt with wrong doing by the religious leaders when He was on earth we see that Jesus was anything but silent! “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) And “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27,28)
Jesus tells us to judge rightly; “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24) We cannot be ‘silenced’ by others with the misuse Matthew 7:1. More importantly, we cannot hide behind Matthew 7:1 and take the expedient way out by remaining silent.
Martin Neimoller’s haunting poem reminds us what convenient and indifferent silence can lead too; “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”